The Pentagon announced that Manas Air Force base, located in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan will be closing in the next six months, with plans for total vacation of the premises by July 11, 2014. The transit center is the central hub of the supply lines going in and out of Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom. The abandonment has remained uncertain until just recently, due to the vacillation of the various Kyrgyz heads of state that have come and gone since the base opened in December 2001, soon after the towers fell on 9/11. The base was originally leased from the Kyrgyz government for a paltry $2 million. Pentagon officials were rankled, however, when in 2003, former president Askar Akayev allowed a Russian air base to open at Kant, outside of Bishkek. The base proved to be a valuable asset to future Kyrgyz leaders, whose leverage over the Pentagon was bolstered considerably when Uzbekistan abrogated its Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US, forcing it to close its bases that were much closer to the Afghan border.
The fickle Kyrgyz Parliament, desperate to raise funds, steadily increased leasing costs on the US while simultaneously demanding aid for combating drug trafficking. By 2009, after accepting an aid package from Russia for $2 billion to close the base, President Kurmanbek Baikyev instead renegotiated the terms of the lease, raising rent costs to $63 million. However, this bait-and-switch has played itself out, with most declaring Russian interests the clear victor. Last June the Kyrgyz parliament voted 81-1 to close the Manas base. New agreements for arms shipments to begin in 2014 from Russia all indicate a much closer future relationship with Moscow and casts doubt upon US influence in Central Asia.
Russian interests in closing the base are apparently concerned with its potential strategic utility in launching airstrikes against Iran. Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who engineered the “reset” policy with Moscow, came under fire from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for insinuating that Russia had bribed Kyrgyzstan to close the Manas base.
The Downfall of Michael McFaul: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/02/05/no_more_mr_nice_guy_michael_mcfaul_putin_russia
- Kazakhstan, a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (which currently comprises Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan), will be receiving five battalions of the S-300 Air Defense Systems. This is only one among several arms deals between Russia and its formal vassal Soviet states that have come to light in the past months, and estimates on the projected expenditures of the CSTO in 2014 are close to $1 billion USD.
- The death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman from a heroin overdose can be attributed, at least in part, to increased world supply (5,500 tons in 2013) coming from poppy fields in Afghanistan, where the dried crop is commonly used as a more liquid medium of exchange in the absence of government authorized legal tender. Afghanistan is considered a part of the Golden Crescent, whose principal distribution channels travel north to Russia and filter out to world markets illegally, with much of the product being consumed in the West.
- Since Ukraine rejected a deal to join the EU last November, its government, headed by Viktor Yanukovych has been triumphantly courted by Russia, in whose favor the balance of power now tips, according to Time. The civil strife that has wracked the country in recent months has been divided precisely on this issue of what many consider to be a looming choice in Ukraine’s future: closer ties with the EU or with Russia? Many consider that the Russian government has enticed Yanukovych away from forming any permanent association with the EU by offering $15 billion in loans and access to cheap energy. The EU Central Bank and its principals are unable to match the Russian offer as it stands, due to the significant payouts it is already making to keep Portugal, Ireland, and Greece solvent.
- Projections for growth in the Mongolian economy are set at a blazing 15.3%, due in part to its attractive mining assets and its political stability, especially as it compares to other frontier markets in Central Asia and the Middle East. Valuations of the mineral wealth of Mongolia vary widely, but common estimates put it between $1.3 – 2 trillion. Even famous market bear Marc Faber called Mongolia “the Saudi Arabia of Asia.”