United States Air Force C-130 Hercules transport planes began landing at the Manas international airport near Bishkek on December 8, delivering the first batches of equipment to service the U.S. fighter-bombers to will be deployed there. A snowstorm briefly interrupted the action on December 9, also forcing U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to cancel the planned visit to Kyrgyzstan as part of his tour of Central Asia and Europe. Meanwhile, several other Western nations are seeking approval to station their forces in Kyrgyzstan.
The U.S. airlift follows the December 6 ratification by the Kyrgyz parliament of a bilateral intergovernmental agreement on the stationing of American forces in Kyrgyzstan. The agreement is in the form of an exchange of notes between the U.S. embassy and Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. President Askar Akaev and Transport Minister Kubanichbek Zhumaliev presented details of the agreement to a special session of the Legislative Assembly, securing an overwhelming majority in favor of ratification. The vote tally suggests that communist and pro-Moscow deputies accepted the agreement, which carries with it the prospect of U.S. economic aid to Kyrgyzstan.
Politically, Akaev made the case that the stationing of U.S. forces would contribute to the victory of the antiterrorism coalition, boost the region’s overall security, and raise Kyrgyzstan’s international profile, as well as safeguard the country against possible repetitions of the 1999 and 2000 Islamist incursions. Akaev refuted “speculations that the presence of U.S. troops would upset the geopolitical balance”–a remark intended for both Moscow and Beijing. He assured the deputies that he had personally cleared this move with Russian President Vladimir Putin and “other partners in the CIS Collective Security Treaty” as well as with China.
For his part, Jumaliev assured the parliament that the U.S. deployment at Manas would not interfere with the civilian operations of that airport. Jumaliev informed the deputies that Kyrgyzstan would earn US$7,000 for each takeoff or landing of a U.S. Air Force plane, and that American troops would spend money locally for Kyrgyz goods and services, “with favorable effects on the country’s economy.”
The intergovernmental agreement, valid for one year but apparently open to prolongation, places airfields and other installations in Kyrgyzstan at the disposal of U.S. forces for “humanitarian and military missions,” in the framework of antiterrorism operations. The United States has the right to install needed equipment at its own expense at Kyrgyz airfields and other installations.
According to unofficial reports, some thirty to forty U.S. fighter-bombers and several transport planes are to be stationed at Manas. Initially, American experts had planned to use the Kant military airport, situated some 30 kilometers outside Bishkek. In late November and early December, however, a U.S. inspection team determined that the Soviet-era Kant airport requires extensive upgrading before it can be used. The runway at Manas, however, can accommodate bombers and heavy transport planes.
In the meantime, Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Australia and South Korea have all applied separately to the Kyrgyz government for basing arrangements. They propose to station tactical aviation and units of their special forces in Kyrgyzstan (Kabar, Kyrgyzpress International, Kyrgyz Television, Western news agencies, Interfax, December 3-10).
RUSSIA-NATO COOPERATION ON A SLOWER TRACK…