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Russian, Uzbek armies hold joint exercises near Afghan border

Published on July 30, 2021

The Russian and Uzbek armies kicked off joint military exercises at Uzbekistan’s border with Afghanistan on Friday as Central Asia looks for Moscow’s support in the wake of a Taliban offensive that has overwhelmed their neighbour.

The exercises come a week before similar drills planned in neighbouring Tajikistan, which also borders Afghanistan.

Moscow has positioned itself as a bulwark against potential incursions into a region that was once part of the Soviet Union and which has watched the Taliban overwhelm Afghan government forces to seize key positions on its borders.

The press service for Russia’s Central Military District said Friday that Russian peacekeeping units and special purpose brigades had been deployed to a training facility in Uzbekistan’s Termez.

The joint exercises involving 1,500 troops and 200 units will continue until August 10, the Central Military District said, noting that assault aircraft stationed at Russia’s military base in adjacent Kyrgyzstan would take part.

Russian, Uzbek and Tajik forces will then combine for the drills in Tajikistan that begin on August 5 and end on August 10.

Russian foreign ministry official Zamir Kabulov said in a interview to the Ekho Moskvy radio station last week that the exercises would be a “signal” to Central Asian populations that the situation in Afghanistan will not threaten the region.

Moscow’s security services are in close contact with their Central Asian counterparts on the situation in Afghanistan, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergei Naryshkin said in an interview to the TASS news agency Friday.

Naryshkin said the situation in Afghanistan is “degrading with every day, with the Taliban controlling more and more territory of the country.”

Tajikistan, a country of 9.5 million people shares a border of around 1,300 kilometres (810 miles) with Afghanistan. The Taliban took control of the main crossing with Tajikistan in June.

Russia has said it will bolster Tajikistan’s military with weapons, equipment and training.

Uzbekistan’s border with Afghanistan is much shorter — 144 km (89 miles).

The republic of 34 million boasts ex-Soviet Central Asia’s largest standing army.