Russia Slams US, NATO Influence In Central Asia
A senior Russian official hit out Tuesday at the US and NATO presence in the former Soviet Central Asian states, accusing Washington of inflaming tensions in the volatile region on Russia's border and undermining local efforts to boost security there.

Igor Ivanov, the head of Russia's Security Council, painted a critical picture of US influence from Baghdad to Kabul and highlighted the case of the Central Asian states.

"Stability is lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq. The situation in the South Caucasus is also difficult," he was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying at a meeting of a regional security bloc led by Russia, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation.

"The pressure that NATO and US political and military structures exert on Central Asia is heightening tension in the area of responsibility" of the Collective Security Treaty group, Ivanov added.

Moscow has long considered the Central Asian states to be Russia's sphere of influence and has viewed with alarm Washington's rising profile in the region, especially since the 2001 overthrow of Afghanistan's Taliban leadership.

Russia this month scored a symbolic victory over Washington however when it signed a mutual defence pact with Uzbekistan, a move that followed Uzbekistan's ejection of a US air base amid deteriorating relations between Tashkent and the United States.

Uzbekistan followed that up with an announcement last Wednesday that its territory and airspace would henceforth be closed for use by military forces from nearly all countries of the US-led North American Treaty Organization (NATO), Germany being an exception.

Ivanov on Tuesday reiterated that Russia had no plans to establish new Russian military bases in Central Asia, beyond those it has in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

"Currently the establishing of additional bases is not planned," he said.