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Russia Vows To Help US Stabilize Afghanistan

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MOSCOW — President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that Russia and its ex-Soviet allies wanted to cooperate with the United States on stabilizing Afghanistan but he appeared to link any help to changes in Western policy.

Saying Moscow and its allies "are ready for full-fledged, comprehensive cooperation," the Russian leader seemed to imply that Moscow's help on Afghanistan was contingent on a broader list of changes it wants from the new U.S. administration.

These include a halt to NATO enlargement in Europe and the cancellation of plans for a U.S. missile-defense system on Russia's western borders.

Medvedev spoke less than a day after Kyrgyzstan got billions in new Russian aid and announced it was evicting the U.S. from an air base key to Afghan operations. His mix of conciliatory language and implicit demand for U.S. concessions may represent a risky attempt to pursue conflicting strategic goals at a moment when U.S. policy on Afghanistan is being remade by President Barack Obama.

Russia has long been irritated by the U.S. military presence in what is considers its natural areas of influence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The Kremlin is widely believed to be behind the move against the U.S. by Kyrgyzstan's government, which submitted a draft bill to parliament Wednesday that would close the Manas air base.

But Moscow, which fought its own bloody and unsuccessful 10-year war to control Afghanistan, also does not want the country's instability spreading north toward Russia. The Kremlin has said it is open to aiding U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan by helping to find alternatives to Pakistani supply lines that are increasingly threatened by militant attacks.

Medvedev spoke after a meeting of presidents from the seven-member Collective Security Treaty Organization _ a loose, Moscow-dominated alliance made up of Kyrgyzstan and other ex-Soviet states. The group announced the creation of a joint rapid-reaction force that would boost the military dimension of an alliance that has until now served mostly as a forum for security consultations.

"Russia and other CSTO members are ready for full-fledged, comprehensive cooperation with the United States and other coalition members in fighting terrorism in the region," Medvedev told reporters. "This fight must be comprehensive and include both military and political components. Only in this case will there be a chance to succeed."

He said Obama was right in making Afghanistan's stability a priority, but he also appeared to criticize U.S. efforts there, saying it would be impossible to defeat terrorism only using military means.

"It is necessary to form a full-fledged political system, keeping in mind, cultural and historic traditions. Democracy cannot be forced upon (a country). It must grow from within," he said. "It's not the number of bases that matters. It would be good if that would help reduce the number of terrorists, but the fight against terrorism is not limited to building up military forces."

Russia announced a $2.15 billion aid package for Kyrgyzstan Tuesday hours before Kyrgyz leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev's statement about ending the U.S. presence. Russian officials have denied any connection between the two.

Losing Manas would pose a serious challenge to Obama's plan to send up to 30,000 more American forces into Afghanistan this year to fighting surging Taliban and al-Qaida violence.

The United States set up Manas and a base in neighboring Uzbekistan after the September 2001 attacks to back operations in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan expelled U.S. troops from the base on its territory in 2005 in a dispute over human rights issues, leaving Manas as the only U.S. military facility in the immediate region.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said the U.S. had not agreed to any new arrangement at Manas and that Kyrgyz officials had not notified U.S. officials about ending U.S. access.

U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman, meanwhile, said that about 1,000 U.S. troops _ and dozens each of French and Spanish _ are working at the base to move 15,000 people and 500 tons of cargo monthly through the facility for the Afghan campaign.

"Kyrgyzstan has been a good ally. And we certainly appreciate the arrangement that we have with them right now," Whitman told reporters. "The base does contribute to the security and stability of Central Asia and Afghanistan."

Use of the facility is laid out in a July 2006 agreement that requires the United States. to pay $17.4 million a year, renewable each year through July 2011 _ and with the option by either side to back out of the agreement with 180 days notice.

Total U.S. assistance to the country is about $150 million a year for a range of help, including health, police, human rights and economic programs.

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Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report .