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Us may establish military bases in former soviet republics { January 27 2004 }

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Powell: U.S. May Establish Military Bases in Former Soviet Republics

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2004; 11:10 AM

MOSCOW -- Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Tuesday that the United States may establish military bases in parts of the former Soviet empire, but he sought to reassure Russians that increased U.S. influence in the region does not pose a threat.

Russian officials, led by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, have complained about U.S. plans to shift part of its European-based force east and south. Some troops are already based in Central Asia, while others are on a temporary mission to train soldiers in Georgia.

"We are not trying to surround anyone," Powell told the independent Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy. "The Cold War is over. The Iron Curtain is down. We should not see things in old Cold War terms."

Powell, finishing a four-day trip to Georgia and Russia, spoke of the limits on the Bush administration's ability to affect events in war-battered Chechnya. But he said he was "impressed" with Russian President Vladimir Putin's "open attitude" about a U.S. demand that several thousand Russian troops be removed from neighboring Georgia.

After publicly criticizing the Putin government on Monday for its recent backsliding on issues of democracy and the rule of law, Powell said the Russian leader told him the prosecution of Yukos oil executives would be conducted fairly.

U.S. officials have charged that the arrest of former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, was orchestrated by the Kremlin for political reasons. While the Americans are careful not to assert Khodorkovsky's innocence of income tax fraud and corruption allegations, they contend he was targeted to dim his influence and send a warning to other independent business leaders.

Putin "made clear that he understands" U.S. complaints, Powell told a Moscow gathering. He added that Putin said outsiders would see "as the case unfolded that it will be done with full transparency in accordance with the rule of law."

Russians questioned Powell about U.S. intentions in the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European client states. In 14 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, two dozen countries have broken free, many of them joining the NATO alliance or aspiring to protection under the alliance's security umbrella.

The United States established bases in the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to help fight the Afghan war, only to see the Russians recently open a base in Kyrgyzstan, just a few miles from the U.S. facility. Russia bristled at the U.S. decision in 2002 to help train Georgian forces to clear rebels and alleged terrorists from the Pankisi Gorge on the border with Chechnya.

Powell said the Russians should see the moves as positive, given improved U.S.-Russian cooperation against terrorism and trafficking in drugs and people.

"Are we pointing a dagger in the soft underbelly of Russia? Of course not," Powell said. "What we're doing is working together against terrorism."

Pentagon officials, reducing and realigning U.S. forces in Europe, have discussed Romania, Poland and Bulgaria as potential sites of bases for rotating American troops. Powell referred to them Tuesday as "temporary facilities."

"These would not be big bases of the kind that we had in Germany during the days of the Cold War," Powell said. "These might be small places were we could go and train for a brief period of time or use airbases . . . to get to dangerous places -- crisis places -- in Central Asia, the Persian Gulf, the Middle East."

Russian authorities, particularly elements of the military and security services, are nonetheless troubled by the expanding U.S. sphere of influence. Defense Minister Ivanov said last month that any plans to move NATO facilities closer to Russia would pose an "absolutely understandable" concern.

"The security of some," Ivanov said, "must not come at the expense of others."

The theme received much attention during Powell's trip, which began Saturday in Georgia, where the U.S. will deliver $166 million in assistance this year. Powell was asked whether the United States intends to open a base in Georgia, where several thousand Russian troops support ethnic Russians and separatists in the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"We have no plans to place bases in Georgia," said Powell, a four-star general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I don't see a need for a base and I don't think there is any question about the nature of my answer and the position of the United States government."

At a forum for former exchange students and members of non-governmental institutions, Powell was asked why the United States did not work harder to mediate a solution to the brutal war in Chechnya. Saying he recognized his answer was probably not what the questioner wanted to hear, Powell said the bitter fight for Chechnya "is an internal Russian matter."

"We stand ready if asked by the parties to play a more extensive role," Powell said. "But there are limits to what the international community can do other than encourage Russia to try to find a political solution among the parties."

2004 The Washington Post Company

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Us may establish military bases in former soviet republics { January 27 2004 }

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