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RIA Novosti
February 9, 2009
Has Manas air base fulfilled its mission?

MOSCOW. (Dmitry Yevlashkov, RIA Novosti) - On February 3, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced his decision to close an international military base in Manas. His resolute step attracted the world's attention to the small alpine republic.

The base of the anti-terrorist coalition was opened in Kyrgyzstan in December 2001 in line with the UN mandate. Bishkek agreed to place the country's main air gates, the international airport Manas, at the disposal of the coalition forces that were carrying out the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom.

Kyrgyzstan and the United States signed an intergovernmental agreement to this effect. Bakiyev insists that the airport's infrastructure was rented for only one to two years. However, military action in Afghanistan continued. Although the United States steadily increased the payment for using a civilian airport, Kyrgyzstan decided to ask it to leave. Now a resolution on denouncing the agreement with the United States has been submitted to the Jogorku Kenesh, Kyrgyz parliament, although intergovernmental agreements and their cancellation do not require ratification.

Director of the Bishkek affiliate of the Institute of CIS countries Alexander Knyazev believes that this was done to add political weight to Bakiyev's statement, which should not look like a one-man decision. The opposition has already linked it with Russia's promise to fund the construction of the Kambaratinskaya HPP-1 (worth $2 billion) in Kyrgyzstan.

The procedure of denouncing the agreement with the United States may take up to six months. What next?

Opinions differ. Some politicians and military experts predict that extremist and Islamic trends emanating from Afghanistan will gain strength in Central Asia after the U.S. withdrawal. Let the Americans continue with their Enduring Freedom till they drop, they say: Moscow and Bishkek only stand to gain from this.

Others see this event as Russia's clear geostrategic victory. Moreover, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will be able to strengthen its positions in the region.

The CSTO also has an air force base in Kyrgyzstan. Today, there are three squadrons of SU-25 assault aircraft, helicopters, trainers, cargo aircraft and more than 500 Russian air force servicemen at the air base in Kant near Bishkek. If need be, up to 2,000 servicemen and any amount of military hardware can be deployed there in a matter of hours. At present, the CSTO is discussing Kyrgyzstan's proposal to accommodate modern anti-aircraft missile systems of Russian make in its south.

"Today, only the CSTO can ensure security in the region," Knyazev believes. Comparing U.S. and Russian military presence in Kyrgyzstan is inappropriate, to say the least. The United States rendered aid to Kyrgyzstan only on a few occasions, whereas Russia continues to give the Kyrgyz armed forces military-technical assistance worth tens of millions of dollars."

Speaking about new developments in Central Asia, we should recall U.S. President Barack Obama's resolve to reinforce U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. We should also bear in mind the recent statement of President Dmitry Medvedev on Russia's readiness to give comprehensive support for the efforts of the anti-terrorist coalition in that Islamic republic. A positive turnaround in Russian-American relations is likely to consolidate bilateral partnership in countering international terrorism. It is not yet certain whether the Manas air force base has fulfilled its mission.