A weekend swing through ex-Soviet Central Asia by Secretary of
State Colin Powell, who arrived yesterday in Moscow for talks with
President Vladimir Putin, has set nerves jangling at the Kremlin
over long term US objectives in a region Russia regards as its own
Mr. Powell's visits to the key states of Uzbekistan and
Kazakhstan focused on practical issues such as opening aid routes to
Afghanistan and cooperation to rebuild that war-ravaged country.
But the growing American presence, and Powell's insistence that
these remote republics are now important US allies in the war on
terrorism, hints at deep future shifts in the geopolitical
landscape. "I am sure we can have better relationships with these
countries without causing the Russians to be concerned about it,"
Powell told journalists before arriving in Uzbekistan, where the US
has based more than 1,000 troops since September.
Many Russian experts are not so sure. They cite concerns about
growing American military involvement - on Sunday, Kazakhstan joined
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in granting base access to US forces
fighting in Afghanistan - as well as fears that Washington is
maneuvering to cut Russia out of the region's vast oil and gas
"It looks as though the Americans are set to stay in Central
Asia," says Sergei Kazyonnov, an expert with the independent
Institute of National Security Research in Moscow. "There is a
growing feeling here that the US is using the tragedy of Sept. 11
not only to punish the terrorists, but also to extend its own
In talks with Uzbek leader Islam Karimov, Powell won agreement to
reopen a famous bridge at the border town of Termez, which will
expedite aid deliveries. Mr. Karimov holds another card as well: He
is a longtime ally of Afghan Gen. Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek
warlord who so far has refused to recognize the new power-sharing
"Karimov's own regime is very unstable, and so he has seized the
post-Sept. 11 opportunity to build a US alliance with both hands,"
says Maria Podkopeyeva, an analyst with the Experimental Creative
Center, a Moscow foreign policy think tank. "There is a very
complex, fast-breaking interaction going on here, and you can be
sure that Russia is watching developments closely."
In Kazakhstan, Powell talked military cooperation and oil
pipelines with President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The US favors
development of pipelines that would connect the coming Caspian and
Central Asian oil boom directly to world markets without Russia's
existing network. Russia stands to lose transit fees that may be
worth tens of billions of dollars over coming decades.
The main route under US consideration would pass from Baku,
Azerbaijan, through the turbulent southern Caucasus and Turkey to
Ceyhan, on the Mediterranean Sea. American oil companies have also
talked about a pipeline through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the
Arabian Sea. "This idea has never seemed realistic, because
Afghanistan is far from pacified," says Vyacheslav Belokrinitsky, a
regional expert with the official Institute of International
Relations in Moscow. …