On December 24th the President of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev, held a major press conference in Bishkek which was notable for a series of important statements on foreign and domestic policy. According to analysts, the tone and the meaning behind his statements implied that Kyrgyzstan had embarked upon the path of a closer alliance with Russia.
One of the most resounding of President Atambayev’s remarks was in regard to the future of the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan. «There should be no military dimension at Manas international airport», he stated. «This is my principle position, and this position has not been adopted under any pressure». According to the president of Kyrgyzstan, the American presence has had a destabilizing effect on the region… Drug production during the 11 years of war in Afghanistan has not ceased to grow. In the future, the U.S. presence at Manas can create great difficulties for Kyrgyzstan.
The statement that the Americans should leave Manas has been made by the Kyrgyz President before. However, in reality this was not the case. Most revealing in this regard is the experience of the previous Kyrgyz President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. In February 2009, Russia promised to provide $ 150 million in free aid to Kyrgyzstan, a soft loan of $ 300 million, and another loan of $ 1.7 billion for the construction of one of the largest hydro electric power plants in the region, the Kambarata HPP-1 plant. According to analysts, one of the informal conditions of the loan was the closing of the U.S. base in Manas. However, Bishkek, having received the first two loans decided to keep U.S. military base and renamed it as a Transit Center and increased the rental by almost three times – up to $ 60 million a year. Sometime later, in April 2010, the Kurmanbek Bakiyev regime fell.
Kyrgyzstan's new leadership headed by Roza Otunbayeva, in desperate need of financial and economic assistance, chose not to force the closure of the base. In fact, the Americans reached an agreement that the base in Kyrgyzstan could continue in the future. The rent came in handy for a republic damaged by revolution. In addition, the provisional government of Kyrgyzstan, which was a coalition of disparate political forces of differing orientation, clearly did not want to spoil relations with the United States. In fact two months before the Kyrgyzstan leadership extended the contract with the U.S. for the military base in Manas, which was announced before the parliamentary election on 10th October 2010. It was announced that the contract was extended for a year, but later it became known that an agreement had already been reached on a three-year term for the U.S. base in Manas.
The new presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan, held in October 2011, were won by A. Atambayev, who during the election promised to close down the base at Manas. «The agreement on the Transit Center expires in 2014», Atambayev stated on August 15th last year in an interview with Russian journalists»… in full compliance with our obligations, six months before that date we will notify the U.S. side of the termination of the contract, and from 2014 onwards there will be a major civilian international transport hub here. « The previous government of the republic, he said, had already spoiled its international reputation, in not fulfilling its obligations. And in order to remedy the situation, previous agreements needed to be fulfilled.
In Kyrgyzstan, there is often speculation about why the Kyrgyz government has not rushed to keep its promises to close down Manas. According to the leader of the «Akshumkar» party, Temir Sariyev, «the ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev always had a single argument – the military air base at «Manas». Some international organizations have a significant impact on the political process in Kyrgyzstan, but every time Kurmanbek Bakiyev mentioned the military base, all other issues faded into the background, including the observance of human rights. «It was no surprise that the interim president Roza Otunbayeva extended the agreement for the U.S. base. According to the Director of the Centre for Science Methodology and Social Research, Nurbek Omuraliev, for crimes against humanity committed during the ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan, members of the interim government could be brought to justice before the International Criminal Court. «But in some circles it is claimed – he said – that while Kyrgyzstan has this transit center, or base, as it is often called, our government is not threatened».
Obviously the Americans do not want to part with the base, although most of their troops should have left Afghanistan by 2014. The air base at Manas, the Americans say, is needed to provide a «limited» military presence. The date for the end of this presence is not yet clear. In late July, the U.S. Congress held hearings on the subject, in which the U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Robert Blake said that the U.S. is negotiating with Kyrgyzstan to maintain the base.
The Kyrgyz leadership has already decided the order of their actions after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. According to President Atambayev, Bishkek has, «an agreement with Russia to support the Kyrgyzstan army». Atambayev also noted the expediency of the appearance of another Russian military base in the south of Kyrgyzstan. «I would be happy to «agree» to another backup power in southern Kyrgyzstan», he stated at a news conference. In the past the creation of a Russian base in the southern regions of the Republic was prevented, according to him, by the former Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, but, perhaps, with a new head of the defense department things will change. The question of the location of a Russian military base in southern Kyrgyzstan was raised in the last years of the Kurmanbek Bakiyev presidency, but then it was not resolved. However, in the present circumstances, it is probable that with the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan, the need for a military base in the Fergana Valley is becoming more acute.
President Atambayev accused the former Russian Defense Minister of not resolving the question of the transfer to Russian control over the «Dastan» plant which produces rocket torpedoes for the Russian Navy. According to him, Serdyukov was strongly opposed to Russian companies coming to «Dastan». In this case, the only future for the plant is in the case of cooperation with Russia, or the plant will have to shut down, as has happened with other Kyrgyz engineering plants that were built in the Soviet period.