Izvestiya's military correspondent Anton Lavrov commented on the September 22, 2021, meeting in Helsinki between the top generals of Russia and the US Valery Gerasimov and Mark Milley. Milley raised the issue of US bases in the Central Asian states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Lavrov viewed the request and the fact that it was not rejected outright as a positive in relations between the two powers. Despite official Russia's depiction of the Taliban as reasonable people, Lavrov claims that the veneer of a mature less extreme Taliban is peeling away and that the Taliban was not defined as a terrorist organization in Russia without reason. As Russia does not intend to mount attacks in Afghanistan, if another country would do the job of keeping Al-Qaeda and ISIS at bay. However, the American presence could provoke retaliation, and the threat from Afghanistan is useful in solidifying the CSTO alliance and driving home the fact that Russia is the security guarantor of Central Asia and not the Americans.
Lavrov's article follows below:
Mark Milley (l) and Valery Gerasimov (Source: Vesti.ru)
"Last week's routine meeting of senior Russian and US generals was notable for an unexpected broadening of the agenda.
"According to US media reports, the Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, and his counterpart the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, discussed for the first time not only measures for lowering tensions between the two countries, but also the possibility of resuming cooperation in certain areas.
"At the talks in Finland, the US representative expressed a particular interest on the issue of Pentagon access to Russian military bases in the post-Soviet Central Asian states. The Americans want to use them for monitoring troubled Afghanistan. The idea was first voiced at the July summit of the Russian and US presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden in Geneva. However, according to US media claims, the Russian side made no promises.
"The fact that the two states, whose relations go through hard times, are prepared to discuss such an idea, rather than dismissing it outright, is per se a positive development. After all, the initiative to scale down contacts between the armies of the two countries to the absolute minimum didn't come from the Russian side. The Pentagon was forbidden to engage in such interaction by the US Congress.
"The situation in Afghanistan after the urgent full withdrawal of the US contingent, prompts the Pentagon to look for new means of influence on this country. A certain consensus in this regard between our states: neither the US, nor Russia is thrilled that supporters of one of the most extremist tendencies in Islam retook power in Afghanistan.
"Although the Taliban, as it seems, is not eager to expand beyond the borders of the state as the Islamic State, there is a reason why the movement was included on Russian and international terrorist lists. The image of a new, "mature" and more civilized Taliban, carefully shaped by the movement's political wing, began to dissipate following their ultimate victory in the country.
"The main question is whether the benefits of cooperation with the Americans in this region outweigh the possible risks. Our countries have already had the positive experience of cooperation in Afghanistan. During a times of warmer relations between Russia and the US, a NATO member-states' freight traffic to Afghanistan was transported through our country for years. Later it took years of efforts by Russian diplomacy to remove American bases from the territories of Central Asian republics.
"It's quite understandable why the US strives to gain a foothold there again. They have already made it clear that they won't leave Afghan territory in peace and will continue to conduct strikes against terrorist groups there (even if the Taliban was temporarily excluded from their list). In order to find ISIS's mountain hideouts or Al-Qaeda urban cells, one has to constantly monitor the situation from the air. And here precisely is the rub with this option.
"After the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, it's no simple task for the Americans to reach that country. The bases and airspace of Iran and Pakistan have become totally or partially inaccessible for military operations. The nearest [US] major airbase in the region is situated in Qatar. It takes about a 2,000 km-long flight to reach the mountainous and northern parts of the Taliban-controlled state. Such a distance isn't a problem for heavy reconnaissance planes, however, it makes it impossible to use lighter and more mass-produced planes.
"For that reason, the former Soviet republics, bordering on Afghanistan, are so attractive for the Americans. Not only UAVs and spy planes but also special forces could operate in Afghanistan from the bases in these states. The very same forces could be tasked with intelligence operations on the territory of Central Asian states or to monitor CSTO and Russian military activity and exercises in the region. Potentially, intelligence activities could even be mounted for surveilling China.
"American bases, which will be used to conduct strikes on terrorists in Afghanistan could arouse a retaliatory response. The very same ISIS regularly attack Iraqi airfields, at which the Pentagon's air force and troops are stationed, with rockets and mortars' fire that jeopardized US supply convoys as well. The US presence will pose a similar threat to Russian contingents and local authorities.
"Our country doesn't intend to meddle in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, much less attack the territory of that country. If someone else undertakes the extermination of terrorist (recognized as such by Russia) nests in a neighboring state, this seemingly, could only be welcomed.
"There are two Russian facilities in the region that could of interest to the Americans. Kyrgyzstan hosts the 999th "Kant" airbase near Bishkek, at which Russian strike aircraft are stationed. However, our "overseas partners" may find the 201st military base in Tajikistan much more to their liking.
"Gissar Airfield, located near Dushanbe, is ideal for surveillance of Afghanistan. From there it is but 150km from the border, in contrast to the 600km distance to the border from the Kyrgyz base. A helicopter squadron of the 201st Military Base is deployed there now. Heavy combat and military transport aircraft also land there regularly.
"The US has not abandoned the idea of building its their own military base, independent of Russia. For many years such base operated at the Manas airfield in Kyrgyzstan. It was situated just a few kilometers away from our "Kant" airbase. It was closed to the US only in 2014.
"It wasn't an imaginary threat but a very real one from Afghanistan that rallied a still rather mushy CSTO alliance. After the prompt withdrawal by the US and its allies from the republic, the Central Asian states have realized that Russia, and not the US or NATO, has become their main security guarantor. The "Peace Mission 2021" exercise that ended last week showed that military agenda is increasing within the SCO too.
"Considering this, allowing the Americans to re gain a foothold in the region again would be unwise for Russia, for both military and geopolitical considerations. It seems that the risks do not outweigh the benefits received."
Anton Lavrov (Source: Arms-export.ru)
 Iz.ru, September 29, 2021.