Russia’s offer of bases for Afghan strikes highlights tensions in Ukraine
The Biden administration indicated Tuesday that it is considering an offer from Moscow to use Russian military bases in Central Asia for future counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan and the region, even as tensions between the United States and Russia escalate on other fronts — most notably in Ukraine.
The extent to which the two issues are linked remains to be seen, though there are signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to link them, even if only to undermine President Biden’s efforts to support Ukraine.
Putin’s government on Monday issued new warnings about US-backed NATO activity in Ukraine, asserting that any expansion of NATO’s military infrastructure in the country would cross “red lines”.
The warning came as the Wall Street Journal reported that the Defense Department was considering an offer from Mr. Putin for US forces to use Russian bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for operations in Afghanistan. According to the newspaper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley discussed this issue in a meeting last week with Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov at the request of the White House.
The US has insisted that even after withdrawing from Afghanistan, US drones can strike terrorist targets from “beyond the horizon,” although military leaders acknowledge that such missions present a much greater logistical challenge. Permanent US bases near Afghanistan would make the task much easier, but the US has not yet secured an agreement with a nearby country to house US personnel, aircraft, and vehicles.
Republicans are concerned that the Biden administration could put US forces in a position of dependence on Russian military bases, a prospect that GOP lawmakers say is unacceptable due to the Kremlin’s military aggression in Ukraine.
“We are deeply concerned when we learn from press reports that your administration is in discussions with the Russian Federation to secure access to Russian military facilities in Central Asian countries and possibly engage in some form of military cooperation on counterterrorism with the Russians,” a group of top congressional Republicans wrote on Monday. To Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
“Inviting Russia to discussions will not increase vital US counterterrorism goals, nor is it the path to the ‘stable and predictable’ relationship with Russia that the Biden administration claims to want,” the letter, which includes its four House Republican signers, said. The Armed Forces and Foreign Relations Committees in the Senate.
Asked about the talks on Tuesday, Mr. Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that heard that General Milley was merely asking for “clarification” about the basic offer from his Russian counterpart last week.
Mr. Austin stressed that the United States is not seeking Russia’s approval for counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, though he acknowledged that the two countries are now in a dialogue about sharing resources in the region. “I can assure you that we are not seeking permission from Russia to do anything, but I think … [Gen. Milley] Asking for clarification of what this offer is, the defense minister said.
Republicans say such cooperation with Moscow is evidence of the difficult point the United States now finds itself in due to the Biden administration’s complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan. “They really left us in a terrible situation, where we have to ask the Russians to be able to protect the United States from terrorists, and we have to ask them to use their facilities,” said Senator Deb Fisher, a Republican from Nebraska. Tuesday.
The policy objectives of the administration in Ukraine may be in jeopardy. Biden rolled out a new humanitarian and military package for Kiev in early September, which includes about $60 million in Javelin anti-tank missiles and other aid.
The deal infuriated Putin’s government, which has supported pro-Russian separatist forces inside Ukraine since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and briefly massed troops on the Ukrainian border earlier this year.
Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but it has spent recent years in alliance with the United States and NATO. Ukrainian forces recently participated in joint exercises with US and other NATO member forces. The exercises were conducted at the same time that Russia and neighboring Belarus were conducting their own joint exercises.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Putin, has accused the United States of setting up training centers in Ukraine that he says amount to military bases. Lukashenko was quoted by RIA as saying that he had discussed the issue with Mr. Putin and they agreed that we needed to take some kind of action in response.
A Reuters report on the Belarusian president’s comments said that when asked about the joint measures Mr. Lukashenko was referring to, the Kremlin replied: “These are measures that guarantee the security of our two states.”
President Putin has repeatedly referred to the question of the possible expansion of the NATO infrastructure on Ukrainian territory, and [he] The Kremlin said this would cross the red lines it had talked about before.
• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.