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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 07:00 GMT 08:00 UK
Russia opens Kyrgyzstan base
Su-27 fighters fly over Kant air base
The Russian base is 30km from a US camp
Vladimir Putin has opened Russia's first new foreign military base since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Speaking on the one-year anniversary of a Moscow theatre siege by Chechen separatists, the Russian president said the base would strengthen regional security.

"That tragic event still hurts in our hearts and shows that terrorism is not an empty threat," Mr Putin said.

"By creating an air shield here in Kyrgyzstan, we intend to strengthen security in the region, whose stability has became a tangible factor affecting the development of the international situation," he said.

The BBC's Moscow correspondent, Damian Grammaticus, says Russia has chosen a highly strategic location for its first new foreign military base, reversing a decade of closures in places like Cuba and Vietnam.

The snow-capped Tienshan mountains rise to the south; beyond them is China. Afghanistan and Pakistan are a short flight away.

Russia says it wants to preserve stability in the region against threats like that posed by extremist Islamic groups.

But many believe it also wants to counter the growing influence of the United States.

Less than five minutes flying time from the Russian base is Manas airfield, which American aircraft have been using to support operations in Afghanistan since shortly after the 11 September, 2001, attacks.

The Russian Defence Ministry has insisted that the US should only stay in the area until the situation in Afghanistan stabilises.

The Americans say they have had no direct talks with the Russians about their new base and will leave issues like air traffic control up to the Kyrgyz authorities.

The BBC's Jacky Rowland
"A new great game seems to be under way"

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