Russia Joins Coalition

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President Bush talks to Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2001

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged a full range of assistance to President Bush in the U.S. anti-terrorist operation, including the use of Russian airspace. Putin also told Bush that he would personally urge leaders of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, to join the anti-terrorist coalition as well. A ranking diplomatic source told TIME that Putin made the pledge on Saturday in an hour-long telephone conversation with Bush while the Russian President was taking a break from a six-hour cabinet meeting at his Black Sea dacha at Sochi.

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.