Russia wins military base extension in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz "Scorpion" special forces soldiers perform during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Russia's air force at the Russian air base in Kant, about 20km outside Bishkek, on August 12, 2012. (AFP Photo/Vyacheslav Oseledko)
Bishkek and Moscow have hammered out the details on extending Russia’s military footprint in the Central Asian republic, Sapar Isakov, of the Kyrgyz presidential administration, told reporters on Thursday.

Kyrgyzstan and Russia officials are putting the final touches on a contract that allows Russian military sites to remain in the Central Asian republic for 15 years.

Russia has a communication post and a torpedo testing range in northern Kyrgyzstan and a seismic station in southern Kyrgyzstan. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) air base is located in Kant, near Bishkek.

The new agreement will enter into force when Russia’s current contract on military sites in Kyrgyzstan expires in 2017, Isakov said, while adding that the rental rate will be unchanged, but a separate agreement will settle payment for infrastructure and communication services.

The Kyrgyz official pointed to Kyrgyzstan’s sovereignty as the impetus behind the agreement with Russia.

"The goal of these agreements is to protect Kyrgyzstan's sovereignty,” he said. “We also bear in mind that Russia is the main strategic partner of Kyrgyzstan."

The opening of another Russian base in southern Kyrgyzstan was not on the agenda, Isakov added.

Russia is currently paying approximately $4.5 million annually to lease bases in Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan, given its strategic location in Central Asia, has been a point of contention in the past between Moscow and Washington.

Moscow has been increasingly concerned about US activities in Central Asia, especially in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in April said Russia wants information on US plans to keep its military contingent in Afghanistan after its scheduled pullout of international troops in 2014.

"We do not understand such (US) plans to maintain a presence, we have questions and we would like to get answers," the minister said.

In 2009, Kyrgyzstan announced it would terminate America’s use of the Manas air base, which had been used as a launching point for military operations in Afghanistan, where the US has been fighting since 2001.

The closure of the US base prompted heated speculation in Washington that Moscow was somehow behind the decision.

US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, created a diplomatic row in May when he accused Moscow of “bribing Kyrgyzstan” to ensure that the Central Asian republic would end its lease agreement with the US for the Manas base.

Moscow called the claims "absurd."