A top Russian military official denied reports that Russia may set up bases in Afghanistan, even while reiterating readiness to assist the Afghan armed forces. “I want to state that there are no plans today for [Russian] military bases on the territory of Afghanistan,” said Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov.

General Antonov said Russia had always responded to Afghanistan’s needs for strengthening its armed forces and was ready to consider further requests. “But the question of setting up our bases in Afghanistan is not being discussed. Reports stating the opposite are rubbish,” the official said.

A Russian Defence Ministry spokesman said last week that at an upcoming security conference in Moscow Russian and NATO officials would discuss “various options of establishing maintenance bases” in Afghanistan for Russian-made military hardware.

Experts said NATO was keen to draw Russia back to Afghanistan, but Moscow has consistently rejected any military role in Afghanistan, where it fought a losing war 30 years ago.

Prof. Vadim Kozyulin of the Academy of Military Science said Russia was unlikely to set up major equipment maintenance bases in Afghanistan. He recalled that U.S. forces were using former Russian bases and just need some technical help. “We may provide technical assistance to them and help train [maintenance] specialists, but for major repairs Russian-made hardware will be taken back to Russia,” he said.

More In: International | News | World