Russia to use Uzbek airfields: Media Reports

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Moscow, Mar 8 (UNI) Russia and Uzbekistan are negotiating the possible use of the Khanabad air base and other Uzbek airfields by the Russian Air Force through diplomatic channels, a source in the Russian Defence Ministry told influential Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The paper quoting Col General Leonid Ivashov, former longtime head of the Defence Ministry's main international military cooperation department, said Russia and Uzbekistan had signed the corresponding agreement in 1999, but both sides had not yet discussed technical aspects of deploying Russian war planes in the former Soviet Central Asian republic.

Col Ivashov said Russia would not profit from a permanent air base in Uzbekistan. However, Moscow is interested in Khanabad, and the Defence Ministry source said the United States had recently modernised the sprawling Khanabad airfield.

In December 1991, a regiment of intermediate-range Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire bombers was deployed in Khanabad.

In 2001, the United States launched a counter-terrorist operation in Afghanistan and requested permission to lease the Uzbek base. At that time, President Islam Karimov, who maintained good relations with the United States, allowed the Pentagon to use Khanabad as a staging area.

However, Washington denounced the 'inhuman' Karimov government after Uzbek troops suppressed an anti-government rebellion in Andijan in May 2005.

This provoked Tashkent to demand withdrawal of all US troops and military equipment from Khanabad, which Washington complied in the fall of 2005.

UNI XC RJ AS1836

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