Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged members of a regional security alliance to be prepared to take "preventive measures" against the Islamic State (IS) group in Central Asia.
Speaking at a December 23 summit meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) -- an intergovernmental military alliance whose members include Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- Putin said that there must be "coordinated actions" to fight terrorism, according to the TASS news agency.
The Russian President expressed concerns about the situation in Afghanistan, including some regarding the Islamic State group.
"The current situation gives rise to concerns, there are militias of the so-called Islamic State which are threatening that they will include some provinces of Afghanistan in the so-called Islamic caliphate," Putin said, using the term given by the Islamic State group to describe the areas under its control.
The pro-Kremlin RIA Novosti news agency quoted Putin as saying that "terrorist groups" were trying to extend their activities to Central Asia.
"Under these conditions, the CSTO must be prepared for sufficient preventive measures," Putin said.
However, the Russian president did not specify what such measures may include.
Putin's comments come amid rising concerns about the threat of the Islamic State group and the influence and spread of its extremist ideology in Central Asian countries, particularly Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.
Citizens from all the CSTO's Central Asian countries are fighting in Syria and Iraq, mostly in the ranks of Islamic State, as are Russian citizens, mostly from the Northern Caucasus.
Prior to Putin's call for regional cooperation to combat regional terrorism threats, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov asked the Russian president for help in combating regional extremism, citing the threat from Afghanistan and the rise of IS.
At a December 10 meeting with Putin in Tashkent, Karimov called for "preventive measures" against extremism, and told the Russian leader that "various representatives" of Islamic State had entered Afghanistan from Iraq and Syria.
Fears that IS and other Central Asian militants fighting in Syria and Iraq pose a domestic threat to Central Asian republics were heightened after the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is active in Afghanistan, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in October.
Meanwhile, the links between Uzbek militants and Afghanistan were highlighted in November when the largest Uzbek faction in Syria, known as the Imam Bukhori jamaat, pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban.
In Kazakhstan, fears that the Islamic State group's ideology is posing a threat to domestic security reached new levels last month after Kazakh nationals, including a group of children, were featured in a recent IS video. The short film showed the children undergoing ideological and military instruction in Syria. Kazakhstan banned the video.
Indicating the deep concerns that the video raised in Kazakhstan, the country's President Nursultan Nazarbayev warned in a December 21 press conference that IS militants were attracting supporters by providing assistance to the "unemployed, the poor, and the sick."
Fears of Islamic State's influence are also running high in Kyrgyzstan, which, following the lead of Kazakstan, has also instructed local media outlets to take down reports that show the Islamic State video featuring Kazakh children. Antiterrorism officials in Kyrgyzstan warned that the video may use neurolinguistic programming techniques to influence children and young people. Bakyt Dubanayev, Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry representative to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Antiterrorism Center said on December 3 that Islamic State was waging "psychological warfare" including in Central Asia.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk