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Russia Offers Obama Help on Afghanistan

By Peter Fedynsky
23 January 2009

President Dmitri Medvedev is seeking to reassert Russian influence in Central Asia, offering to help the United States in Afghanistan and striking an energy deal with Uzbekistan. He announced these moves during a meeting with his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, in Tashkent.

The presidents of Russia and Uzbekistan both express willingness to cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan. Islam Karimov says the problem of Afghanistan cannot be solved through further militarization. Dmitri Medvedev says he considers that country to be a source of terrorism.

The Russian president says his country is prepared to cooperate on the most problematic issues, including drug trafficking and delivery of appropriate non-military cargo. He says Russia is also prepared to cooperate in the struggle against terrorism, which he calls the most complex and important problem, because the number of radicals in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan is not decreasing. He adds that poverty continues to breed terrorism.

The Russian leader also expresses hope the new American administration will be more successful at regulating the issues of Afghanistan than its predecessor.

President Medvedev's visit to energy-rich Uzbekistan comes just days after Russia and Ukraine ended their gas dispute, which halted delivery of Russian fuel to Europe. The cut-off prompted some European leaders to call for construction of gas pipelines that would circumvent both countries. Mindful of the stakes for Russia, Mr. Medvedev traveled to Tashkent with the heads of Russian gas and oil companies. His energy deal with President Karimov increases the amount of gas Uzbekistan supplies Russia for export.

Mr. Medvedev says energy cooperation with Uzbekistan involves several aspects, including trade relations between leading companies, creation and construction of new gas pipelines, and regional ties. He says both sides made an important move toward modern energy cooperation by adopting market prices for natural gas.

President Karimov's foreign policy has zigzagged between Russia and the West. He raised eyebrows in Moscow when he gave the United States access to an Uzbek airbase, which he closed after Washington criticized his human rights record. In November, Karimov seemed to move away from Russia by withdrawing Uzbek membership in the Eurasian Economic Community, a Moscow-led group of former Soviet states. On Friday, he praised President Medvedev's visit.

Mr. Karimov says Russia has always had a presence in Central Asia and has determined its policies and force structure. He underscores and draws the attention of journalists to the Medvedev visit, which he considers to be very, very timely and noteworthy.

The Uzbek president notes that his country sells gas only to Russia and what Moscow does with it is its own business.

A Kremlin statement says the two leaders also discussed the global financial crisis and signed a diplomatic cooperation agreement.

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