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Russians to discuss setting up air base in Kyrgyzstan
January 19, 2003

Russia is dispatching a senior air force delegation to Kyrgyzstan Monday to discuss setting up a Russian air base in the Central Asian state, a key partner in the US-led war on global terror, media reported Sunday.

"A delegation of generals and officers, led by deputy air force commander Anatoly Nagovitsyn, will visit Bishkek from January 20 to 23," Interfax quoted Russian air force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky as saying.

The Russian and Kyrgyz side are expected to negotiate an accord on the establishment of a Russian air base in Kant, some 20 kilometers (13 miles) outside the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, the spokesman told the news agency. Russia will deploy Su-27 fighter planes, Su-25 ground-attack aircraft and Mi-8 helicopters at the base, the official added.

Russia last month temporarily deployed three Su-27 jets, two Su-25 planes and two Il-76 cargo planes at the Kant airbase just as Russian President Vladimir Putin made an official visit to the country.

The aircraft are to form part of a rapid deployment force for the region under an agreement between members of the collective security treaty, which groups Russia and the ex-Soviet republics of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov has earlier said that an agreement on Moscow's use of the air base is expected to be struck in the spring of 2003.

"The final decision will be made by the presidents of the signatories to the Collective Security Treaty in April or May 2003," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Joint rapid-reaction forces are "the main element of stability in Central Asia," Ivanov added.

Commentators say that Moscow is trying to restore lost influence in former Soviet Central Asia, which has become a rear base for US-led troops in the war on global terrorism since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Kyrgyzstan has allowed some 2,000 US-led troops together with fighter jets to deploy at its Manas airport outside of Bishkek for operations to root out al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan.

Russian media have reported that Moscow plans to mass up to 20 fighter jets and military transport planes at the airport near Bishkek.

It is expected to be one of the most significant deployments of Russian military might in Central Asia since the September 11 attacks, when several countries in the region emerged as key allies of the United States.

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