Russia brokers deal on Pentagon access to Kyrgyz base?

Kyrgyzstan has struck a deal with the US to keep open the Pentagon’s Manas for a sum of $180 million. Washington had been haggling to keep the base open since February, when the Kyrgyz government announced its closure after securing pledges of $2 billion in aid and credit from Russia. Now, an unnamed diplomatic source has told Reuters that Moscow brokered the new Manas deal with Washington. A Kremlin official accompanying Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Egypt told the news agency: “Kyrgyzstan agreed its decision with Russia. We support all steps aimed at stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan.”

But Russia’s Kommersant newspaper quoted an unidentified Russian diplomat as saying that Moscow felt it had been tricked by Kyrgyzstan over the deal and that Russia would prepare an “adequate response.” Said this second anonymous diplomat: “The news about keeping the base was a very unpleasant surprise for us—we did not expect such a trick. The real character of the US military presence in Central Asia has not changed, which goes against Russian interests and our agreement with the Kyrgyz leadership.”

The Kyrgyz ruling party said June 24 it had approved the agreement with the US. “Kyrgyzstan can not step aside from fighting terrorism,” said Kabai Karabekov, a member of the Ak Zhol party led by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. (Reuters, June 24)

The day before the deal was announced, five preumsed members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were killed in a firefight with Kyrgyz security forces in the southern province of Jalalabad. The shooting reportedly started when agrents of the State Committee for National Security surrounded a house in Jalalabad city. The targets of the raid fought back with hand grenades and automatic weapons. The firefight ended when the house exploded and was consumed in a fireball. One Kyrgyz security officer was killed and another wounded in the incident. Law enforcement agents were sweeping Jalalabad’s suburbs in a search for other suspected militants. (Eurasianet, June 23)

This seems to exemplify the central tension within the new Great Game for Central Asia: an imperative for US-Russian cooperation against the mutual enemy of Islamic militancy versus the traditional rivalry between the two powers for dominance.

See our last posts on Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

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