The U.S. and allied deployment at the Peter Ganci air force station near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is steadily growing toward the planned level of more than 3,000 troops. Six American F-18 Hornet fighter-bomber jets and 200 U.S. marines are the latest addition to the forces deployed there. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to visit the station shortly.
Kyrgyzstan’s agreement with the United States, signed last December, is valid for one year, after which it comes up for reconsideration and can be prolonged. Washington carefully avoids describing the military presence here–or at the Khanabad base in Uzbekistan–as “long term,” let alone “permanent.” U.S. officials state that the presence will continue as long as necessary for completing antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan. The implication is that no specific time limit is attached to the American military presence in Central Asia. Early indications suggest that Russia is beginning to pressure President Askar Akaev and his government into not prolonging the agreement beyond the first year.
The Russian-led CIS antiterrorism exercise just held in Central Asia provided an opportunity for Moscow officials to issue some early warnings to Kyrgyz leaders. Russia’s Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev, meeting with Akaev in Bishkek, declared live on television: “The Americans had initially said that they were not going to stay here for a long time. And I think that they need to think themselves that they won’t be here long” (Kyrgyz Pyramid Television, April 17). Patrushev went on to caution that Moscow would “take the United States at its word that its military is here for a short stay.” There has been no such U.S. word, however.
The CIS antiterrorism chief and exercise commander, Lieutenant General Boris Mylnikov, suggested that Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries incur multiple risks by hosting U.S. forces. Mylnikov mentioned, directly or indirectly, three: calling forth a Russian response, irritating other Asian countries and fueling political tensions in Central Asia itself, where “anti-American terrorists could intensify their activities.” Mylnikov charged that Manas and Khanabad “can turn into bridgeheads for a long-term American military presence in Central Asia, the CIS states included, enabling the United States to exercise long-term control over military and political developments in the region and in the adjacent countries. We could not turn a blind eye to a prolongation of this presence.”
Mylnikov underscored that the American military presence, if prolonged, might be used “against Iran or Iraq, whom the United States regards as rogue states,” or even “as part of preventive measures against China, whose prospects to become a great Eurasian power arouse Washington’s concern.” Russian officials who take this line are apparently hoping to create a common diplomatic front from Moscow to Tehran to Beijing against the U.S. military presence in Central Asia.
Major General Sergei Chernomyrdin, head of the Bishkek headquarters of the planned CIS collective rapid deployment forces, suggested a division of roles whereby the American-led coalition takes responsibility for the security of Afghanistan, while Russian-led CIS forces take responsibility for the security of Central Asia. The suggestion would imply partition along what used to be the Soviet-Afghan border, now referred to as the “CIS border” by Russian officials.
In Moscow, some officials are inspiring media stories to the effect that U.S. tactical aviation in Kyrgyzstan potentially threatens Russian installations in Kazakhstan, such as the Balkhash strategic missile early warning radar, the Saryshagan testing range and the Baikonur space launch center. Such accounts appear designed with two goals in mind: rationalizing Moscow’s opposition to the U.S. deployment in Kyrgyzstan and intimidating Kazakhstan. The latter continues publicly to encourage the United States to use Kazakh military airports.
For its part, Russia’s Duma–now firmly on board President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy–has begun hinting that it would refuse to ratify the rescheduling of Kyrgyzstan’s debts, if Bishkek prolongs the agreement on the stationing of U.S. forces. The debt rescheduling agreement was signed last year, but Dmitry Rogozin’s International Affairs Committee is delaying Duma action. The committee is now threatening not only to withhold ratification of the debt rescheduling, but to recommend calling in the debts, if Kyrgyzstan extends the agreement with the United States for a second year: “Kyrgyzstan has offered its military bases for American use, and expects significant financial injections. For this reason we are justified in asking that it repay its debts to us,” Committee Vice Chairman Sergei Shishkaryov declared during a recent meeting with Akaev in Bishkek. Shishkaryov belongs to the same pro-Kremlin group of deputies as Rogozin.
Moscow is in a position to exert political leverage through several loyal groups within Kyrgyzstan’s political system. These include the Communist Party, several groups that rely mainly on urban Russian voters, and diehard antipresidential groups. The arithmetic in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament would necessitate a purposeful effort by Akaev to secure legislative ratification of a prolonged agreement with the United States (Kabar, April 23; Itar-Tass, Interfax, April 15, 17, 22-23; Novye Izvestia, April 20; Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Central Asia, no. 116, April 19; see the Monitor, January 2, 16, March 7).
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