US Base in Kyrgyzstan to Close, Russia Makes Gains

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.

Read more at Foreign Policy:

The Downfall of Michael McFaul:


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