The Kyrgyz government, keen to promote its own financial interests in the continued American military presence in Kyrgyzstan, has strongly pressed for greater revenue from Washington. This not only reflects the strategic value of the Manas air base, but also its increased importance since Tashkent decided to end the U.S. military deployment in Uzbekistan. Suchs concern were at least on the periphery of the Kyrgyz agenda during meetings held on November 1 between General John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), and Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev (Interfax, Moscow, November 1).
Bilateral military relations seem strong, based on mutual interest in the war on terror and Bishkek’s concerns relating to the stabilization of Afghanistan. Such common interests were also shared with Tashkent, but the change of regime in Bishkek may dispose many Washington planners to consider the relationship with Kyrgyzstan to be more durable. Although Abizaid does not consider the future of Manas to be any real doubt, its terms are clearly up for grabs, and this much has been evident for some time; officials are now seriously considering the details of what this may entail.
Essentially Bishkek would like to charge a fee for every metric ton of aviation fuel dumped by U.S. aircraft based at Ganci. On October 31 the Ministry for Emergency Situations in Bishkek said in a statement calculated to pre-empt the high-level talks and perhaps direct the Kyrgyz agenda in reviewing these arrangements that a draft agreement envisages a charge of up to $190 per ton. This is rooted in recent instances of U.S. KC-135 refueling planes dumping 80 tons of fuel in two separate incidents within a 24-hour period in the Chui Valley as a result of technical problems during flight. Environmental organizations expressed reservations, though both governments denied that any breach of environmental regulations had occurred. On October 31 the Kyrgyz authorities confirmed that government departments were involved in finding ways of imposing such charges on the U.S. Air Force. State Secretary Dastan Sarygulov was placed in charge of drafting such a document. The document itself seeks to impose fines on the American military for dumping fuel in breach of the Basel Convention on the Control of International Movements of Hazardous Wastes (Akipress, October 31).
Bakiyev, however, can hardly be accused of attempting to extract large sums of money as a direct pay-off for the American military presence in his country. But the nuance in pushing such environmental concerns is an intricate reflection of regional politics. Washington planners were painfully aware that, when Tashkent decided to step up pressure on the U.S. military deployment in Uzbekistan, press reports were carefully orchestrated in Tashkent concerning the alleged environmental damage from the U.S. base at Khanabad. Pressing for more favorable terms in this manner, alluding indirectly to environmental issues, gives no hint that Bakiyev may consider terminating the American presence at an unexpected moment.
Nevertheless, Bakiyev wants more from Washington, and this is assuredly only the thin end of the wedge. Pressure from China and Russia, bilaterally and through its membership of multilateral organizations, in particular the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), has taken place in parallel with Washington’s need to reappraise its assets and presence in Central Asia in the aftermath of the blow suffered by exclusion from Uzbekistan. The regime is also keen to promote ties with members of the coalition in the war on terror. On October 27, Kyrgyz Defense Minister Ismail Isakov and Hen Mun Jun, the South Korean military attaché to Kyrgyzstan, explored the possibility of establishing bilateral Kyrgyz-Korean cooperation at a working meeting in Bishkek. According to the Ministry of Defense press service, “Earlier Kyrgyzstan and Korea did not cooperate in the military sphere. However, before leaving the Ganci air base last year, Korean military medical staff handed medical equipment and medicines worth about 8 million soms (over $195,000) over to the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry” (Akipress, October 28).
Although Kyrgyz security structures have benefited from increased U.S. security assistance since 9/11, they remain weak, and the government looks to international donors to support its further development and strengthening. Looking to South Korea, though at a very early and exploratory stage, is much less controversial than moving closer to the United States. Everything that is carried out by Bishkek in the sensitive area of security fall under the watchful eye of a resurgent Russia and an increasingly interested China; in some ways its room for maneuver is less than prior to Bakiyev’s rise to power. The political benefit to Bakiyev in tasking government departments to work out a rather mundane environmental arrangement with the U.S. military lies in the scope it presents to undermine the areas open to hostility from the internal and regional opponents of the U.S. military presence. General Abizaid may have been relieved to find that his host requires only minimal reassurance in order to solidify still further the nature of Washington’s prioritizing Kyrgyzstan in its shifting and evolving security strategy in the region.