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    Russia starts military exercises in Tajikistan

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    Russia's 201st military base in Tajikistan has begun scheduled command and staff exercises, a base official said Tuesday.

    DUSHANBE, February 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's 201st military base in Tajikistan has begun scheduled command and staff exercises, a base official said Tuesday.

    Russia opened the 201st military base in 2004 with a contingent of several thousand personnel from a motorized infantry division stationed in Tajikistan since the beginning of the Cold War. The move was widely seen as Moscow's attempt to counter the growing influence of the United States in Central Asia.

    Pavel Konev said a motorized infantry battalion will conduct a simulated combat operation "against illegal militant groups intruding from a neighboring state." The final phase will include live firing missions and involve ground attack aircraft and combat helicopters.

    During the maneuvers, which will last until March 2, the battalion and supporting armored and artillery units will perform a 300km (186-mile) forced march over rugged desert and mountain terrain to a deployment zone near the Tajik-Afghan border.

    Russia's military base in Tajikistan, which hosts the 201st motorized infantry division, is part of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a regional post-Soviet security group in Central Asia.

    CSTO members - Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan - use the organization as a platform for fighting drug trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime, and have pledged to provide immediate military assistance to each other in the event of an attack.

    The 201st motorized infantry division consists of three motorized infantry regiments, an artillery regiment, air defense regiment, and also separate armored, motorized, medical, engineer and signal battalions alongside other division logistics and support units.

    The division operates an air squadron, comprising Mi-8 Hip and Mi-24 Hind helicopters. The base has 7,500 servicemen. As well as Dushanbe, military installations are located in Kuliab and Kurgantube in the south of the country and the eastern city of Nurek, where the Okno space-monitoring complex is based.

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