Vladimir Putin has proposed setting up a Nato-style joint task force of post-Soviet states to secure the borders of Central Asia amid fears of Taliban “spillover” from Afghanistan.
A fresh sign of the Russian president’s new military assertiveness, the deployment raises the possibility of Russian and allied troops being deployed along Tajikistan’s 800-mile border with Afghanistan, and Moscow tightening its influence of governments in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
It comes a day after Barack Obama said American troops would stay in Afghanistan for at least two more years – itself a tacit admission that the Afghan government is unable to tackle the threat of a resurgent Taliban alone.
"The situation there [in Afghanistan] is genuinely close to critical," Mr Putin told a summit of former Soviet states in Burabay, Kazakhstan. “Terrorists of different stripes are gaining more influence and do not hide their plans for further expansion. One of their aims is the break into the Central Asian region.”
While details of the joint task force have not been released, Russia’s relatively modern and powerful military necessarily form the core of any force put together.
Russian troops were responsible for guarding Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan until 2005, when they pulled out following the expiry of the treaty that had kept them there.
Mr Putin’s comments follower earlier announcements that Russia would beef up its military presence in Tajikistan, an impoverished former Soviet state that borders Afghanistan.
The Kremlin is said to have become particularly concerned after the Taliban assault on the city of Kunduz, not far from the border with Uzbekistan in northern Afghanistan, last month.
Taliban fighters occupied Kunduz for three days before being expelled by Afghan forces backed by American airstrikes, one of which destroyed a hospital operated by Doctor’s Without Borders.
Russia and other former Soviet states have become increasingly alarmed at the prospect of spillover from Afghanistan after the American withdrawal.
Mr Putin said on Friday there are believed to be “5000 to 7000” citizens of former Soviet states fighting with the Isil terror group in Syria and Iraq.
A number of recent incidents have highlighted the threat of radical Islam in the former Soviet space.
A Taliban-linked group last month released a propaganda video showing an ethnic Uzbek man from Kyrgyzstan carrying out a suicide truck bombing in Syria.
Babur Israilov, 21, was filmed weeping as he climbed into an explosives-packed armoured personnel carrier during an Al-Nusra assault near Aleppo in September. Relatives have said Mr Israilov was radicalised while working as a migrant labourer in Russia.
Meanwhile, police in Kyrgyzstan said they had killed one of four Islamists who escaped from a prison in Bishkek, the country’s capital, on Monday. The escapees killed three prison guards during the breakout.
Police said Daniyar Kadyraliev, a convicted terrorist and a reported member of the banned Jaishul-Mahdi Islamist extremist group, was shot dead in a suburb of Bishkek on Friday morning when he resisted arrest.
Barack Obama on Thursday dropped long-held plans to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan before the end of his presidency in 2017.
The current American force of 9,800 troops will remain in place in Afghanistan until the end of 2016, before dropping down to 5,500, Mr Obama said.
The Taliban responded to Mr Obama’s announcement by threatening more attacks on American personnel and installations.
"Maintaining American troops in Afghanistan can in no way slow down the rapid process of our Jihad and struggle," the Islamist militant group said in a statement, they said on Friday.
While Mr Putin’s and Mr Obama’s recent comments reflect a shared recognition of the threat posed by the Taliban and other radical groups in central Asia, experts said cooperation on the issue is likely to be stymied by mistrust and clashing geopolitical interests.
“The West simply doesn’t trust Mr Putin. Just as in Syria he has said he is fighting against Isil, but in reality is fighting to preserve Bashar Assad’s regime, in central Asia they will suspect him of using the threat of Islamism as an excuse to create a zone that will be eventually be recognised as a Russian sphere of influence,” said Arkady Dubnov, a Moscow based expert in Central Asian affairs.
The move may face some push back from regional rulers, like Emomali Rahmon, the president of Tajikistan, and Islam Karimov, the authoritarian president of Uzbekistan, for similar reasons.
Abdugani Mamadazimov, a Tajik political analyst, said the government in Dushanbe would be likely to resist the idea of Russian and allied troops one again assuming responsibility for the country’s borders.
"For Russia to have a base in the country is one thing. But the border is a matter of national sovereignty for the Tajik government," he told AFP.
Mr Dubnov, who said Mr Rahmon had helped fuel the threat from radicalisation with short-sighted domestic policies, said Central Asian governments would have little choice but to accept Russian assistance and the consequent increased dependence on Moscow.
“They need Russian help to address this challenge; but that doesn’t mean they actually want it,” he said.