Russia is to build an airbase outside the Tajik capital Dushanbe, officials said on Friday, in the latest sign of Moscow seeking to build up its military presence in ex-Soviet Central Asia, the Reuters news agency reports.
The move comes as neighbouring Uzbekistan has ordered U.S. troops to leave an airbase used since 2001 for operations in Afghanistan. Washington still has an airbase in Kyrgyzstan, not far from a Russian one set up after U.S. troops arrived there.
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov’s office said the new Russian base will adjoin a disused Soviet aerodrome at Aini, 10 km (6 miles) to the west of Dushanbe. Tajikistan’s international airport already hosts French military jets that are part of the coalition that invaded Afghanistan, as well as Russian military aviation.
Rakhmonov, who will host U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on a visit next week, was quoted as saying last month his country would never allow the U.S. military to set up a base there.
Moscow, which backed Rakhmonov during a 1992-97 civil war against Islamists, has stepped up its involvement in Tajikistan, announcing a huge investment programme and winning permission for its 6,000 troops there to set up a permanent military base.
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