Russia to Increase Military Presence in Kyrgyzstan

Today Nikolai Bordyuzha, the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – the Russia-dominated military-political grouping of former Soviet states comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – announced that Russia decided to increase its air force assets at Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan. Speaking to journalists during his visit to Kyrgyzstan, Bordyuzha stated: “Russia’s leadership plans to increase the number of military aircraft at Kant (air base). It is in line with the situation in Central Asia and Afghanistan.” Bordyuzha did not provide additional details regarding the number of planes, which Russia intends to send to Kyrgyzstan. Russia’s decision to increase its military presence in Kyrgyzstan should be viewed in the context of impending closure of U.S. air base at Manas, which serves as a vital transportation hub for providing supplies to the NATO and U.S. forces engaged in anti-terrorism and stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. In an overt attempt to calm Kyrgyz anxieties over the expulsion of U.S. forces from Manas, Bordyuzha even deliberately diminished the importance of Manas when he told the RIA Novosti, “I don’t think the pullout of the base from Manas will drastically impact on the state of security in Central Asia.” He insisted that the recently signed transit agreements with Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will more than compensate for the loss of Manas by providing a more direct access route for the transportation of non-lethal cargo to Afghanistan. It should be recalled here that the Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev demanded the closure of U.S. air base in February in the course of his visit to Moscow, which yielded $2 billion economic assistance package and loan guarantees from the Russian government. Thus, seen against the backdrop of U.S. withdrawal from Kyrgyzstan, even a nominal increase in Russian air force assets here will contribute to consolidation of Moscow’s influence over this impoverished country and, broadly speaking, will increase the Kremlin’s bargaining leverage with the West vis-à-vis Afghanistan.