The authorities in Kyrgyzstan increasingly favor the Collective Security Treaty Organization in general and the Russian air base at Kant in particular. This view is becoming more prevalent in the Kyrgyz media as well, downplaying the significance and the role played by the U.S. Ganci base at Manas.
In the words of Marat Sultanov, speaker of the Kyrgyz parliament, “The base at Kant is a base of the CSTO, and therefore it is also a Kyrgyz base. Nobody can say that it is a foreign base. It is true that most of the troops there are Russian officers, but it is also a Kyrgyz base. For this reason, I think we have only one foreign base,” Sultanov remarked. He appears to believe that, in order to put the interests of Kyrgyzstan first, the country must rely more on Russia and the base at Kant, which consequently needs more support from Kyrgyz security bodies. The implication in such thinking is that the days are numbered for the U.S. base (Kyrgyz Radio 1, May 23).
The nature of this latest internal attack on the future of the U.S. military in Kyrgyzstan revolves around speculation that the base could be used for an attack on Iran. Justification for the “foreign” military presence within the country has always been rooted in the need to support allied operations in Afghanistan.
In fact, now that such speculation is rife within the Kyrgyz media, it seems difficult to lay the matter to rest — denials simply fuel further comment. On May 24 Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev said Kyrgyzstan would not allow the coalition’s air base to be used by the United States to attack either Iran or Iraq. Atambayev criticized the original intergovernmental agreement on the use of the base as having been drawn up “too cunningly, and it would be practically impossible to terminate it” (Itar-Tass, May 24). On May 23, the future of the base was once again called into question when Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced that a commission had been formed to review the bilateral agreement concerning the base.
Bakiyev is evidently prepared to place a significant part of the security risk in the hands of his Russian allies. Bishkek, following the announcement of Kazakhstan’s new military doctrine, which stresses the importance of the CSTO, seems to be following a similar course. “Having discussed the CSTO’s functioning, I and [CSTO General-Secretary] Nikolai Bordyuzha have come to a conclusion that great attention will be paid to practical work in assessing the organization’s activities. Kyrgyzstan intends to take practical steps to reinforce its armed forces and special subunits, which are part of the Collective Rapid Deployment Force in the Central Asian region. This will enable us to work more efficiently in strengthening the security of the CSTO in the nearest future,” Bakiyev said (Itar-Tass, May 24).
Sources within the Kyrgyz government said that areas have already been identified where the original terms of the deployment may be changed. The government will hear the results of the work carried out by the commission and then a decision will be taken on the future of the base. The Kyrgyz are carrying out a “comprehensive analysis” of the use of the base and the implications for the ongoing deployment. An effort may be underway, therefore, to undermine or invalidate the intergovernmental agreement on Manas (24.Kg, May 23).
Russian comment on these developments has been predictably scathing on U.S. policy in the region. Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, president of the Russian Academy of Geopolitical Problems, explained in Bishkek, “If parliamentary committees have adopted a resolution to this effect, then this issue has matured in society, and there are probably reasons for this. One of them may be active interference by Americans, not only staff of the U.S. embassy in Kyrgyzstan or foreign non-governmental organizations, in Kyrgyzstan’s internal affairs. Americans act so everywhere,” he stressed. Moscow appears keen to drive a wedge between U.S. interests and those of the “people” in Central Asian countries.
In such a climate of hostility toward the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry (SAEPF) has suggested that the Ganci base should pay 20.64 million soms (about $545,000) as compensation for environmental pollution caused by the jettisoning of aircraft fuel. Aytkul Burkhanov, deputy director of SAEPF, has alleged that the agency is aware of 12 cases of emergency jettisoning of fuel by tankers used by the Manas base between 2003 and September 2006, resulting in the dumping of around 345 tons. U.S. personnel have asked for evidence to support these figures (Kabar, May 24).
This more aggressive approach to the future of Manas is coupled with a sense of independence that is developing in official statements on Bishkek’s capability to counter threats from terrorism. “Kyrgyzstan can cope with the threat of possible terrorist incursions without U.S. servicemen’s participation,” according to Alisher Sabirov, a member of parliament. Although Bishkek has benefited in security terms from the U.S. deployment in the country, there now seems to be mounting opposition to the continued U.S. presence at Manas, as well as greater reliance on CIS security structures.
“It is not about squeezing the American air base out of the country. Kyrgyzstan is maturing. The CIS is becoming stronger. Understanding the fact that it has a small army and weak economy, Kyrgyzstan joined the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an air component of which is deployed at Kant. This organization is exactly designed for preventing terrorism, extremism, and similar threats in the CIS countries,” suggested Toktogul Kakchekeyev, a widely respected Kyrgyz political scientist (24.Kg, May 24). The squeeze is happening, however, under Moscow’s watchful eye.