The United States has successfully secured the future of its military deployment at the Ganci airbase at Manas, ending a period of protracted uncertainty over the presence of the American military in Kyrgyzstan. This resulted from yet another round of negotiations, triggered by Kyrgyz demands for maximum returns for U.S. access to the airbase in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Despite undoubted relief for Washington’s military planners, the deal was only secured in the context of a serious diplomatic dispute with Bishkek surrounding the expulsion of two U.S. diplomats alleged to have formed contacts with NGOs deemed “inappropriate” by the Kyrgyz authorities (see EDM, July 13). Washington will justifiably consider the new arrangements for the base as acceptable, securing an important strategic facility in order to facilitate operations in Afghanistan. However, it will also note the level of external pressure exerted on Bishkek, which almost undermined the process.
On July 14 both sides issued a joint statement emphasizing that Kyrgyzstan and the United States “are staunch partners in the war against terrorism. Both countries have become victims of terrorism, and admit the importance of international cooperation in the fight against this global threat. The Kyrgyz Republic has been a strong and reliable partner for the coalition for four and a half years, by making its territory available for operations to support the ‘Enduring Freedom’ mission.” The statement noted that the U.S. government “intends to pay reasonable compensation to Kyrgyzstan and to its businessmen for goods, services, and for supporting the United States’ operations.”
Miroslav Niyazov, secretary of the Kyrgyz Security Council, and James MacDougall, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, signed a protocol confirming the agreement. This agreement must be understood in the context of developing bilateral security relations between Washington and Bishkek. Washington intends to allocate more than $150 million in assistance and compensation during 2007, pending Congressional approval (24.kg, July 14).
The second and final round of talks on the conditions of the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition forces’ further stay at the Ganci air base began on July 12. Kyrgyz experts taking part in arranging the dialogue disclosed that the talks were jeopardized by the deportation of the two U.S. diplomats from Bishkek (24.kg, July 11). Sources within the Kyrgyz security services disclosed to Akipress that the main reason for the expulsions was “interference in Kyrgyzstan’s internal affairs.” Moreover, these sources made clear their belief, alluded to in Kyrgyz reporting on the expulsions, that both diplomats were American intelligence agents.
The timeframe of the diplomatic expulsions is significant, as the announcement was first made on July 11 — originally reported as the start date for the talks — and the diplomats finally left on July 14, the date of the final agreement on the base. Gernot Erler, parliamentary state secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was in Bishkek for talks on German-Kyrgyz bilateral relations and said on July 12 that Germany had no intention of intervening in the Kyrgyz-U.S. talks. He also warned that there was a danger of the U.S. leadership tying these negotiations to the diplomatic expulsions. “The United States may form an impression that this is a manifestation of a new line of the country’s foreign policy,” Erler said (Akipress, 24.kg, July 13).
After President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s demands for a ten-fold increase in rent for Ganci and his deadline for reaching an agreement, both sides have now compromised and settled the dispute. Bishkek will not financially benefit on the scale originally demanded, and Washington has made settlement of Manas part of a much wider scheme of bilateral assistance. In any case, success came down to the skill of Washington’s negotiators and its estimation of the Kyrgyz side based upon observations from its embassy staff in Bishkek. What was unexpected was the potential impact of a diplomatic wrangle that seemed to almost overshadow the real issues being discussed. Given the intense contact between the Kyrgyz intelligence services and the Russian FSB, as well as the calculated leakage of information to the Kyrgyz media, it appears that the Russian intelligence service attempted to covertly derail the U.S. military stay in Bishkek.
Kyrgyzstan will remain a covert battleground for securing leverage and influence within the region. The FSB will no doubt strengthen its relations further still with its Central Asian partner, exploiting security concerns over militant activity in southern Kyrgyzstan by working more closely with the Kyrgyz intelligence services. Moreover, on July 14 the board of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) approved General Myrzakan Subanov as director of the RATS executive committee. Subanov, former head of the Kyrgyz Border Service, will take over as head of the RATS executive board on January 1, 2007 (Kabar, July 14).
Washington is keen to explore ways to influence the SCO, particularly to steer the organization away from an avowedly anti-American stance on its presence in Central Asia. Subanov’s appointment may be viewed as another point of contact through which Washington can exert pressure from within the SCO to offer a more U.S.-friendly viewpoint. Relations with Kyrgyzstan, provided they stay on track, could serve Washington’s interests in several ways, and its planning staffs have rightly judged that Manas is only one aspect of that emerging policy. Washington, however, should expect continued meddling and interference from the FSB in its planning and relations with Bishkek.