As U.S. interest in the former Soviet republics in Central Asia grows, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with their leaders Sunday about their potential role in a U.S. military cmpaign in the region.
Putin spoke with the presidents of Afghanistan's three northern neighbors — Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan — and of the two other former Soviet republics in the region, Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan, about what could turn into a war against Afghan Taliban over terrorist Usama bin Ladin, the Kremlin press service said.
Putin has said Russia is ready to cooperate with the United States "in the widest sense." However, he has indicated it would not offer troops for any U.S. military action and would not welcome any unilateral decisions by the United States.
While pledging support fighting terrorism, Russian officials have sent mixed signals about the prospect of U.S. forces staging strikes on Afghanistan from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, one of the few regions where Russia still has strong influence.
Russia and the secular leaders of the Central Asian states have expressed concerns that U.S. strikes on Afghanistan could further rock the volatile region and trigger a flow of refugees that would drain the region's already scarce finances.
Putin, who was staying in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, also met with Anatoly Kvashnin, the chief of Russia's Armed Forces General Staff, and Viktor Komogorov, the deputy chief of the Federal Security Service in charge of foreign relations, the presidential press service said.
Kvashnin returned Sunday from Tajikistan, where he met Saturday with representatives of the Afghan opposition force fighting the Taliban, including its leader Gen. Mohammed Fahim.
Fahim and Kvashnin "discussed the situation in Afghanistan in relation to possible U.S. strikes on the Taliban and terrorist training camps and exchanged data on the camps," Afghan opposition spokesman Abdullah said Sunday in Tajikistan.
Abdullah goes by one name.
On Saturday, Putin spoke for an hour with President Bush and huddled with his defense and security chiefs all day in Sochi. He did not announce any decisions after the flurry of consultations Saturday and Sunday.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said the security officials reported to Putin on measures taken to protect Russian security and to prepare for U.S. retaliatory measures. He gave no other details.
The Associated Press contributed to this report