A leading Russian newspaper is reporting that the Pentagon is in talks with three Central Asian states – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – concerning the transfer of military equipment currently being used by American forces in Afghanistan.
The prospect of the three Central Asian states being the beneficiaries of American largesse is not sitting well with Russia. A Russian diplomat is quoted in the report, published by the business daily Kommersant on June 15, as saying Moscow would consider any gifting of military equipment as “absolutely unacceptable.”
The cost of withdrawing military equipment could be exorbitant for US and NATO forces as they wrap up military operations in Afghanistan by 2014. Meanwhile, the notion that US forces might leave some of the equipment behind for use by Central Asian militaries is not particularly new. Reports that the United States might give materiel to the Uzbek military began circulating in late 2011.
But the process, if the Russian report is to be believed, now seems to be at a fairly advanced stage. Kommersant cited “well informed sources” as saying the three Central Asian states – all of them members of the Kremlin-led Collective Security Treaty Organization – would be given armored vehicles, tank transporters, prime movers, tank trucks, special-purpose graders, bulldozers and water trucks after US and NATO forces pull out of Afghanistan in 2014. Some of this equipment would reportedly be stored at local installations. In addition, the Pentagon plans to provide Afghanistan’s neighbors with medical equipment, communications systems, fire extinguishing equipment and even mobile gyms and other housing-related facilities.
Representatives of Kyrgyzstan’s Defense Ministry acknowledged to Kommersant that talks with the Pentagon are in progress. The issue reportedly was first raised during US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s visit to Bishkek in March.
Russian opposition to the plan appears rooted in financial considerations: the more equipment Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan receive from the United States, the less those countries would be inclined to make arms purchases from Russia, which is currently the region’s primary purveyor of military goods.
Pentagon planners hope to use the potential gift of military equipment as leverage to secure lower costs in ongoing negotiations about transit rates on the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a web of Central Asian road, rail and air links connecting Afghanistan to the outside world. The NDN is the primary supply line for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Any gift of US military giving equipment to Uzbekistan would provoke an outcry from international human rights organizations. President Islam Karimov’s administration in Tashkent is consistently ranked by global watchdog groups as among the world’s most repressive regimes.