Putin's decision may prove crucial to the U.S. effort. Overflight rights and the use of bases in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (where the Kagaity air base is just some 12 miles from the Afghan border) are likely to facilitate U.S. operations in the region. Tajik and Uzbek leaders had originally offered their facilities to the U.S., but withdrew their offer under pressure from Moscow. Moscow had cooperated with Washington during Desert Storm in 1991, sharing intelligence with the U.S. and providing a Russian air force reconnaissance AWAC-type plane. This time, Moscow's cooperation appears to be going further though it remains to be seen whether Putin will exact some price for it later.
Before the Putin-Bush phone conversation, Russia had been sending out mixed signals about Central Asian cooperation: Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Washington that former Soviet republics there would be free to make their own decisions while Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov categorically ruled out "even a hypothetical possibility" of a NATO military presence in Moscow's former territories, which it still considers an integral part of its sphere of influence. To underscore that view, Secretary of the Security Council General Vladimir Rushailo and Chief Of General Staff Anatoli Kvashnin traveled to Central Asia. Kvashnin had said last week: "Russia has not considered and is not planning to consider participation in a military operation against Afghanistan" as he reminded the Central Asian "their relevant bilateral and other obligations" to Russia.