Moscow (CNSNews.com) - Russia has dismissed suggestions by Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Richard Myers that Moscow and Beijing are pressuring Central Asian nations into demanding a date for American forces to leave the strategically important region.
Myers last Thursday said Russia and China were "trying to bully" their smaller Central Asian neighbors into making the demands.
He was responding to a recent call by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) -- a grouping of Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan -- for foreign coalition forces to set a deadline for the withdrawal of bases they have in the region in support of the campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
"Looks to me like two very large countries were trying to bully some smaller countries," Myers told reporters in Washington. "That's how I view it."
Myers said the SCO statement was not "particularly useful," and he suggested that the region was benefiting from U.S. involvement.
"Security and stability in Central Asia is an important concept, and those who can bring security and stability ought to be welcome in Central Asia," he said.
In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that "all decisions made within the framework of the SCO are consensus-based and reflect the collective opinion of all the member countries."
It also said foreign military presence in Central Asia should be limited to the anti-terrorist mission in Afghanistan, thereby suggesting that the pullout should occur once operations in Afghanistan end.
In its earlier call, the SCO also alluded to this, saying that "the active military phase" of the mission in Afghanistan "is nearing completion."
The U.S. has maintained bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan since late 2001, in support of its post-9/11 campaign to oust the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies.
American troop presence in Central Asia has been seen to irk Russia, which regards the region of former Soviet republics as part of its sphere of influence. Russia also has bases there - in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - but if anything has been strengthening its presence rather than preparing to withdraw.
At its summit in the Kazakh capital of Astana, the SCO not only called for a troop withdrawal timetable but also issued a declaration critical of what it called outside interference in nations' internal affairs.
U.S. forces use airbases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to support operations in Afghanistan, where remnants of the Taliban continue to cause difficulties for the new government and coalition forces.
After Washington criticized Uzbekistan's bloody crackdown on anti-government
rioting in May, the Uzbek government imposed new limits on the U.S. use of an airbase in the south of the country.
The newly-elected government of Kyrgyzstan has also questioned the need for a continued U.S. military presence in that country.
Neither the SCO declaration nor a bilateral Russo-Chinese declaration on "world order in the 21st century" adopted on July 2 mentioned the U.S. by name, but both clearly targeted the U.S.
Both stressed such principles as mutual respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression and non-interference.
Russia appears to be relying on China in order to achieve its goals in Central Eurasia.
Moscow's geopolitical aim is rapprochement with China that would strengthen Russia's position in the world, Konstantin Pulikovsky, the Russian presidential envoy in the Far Eastern region, said Saturday.
"Russia is not very popular in the European Union and its influence in Europe is going down, hence it is important to have a friendly country in the East, such as China," he said.
(CNSNews International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
See earlier story:
China, Russia Challenge US Military Presence in Central Asia (Jul. 06, 2005)
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