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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 29, July 6, 2013

US Loses Lone Base in Central Asia

Sunday 7 July 2013, by M K Bhadrakumar


The geopolitics of Central Asia has begun shifting in anticipation of the NATO forces ending their combat role as well as their pullout from Afghanistan and the proposed establishment of nine American military bases in that country. Kyrgyzstan last month gave the final touch to its strategic decision to demand that the US should vacate the Manas military base near the capital Bishkek by July 11, 2014.

All signs are that Washington has accepted the Kyrgyz decision and does not propose to seek its review. Bishkek has been blowing hot and cold, but this time it seems the final, final decision. Bishkek loses a revenue of $ 60 which the Pentagon has been paying as rent for the base. The Americans say they paid a total of $ 200 million last year to the Kyrgyz Government on various counts relating to the use of Manas.

For the tiny Kyrgyz economy this is a princely sum and the fact that Bishkek is foregoing it makes the decision over Manas a highly strategic one. Evidently, there is a Russian hand somewhere but between the present elected Kyrgyz leadership and Moscow there is such harmony that outsiders will never know the course of events in the period since the visit by President Vladimir Putin to Bishkek last September.

Indeed, Putin has brought Kyrgyzstan firmly back into the Russian orbit, ending its peregrinations through the past seven or eight years following the ‘colour revolution’ in 2005 and a rise in the US influence with the political elites in Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan is moving fast to join the Eurasia Union project, which envisages close integration amongst the former Soviet republics. Russia has consolidated its military presence in Kyrgyzstan and by coincidence, Moscow announced on June 26, just as the Kyrgyz leadership signed the formal eviction order on Manas, that it is commencing a big military aid programme for Kyrgyzstan, which could be worth over $ 1 billion.

Putin also swung a deal with Dushanbe
last october extending the lease for the
Russian military base in Tajikistan till 2042. The consolidation of the Russian military presence in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is commonly perceived—and rightly so—as Moscow’s response to the likely security threats emanating from Afghanistan following the NATO forces’ withdrawal.

However, there is also a bigger dimension to it in terms of the deep chill in Russia’s relations with the US as well as the unspoken—and unspeakable—fears or apprehensions regarding China’s growing presence in the Central Asian region. Curiously, China has distanced itself ostentatiously from the Kyrgyz decision to terminate the US military presence in Manas—unlike the high level of interest shown by the Russian media in this regard.

M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).

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