A Russian media source has alleged that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his American counterpart, Joe Biden, have discussed the possibility of exchanging information on the conflict in Afghanistan and the use of Russian military bases to monitor the situation in the war-ravaged country.
The Russian Kommersant daily newspaper reported on Saturday that negotiations between the two presidents to “coordinate actions” in Afghanistan had taken place at their June 16 summit meeting in the Swiss city of Geneva.
Citing a source familiar with the talks, the business paper said the discussions included a proposal by Putin to use Russian military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, possibly to exchange information obtained by surveillance drones.
The US “has not yet given a clear answer,” according to the source.
The Russian daily provided no further details about the matter.
Commenting on the report, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the situation in Afghanistan was on the agenda of the June summit, but made no remarks on whether the discussions included talks about Russia’s Central Asian bases.
US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, also refused to comment on the report.
Russia has a major military base in Tajikistan, one of Afghanistan’s northern neighbors, which houses at least 7,000 troops, several hundred tanks and armored personnel carriers.
The base also has at least one battalion of Orlan-10 reconnaissance drones, S-300 air defenses and over a dozen aircraft, including helicopters and ground attack jets.
Kyrgyzstan, which borders Tajikistan but does not have a common frontier with Afghanistan, hosts about 500 Russian military personnel at the Kant Air Base, some 20 kilometers east of the capital Bishkek.
The base’s inventory includes Su-25 attack aircraft, Mi-8 helicopters, and its own contingent of Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicles.
Russia has previously warned the United States against deploying its troops in the former Soviet Central Asian nations following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Tuesday that Moscow had delivered the message to Washington when Putin met with Biden in Geneva last month.
“I would emphasize that the redeployment of the American permanent military presence to the countries neighboring Afghanistan is unacceptable,” Ryabkov said.
“We told the Americans in a direct and straightforward way that it would change a lot of things not only in our perceptions of what’s going on in that important region, but also in our relations with the United States,” he added.
‘Russia’s Central Asian allies do not intend to host US military’
Moreover, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on the sidelines of an international conference in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent on Thursday that none of Russia’s Central Asian allies had any intention to host the US military following the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“As for the plans by the Americans that they are in fact making public and actively promoting, they seek to persuade Central Asian countries and Pakistan, in particular, to use their territory for accommodating some military infrastructure, which the Americans are moving out of Afghanistan,” Lavrov said.
“Pakistan and Uzbekistan have already officially stated that this is out of the question and they will not use their territory to host such infrastructure. We conferred both in bilateral contacts, and now at the meeting of foreign ministers of five Central Asian states plus Russia on this issue. None of our allies has stated their intention to subject its territory and population to such a risk,” he added.
The US Central Command has announced that the process to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan is more than 90 percent complete. Biden has set August 31 as the date for the end of the war in Afghanistan.
On July 2, US troops quietly vacated Bagram Air Base, the largest US military installation in Afghanistan, which once hosted more than 100,000 US troops.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan comes amidst a surge in violence and the takeover of multiple districts in northern parts of the country by the Taliban.
The militant group claims that it now holds 85 percent of Afghanistan, controlling about 250 of the country’s nearly 400 districts, a declaration government officials dismissed as part of a propaganda campaign.
The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 under the pretext of the so-called war against terror.
Washington has spent trillions of dollars waging war on the impoverished country, which has left hundreds of thousands of Afghans dead.