DUSHANBE–Tajikistan (Reuters)–Seven former Soviet republics will hold joint military exercises in Central Asia to coordinate their defenses against the threat of international terrorism–a Tajik defense spokesman’said on Monday.
Zerobiddin Sirozhev said troops from Russia–Kazakhstan–Kyrgyzstan–Tajikistan and Uzbekistan planned land exercises at military bases in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on April 3-4.
Air defenses from the five states plus Armenia and Belarus would join the "Commonwealth Southern Shield-2000" exercise from April 4 onwards–he said–but gave no other details.
Russia’s military campaign against separatists in breakaway Chechnya and outbreaks of violence in Central Asia have raised concerns about further instability from outside the region.
War-torn Afghanistan–which borders Tajikistan and Uzbekistan–is widely seen as one of the main backers of the guerrillas in the region–referred to by leaders in Russia and Central Asia as "international terrorists" and "bandits."
Thousands of Russian troops are posted along the Tajik-Afghan border–once known as the Soviet empire’s soft underbelly–to counter the threat and stem the flow of Afghan opium moving north.
Uzbekistan–the most populous Central Asian state and home to a strong Islamic revival–has shifted toward closer cooperation with Russia to counter what it sees as a security threat from Afghanistan–political analysts say.