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Russia and ex-Soviet partners plan joint border defense

Russia and former Soviet republics in Central Asia have agreed to create a joint task force to defend external borders. Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned that violence in Afghanistan could spread north.

The Russian president said on Friday that the violence in Afghanistan could spill over into the former Soviet states, claiming that the situation was "genuinely close to critical."

Putin made his comments at a meeting at a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) taking place in Kazakhstan. Leaders at the meeting agreed to create a joint task force to defend the bloc in the event of a crisis.

"Terrorists of different stripes are gaining more influence and do not hide their plans for further expansion," Putin told the meeting at the Burabai resort, near the Kazakh capital, Astana.

"One of their aims is to break into the Central Asian region. It is important for us to be ready to react in concert to this scenario."

No details were released about the composition of the force or where it would be deployed. Afghanistan shares a border with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which has been a source of drugs entering Russia and one of Moscow's major security worries.

Moscow mulls return to frontier

Russia, which patrolled the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan until 2005, has said it does not rule out reestablishing its presence. Moscow still has military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

"Whether or not Russia is going to return there is a matter that will be resolved through bilateral agreements," Sergei Lebedev, CIS executive secretary and former director of Russia's foreign intelligence service, told the meeting on Friday.

Putin's statement came a day after US President Barack Obama said American troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2016, reversing a key campaign pledge. The US president admitted Afghan forces were not ready to stand alone against the resurgent Taliban. Two weeks ago, the Taliban had their biggest coup since the 2001 US-led invasion of the country, capturing the northern city of Kunduz.

Making progress in Syria

Putin also told the meeting that some 5,000 to 7,000 people from former Soviet states including Russia, were fighting for the militant group "Islamic State."

"We cannot allow them to come to our home and use the experience they are currently acquiring in Syria," he said. Putin said Russia, with its air campaign in Syria, was making some progress in its efforts against the militant group.

rc/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)