MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday Russia must strengthen its defenses in the south and work with Central Asian allies to protect itself against the threat of extremist violence emerging from Afghanistan.
Putin told a meeting of his Security Council that U.S. and NATO-led forces “have not yet achieved a breakthrough in the fight against terrorist and radical groups” in Afghanistan and that these groups have become more active recently.
“We need to strengthen the security system in the strategic southern area, including its military component,” Putin said, adding Russia must work with fellow members of two regional security alliances, one of which includes China.
Russia, which supported the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, has expressed concern that threats to its security could increase following the planned withdrawal of most foreign combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
“There is every reason to believe that in the near future we may face a worsening of the situation. International terrorist and radical groups do not hide their plans to export instability,” Putin said.
He also said “international forces have done practically nothing to root out drug production in Afghanistan” and have ignored Russian proposals, apparently referring to its calls for more efforts to eradicate crops of poppies used to make heroin.
Russia is one of the world’s largest per capita consumers of heroin, with addiction and death from drugs contributing to a decline in the population since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Putin said Russia, which is separated geographically from Afghanistan by the ex-Soviet states of Central Asia, should step up migration controls on its southern border and “exponentially increase the effectiveness of work to stem drug trafficking.”
He said the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), an alliance of six ex-Soviet republics including three in Central Asia, should speed up efforts to better arm and equip a rapid-reaction force that has done little so far.
Putin also said the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which includes Russia and China as well as the Central Asian states of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, should be involve in efforts to improve security, but gave no details.
Russia has an air base in Kyrgyzstan and more than 6,000 soldiers stationed in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan.
Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Jon Hemming