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Russia Contemplates Options For Aiding U.S. With Retaliation

By Maura Reynolds
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- MOSCOW

Russia is considering various forms of cooperation with the United States in a possible military assault on terrorists based in Afghanistan, and is conferring with its Central Asian allies, U.S. and Russian officials said Monday.

“They have not ruled anything in or anything out,” Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton said after meeting with top Russian officials.

Russia’s cooperation could be critical to any U.S. military action in Afghanistan. Three of Russia’s closest allies and neighbors -- the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan -- form Afghanistan’s northern border. Russia operates several military facilities in the region and has 10,000 troops in Tajikistan -- an entire motor-rifle division and about 5,000 border guards.

As recently as Friday, top Russian officials were expressing doubts about cooperating with the United States. But that appeared to shift Monday, with President Vladimir V. Putin holding telephone talks with Central Asian leaders and dispatching his top security adviser, Security Council chief Vladimir B. Rushailo, to the region.

“We will hold consultations and negotiations ... to discuss efforts to coordinate activities in combating terrorism,” Rushailo said.

The pace of U.S.-Russian consultations has quickened in recent days. On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov is scheduled to confer with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in Washington.

America’s potential military action in Afghanistan puts Russia in a delicate position. If it cooperates with the United States, its traditional friendship with a number of Muslim and Arab countries, including Iran, Iraq and Syria might be threatened.

However, the Russian public appears to approve of some form of support for U.S. military action, as long as any campaign closely targets specific terrorist facilities and avoids civilian casualties.