Russia gives way to US in Kyrgyzstan?
As the US military presence in the Central Asian state increases, Russia’s daily newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that Russia, on the contrary, is reducing its staff in the region and is switching to a new regime of service. Citing a source at the Air Command, NG reported that a military air base in Kant in the north of Kyrgyzstan is bringing to a close its social infrastructure – school, shop, kindergarten, etc.
In February, the base commander Vladimir Nosov announced that the families of most officers and servicemen will start returning home from March 1. He told journalists that the Russian Ministry of Defense imposed new rules on its military personnel serving abroad. Their families would no longer be allowed to live with them on a permanent basis. Ninety percent of the base personnel will be replaced with purely military contingent who will serve at the base for 12 months. The idea, Nosov said, is to optimize the expenses of Russian military bases abroad.
The airbase in Kant, some 20 kilometers from the capital Bishkek, was opened in 2003. About 250 Russian Air Force officers were deployed there.
In August, President Medvedev and his Kyrgyz counterpart Bakiyev signed a memorandum according to which a Russian military contingent up to the size of a battalion would be deployed on the territory of the Central Asian state. In addition, the two sides agreed to create a joint military center.
It was planned that an agreement over the creation and status of a new Russian military base in southern Kyrgyzstan would be signed by November 1, 2009. The document would be valid for 49 years.
The Kyrgyz side wanted the base to be located close to the border with its neighbor, another former Soviet state, Uzbekistan, in the southern Batken region. “All the evil comes from the border. Our request is to locate the proposed military base closer to the border, where transit routes lie,” said Raimkul Attakurov, Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador to Moscow, back in August last year.
The base was supposed to be used by a rapid reaction force formed by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) that unites Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.
The plan, however, was met with fierce criticism from Uzbekistan which claimed that the move would destabilize the region.
“The implementation of such projects on complex and unpredictable territory, where the borders of three Central Asian republics directly converge, may give impetus to the strengthening of militarization processes and initiate all kinds of nationalistic confrontations,” the Uzbek Foreign Ministry stated as quoted on registan.net. “Also, it could lead to the appearance of radical extremist forces that could lead to serious destabilization of this vast region.”
In response, the Secretary General of the CSTO Nikolay Borduyzha promised that Moscow and Bishkek would take Tashkent’s note into account. In a surprise move in December last year, the official said that he saw no necessity in creating a military base in the south of Kyrgyzstan, adding that rapid reaction forces are ready to act in any part of the CSTO member states and can solve both military and special tasks.
For that or any other reason, five months after the initially planned date, no agreement between Moscow and Bishkek has been signed. It is not clear whether the base will be created or not.
Meanwhile, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that the territory in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region that was to be used for the Russian base is now being considered by the US. It was previously rumored in the media that America, seeking to increase its influence in the region, was planning to build its base in Kyrgyzstan. The US Embassy in the central Asian country denied it, saying it was funding a training center for Kyrgyz troops.
“The United States does not have and does not seek to obtain a military base in Kyrgyzstan's south,” an embassy spokesman said as quoted by RIA Novosti. According to the official, the US government had allocated $5.5 million for the training center – the construction of which will be launched in 2011. He stressed that it would be owned by the Kyrgyz government and will be used for training Kyrgyz soldiers. As for who will train them, no comments followed.
The Kyrgyz Ministry of Defense said the new training center will not be aimed at other countries.
It is “the bilateral Kyrgyz-American relations project against international terrorism and religious extremism, transnational organized crime, prevention of drug smuggling, not oriented against other countries and does not conflict with national obligations under the CSTO and other international organizations,” the ministry’s press release stated as quoted by Ferghana.ru.
According to the statement, the training camp in the Batken region is one of many Kyrgyz-American joint military projects, and the cooperation on military-technical aid has been implemented under the Foreign Military Financing program since 1996.
Currently, the US also uses the Manas airbase near the Kyrgyz capital as a transit center to support its military operation in Afghanistan.
About 1000 US military personnel are stationed at the base.
Natalia Makarova, RT