In a surprise move, Kyrgyzstan President Bakiyev, during a visit to Moscow, stated that he would close the American Manas Air Base in his country. Bakiyev argued that the US mission in the region was complete and voiced concern over several issues including; financial compensation, an incident where a Kyrgyz citizen was killed on the base, and civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The US embassy in Bishkek has not heard a word about this and it looks like the Kyrgyz parliament will vote on the matter this Friday. Here’s Bakiyev:
“Eight years have passed. We have repeatedly raised with the United States the matter of economic compensation for the existence of the base in Kyrgyzstan, but we have not been understood.”
This comes as surprise as CentCom Commander Gen. Petraeus just finished a tour across nearly all the CA states securing transit routes and permission. If the base closes, and the US would reportedly get 180 days to do so, this will put further strain on supplying US/NATO troops in Afghanistan as well as hurt US-Kyrgyz relations. The base is an important supplying corridor for US troops in Afghanistan and has been in use for nearly the war’s entire duration.
We must take note where Bakiyev made this announcement, Moscow. He was meeting with Russian President Medvedev and it looks like Bakiyev obtained a $2 billion dollar loan and another $150 million in aid from its powerful northern neighbor. It appears cash-strapped Bishkek, which is already in debt to Moscow, made a trade off, Russian money for kicking the US out of Manas. Stratfor asserts that the Kyrgyz state was also being cyber blackmailed by Moscow in recent weeks.
This whole move is very discouraging as Moscow-DC-NATO seemed to be making inroads regarding Afghan stability and supply routes and this counters that goal implicitly. The US has not been kicked out yet and this could just be a slight power play by Moscow to force US concessions elsewhere (missile shields, NATO expansion). Bishkek could also be using this financial crisis to obtain more rent from the US military as it has done so before after the SCO Astana Declaration demanded the US withdraw from all CA bases.
American political and military officials state that nothing has been decided yet and there is still hope an agreement can be reached to keep the US in Manas. Though if this push out becomes a reality it will likely mean a loss of American influence and strategic capacity in Central Asia and further deteriorating of Washington-Moscow relations. Russia seems willing to deal and obstruct at the same time. It seems they are at one time balancing against the threat of Central Asia instability and in the next moment balancing against the threat of US dominance in their perceived backyard.
I doubt the US will take this closure attempt laying down and I’m sure as we speak US officials are negotiating with Bakiyev and his parliament about a new deal to keep the base in play for American forces. But Moscow’s money and regional influence will be hard to shake for the Kyrgyz government and one should expect that if the US gets to keep the base, rent prices will once again skyrocket.
(Photo: U.S. Air Force servicemen walk by a C-17 cargo plane at Manas airport near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: Source (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)