On August 5 and 10, respectively, the heads of presidential think tanks in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan made statements to local media, calling for the removal of U.S. bases from Central Asia. Their statements largely reflected Moscow’s public arguments to that end.
In Bishkek, Valentin Bogatyrev, director of the Strategic Studies Institute attached to Kyrgyzstan’s presidency, urged that Kyrgyzstan should follow the example of Uzbekistan (which has given the United States six months to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad base) and set a deadline for removal of the U.S. air base from Manas. While “the existence of the Manas base is unjustified even now,” Bogatyrev recommended that the request to close it be made in October, after the holding of parliamentary elections in Afghanistan (scheduled for September) will have shown that the situation is normalizing in that country.
In common with Moscow officials, Bogatyrev tried to turn the tables on the U.S. public presentation of the situation in Afghanistan: If the U.S. is correct in saying that the military operation there has been completed, he argued, then the Manas base is no longer necessary. Otherwise, he claimed, the United States should admit that conflict hotbeds persist in Afghanistan, in which case “the anti-terrorist operation in its existing form should be pronounced a failure,” and the United States should continue its operations using airfields inside Afghanistan, “of which there are many,” Bogatyrev inaccurately claimed (Interfax, Kabar, August 5).
In Almaty, Bulat Sultanov, director of the Strategic Studies Institute attached to Kazakhstan’s presidency, told his news conference that U.S. bases in Central Asia “potentially threaten the security of Russia and China.” Moreover, Sultanov argued, U.S. bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have circumvented the CIS Join Air Defense System, rendering parts of it meaningless. He went on, “I am categorically against the presence of military bases in Central Asia because any military base is an occupation base. … The American military bases should definitely be removed from Central Asia.”
Sultanov scathingly criticized Kyrgyzstan’s leaders for succumbing to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s influence and reversing Bishkek’s initial decision to set an early deadline on the Manas base. He praised Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s “far-sightedness” in ruling out a U.S. military presence in Kazakhstan (Interfax, Khabar, August 10). This latter claim is also inaccurate, as Nazarbayev had in fact publicly and repeatedly offered after 9/11 and during 2002 to host a U.S. base in Kazakhstan. This adviser’s statements seem to be doing his president a disservice even as the U.S. White House is signaling its readiness for a major improvement of relations with Kazakhstan.
In Bishkek, the outgoing U.S. Ambassador Stephen Young told an August 10 news conference that it would be premature at this time to plan or discuss transferring some operations to Manas. He noted that geographic location means that Manas cannot perform the same missions as Karshi-Khanabad, and that the United States has six months during which to address the Karshi-Khanabad issue. The remarks seem to signal a rare and overdue public recognition that Karshi-Khanabad is not expendable or interchangeable with some other base, and that Washington may seek to retrieve the basing arrangement with Uzbekistan.
Young denied Russian media reports that Washington has promised $200 million in foreign aid to Kyrgyzstan in return for prolongation of the American presence at Manas. The United States has only promised to increase foreign aid to Kyrgyzstan in 2006 to $35 million, from the previously planned $30 million. Additionally, the United States has pledged two tranches of $5 million each to support anti-terrorism, anti-narcotics, and anti-corruption programs in Kyrgyzstan.
For an interim balance sheet of expenditures since late 2001, Young reported that the United States has paid to Kyrgyzstan thus far $28 million in rent and landing and takeoff fees at Manas, $114 million for fuel supplies to American planes, and $17 million to Kyrgyz contractors for other services at Manas. These amounts do not include an estimated $4 million spent on personal purchases by the U.S. military in Kyrgyzstan and its humanitarian assistance activities there (Kabar, Interfax, August 10).