There is more to this story then the media would have you know. Watch Kyrgyzstan closely.

Russia eyes U.S. air base in Kyrgyz turmoil

Guy Faulconbridge and Robin Paxton – Analysis

MOSCOW
Fri Apr 9, 2010 1:29pm EDT
 
 
 
 
 

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian-backed coup or not, the uprising in Kyrgyzstan means the United States may have to bargain hard to keep its last military base in Central Asia.

 

Turmoil in Kyrgyzstan has thrust the fate of the Manas air base — which is crucial for fighting the Afghan war — to the forefront of rivalry between the United States and Russia.

Russia has long dreamed of evicting the United States from Central Asia and a Russian official said on Thursday that Moscow would urge the interim Kyrgyz government to shut the U.S. base.

Suspicions of the Kremlin’s hand in the unrest were raised when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin became the first world leader to recognize the authority of the self-proclaimed government, just hours after it took power.

Washington has been more guarded, refusing to endorse either President Kurmanbek Bakiyev or the self-proclaimed government leaders, some of whom have already raised the specter of shutting the base.

China, which shares a land border with Kyrgyzstan, has been largely silent.

“Russia was very quick to act. Both China and the U.S., by comparison, were caught on the hop,” said Nick Day, chief executive of business intelligence firm Diligence LLC.

“Russia is going to dominate Kyrgyzstan and that means problems for the U.S,” he said. “Russia will use this as a lever in negotiations with America.”

Putin, who is considered by most Russians to be the country’s paramount leader, has denied involvement.

“Neither Russia, nor your humble servant, nor Russian officials have any links whatsoever to these events,” he said.

But countering the dominance of the United States is one of Putin’s guiding principles in world affairs and the Manas base would be a strong card to play in negotiations with Washington on a host of issues ranging from missile defense to WTO entry.

The base is crucial for President Barack Obama’s plans to send more U.S. soldiers into Afghanistan and last month about 50,000 troops passed through the base.

Russia also has a military base in the country and had tried to get a second under Bakiyev.

BROKEN PROMISES?

Russia’s leaders were infuriated by what they viewed as a Bakiyev’s betrayal over a pledge made while on a visit to Russia in 2008 to shut the base.

Bakiyev secured at least $2 billion in aid and loans from Russia before making the pledge, but later agreed to let the United States keep leasing the base, albeit at a higher price.

“In Kyrgyzstan there should be only one base — Russian,” a senior Russian official told reporters in Prague after Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed a landmark treaty to reduce vast Cold War arsenals of nuclear weapons.

“Bakiyev did not fulfill his promise about the withdrawal of the American base,” the Russian official said.

“That shows the Russian attitude better than anything else,” said Paul Quinn-Judge, Central Asia director for the International Crisis Group.

“The lease on the base is up for renewal and, looking at the comments, I would say the Russians are already pushing,” said Quinn-Judge, who is based in Bishkek. “How far the Russians are going to push, on that I have no idea.”

The leader of the Kyrgyz provisional government, Roza Otunbayeva, said the base deal with the United States would be preserved but cautioned there were “still some questions on it.”

Allies of Otunbayeva have been more hawkish, warning that the lease on the base could be shortened. The new government is seeking financial and humanitarian aid from Moscow.

“Russia played its role in ousting Bakiyev,” Omurbek Tekebayev, a former opposition leader who is now in charge of constitutional matters, told Reuters.

“There is a high probability that the duration of the U.S. air base’s presence in Kyrgyzstan will be shortened,” he said.

Some of Kyrygzstan’s new leaders say Washington closed its eyes to rights abuses under Bakiyev because of the base, though many members of the interim government have sympathy with the West.

Still, analysts said Kyrgyzstan’s leaders understand the U.S. base is the impoverished country’s only major card to play on the world stage. To give it to Russia would mean complete dominance by Moscow.

“Any future Kyrgyz government will need the money and shoulder the political flak,” said James Nixey, analyst at London-based think tank Chatham House.

“But the situation is inherently worrying in a region that has taken on a new importance since 9/11 and the ‘Global War on Terror’.”

(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina and Steve Gutterman)

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People crowd in front of the government building in Bishkek April 8, 2010.

BISHKEK (Reuters) – Kyrgyzstan’s self-proclaimed new leadership said on Thursday that Russia had helped to oust President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and that they aimed to close a U.S. airbase that has irritated Moscow.

 

Their comments set Wednesday’s overthrow of Bakiyev, who fled the capital Bishkek as crowds stormed government buildings, firmly in the context of superpower rivalry in central Asia.

No sooner had presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed an arms reduction pact in Prague as part of an effort to “reset” strained relations than a senior official in Medvedev’s delegation urged Kyrgyzstan’s new rulers to shut the base.

The official, who declined to be named, noted that Bakiyev had not fulfilled a promise to shut the Manas airbase, which the United States uses to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan. He said there should be only one base in Kyrgyzstan — a Russian one.

Omurbek Tekebayev, a former Kyrgyz opposition leader who took charge of constitutional matters in the new government, said that “Russia played its role in ousting Bakiyev.”

“You’ve seen the level of Russia’s joy when they saw Bakiyev gone,” he told Reuters. “So now there is a high probability that the duration of the U.S. air base’s presence in Kyrgyzstan will be shortened.”

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied that Moscow had played a part in the turmoil in the former Soviet republic, which Russia openly regards as part of its own back yard.

But he was the first foreign leader to recognize opposition figure Roza Otunbayeva as leader of Kyrgyzstan, and rang her soon after she said she was in charge.

The United States said it had not yet decided whether to recognize Otunbayeva’s government, and did not say who it believed was in control.

Russia’s top general said 150 paratroopers had been sent to Russia’s own Kant base in Kyrgyzstan, and Medvedev’s office said they would protect Russian citizens at its embassy and other diplomatic facilities.

Otunbayeva, who once served as Bakiyev’s foreign minister, said the interim government controlled the whole country except for Bakiyev’s power base of Osh and Jalalabad in the south, and had the backing of the armed forces and border guards.

She said the situation in Kyrgyzstan’s economy was “fairly alarming” and it would need foreign aid. She said Putin had asked how Russia could help.

FLYING TO MOSCOW

“We agreed that my first deputy and the republic’s former prime minister, Almaz Atambayev, would fly to Moscow and formulate our needs,” she told Russian Ekho Moskvy radio.

Putin did not promise a specific sum, she said. “But the fact that he called, spoke nicely, went into detail, asked about details — generally, I was moved by that. It is a signal.”

Otunbayeva said Bakiyev was holed up in Jalalabad. “What we did yesterday was our answer to the repression and tyranny against the people by the Bakiyev regime,” she told reporters.

Kyrgyzstan, a country of 5.3 million people, has few natural resources but has made the most of its position at the intersection of Russian, U.S. and Chinese spheres of influence.

Washington has used Manas to supply U.S.-led NATO forces fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan since losing similar facilities in Uzbekistan, apparently after pressure from Moscow.

Bakiyev announced the Manas base would close during a visit to Moscow last year at which he secured $2 billion in crisis aid, only to agree later to keep it open at a higher rent.

The U.S. charge d’affaires in Bishkek met Otunbayeva, while in Washington a top U.S. diplomat received Bakiyev’s foreign minister, Kadyrbek Sarbayev.

“Our message to both is the same,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a news briefing. “We will continue to urge them to resolve this in a peaceful way.”

Michael McFaul, a senior White House adviser on Russia told reporters in Prague: “This is not some anti-American coup. That we know for sure, and this is not a sponsored-by-the-Russians coup.”

He said Medvedev and Obama had not discussed the base. A U.S. official said they had considered making a joint statement on Kyrgyzstan, but none was issued.

AIRBASE STILL OPERATING

The Pentagon said limited operations were continuing at Manas, and support to Afghanistan had not been seriously harmed.

Pentagon officials say Manas has been central to the war effort, allowing around-the-clock combat airlifts and airdrops, medical evacuation and aerial refueling, and that alternative solutions would be less efficient and more expensive.

Bakiyev, himself brought to power by a “people power” revolution in 2005, told Reuters by telephone that he had no plans to step down, but offered to talk to the opposition leaders who have claimed control of Kyrgyzstan.

“I can’t say that Russia is behind this,” he said. “I don’t want to say that — I just don’t want to believe it.”

Speaking to Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio, he acknowledged that he had little control over events in the capital.

With rioters roaming the streets and widespread looting after a day in which dozens were killed in clashes between protesters and police, the self-proclaimed new interior minister ordered security forces to fire on looters.

Bishkek awoke to blazing cars and burned-out shops on Thursday after a day in which at least 75 people were killed.

Smoke billowed from the seven-storey White House, the main seat of government, as crowds rampaged through it. Looting was widespread and shots could still be heard on Thursday night.

The uprising was sparked by discontent over corruption, nepotism and rising utility prices. A third of the population live below the poverty line. Remittances from the 800,000 Kyrgyz working in Russia make up about 40 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP.

Another 10 percent or so comes from the giant Kumtor gold mine, operated by Canada’s Centerra Gold.

Centerra said operations were unaffected by the turmoil, but its shares were down around 5 percent on the day, following an 11 percent fall on Wednesday. [nN08121726]

(Additional reporting by Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek, Khulkar Isamova in Osh, Robin Paxton, Steve Gutterman and Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow; Lucy Hornby in Beijing, Peter Graff in Kabul; Denis Dyomkin in Prague; Phil Stewart, Andrew Quinn and Adam Entous in Washington; Writing by Kevin Liffey; editing by David Stamp)

At the Geopolitical Crossroads of China and Russia: Kyrgyzstan And The Battle For Central Asia
by Rick Rozoff
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was deposed five years after and in the same manner as he came to power, in a bloody uprising.

Elected president two months after the so-called Tulip Revolution of 2005 he helped engineer, he was since then head of state of the main transit nation for the U.S. and NATO war in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon secured the Manas Air Base (as of last year known as the Transit Center at Manas) in Kyrgyzstan shortly after its invasion of Afghanistan in October of 2001 and in the interim, according to a U.S. armed forces publication last June, “More than 170,000 coalition personnel passed through the base on their way in or out of Afghanistan, and Manas was the transit point for 5,000 tons of cargo, including spare parts and equipment, uniforms and various items to support personnel and mission needs.

“Currently, around 1,000 U.S. troops, along with a few hundred from Spain and France, are assigned to the base.” [1]

The White House’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke paid his first visit in his current position to Kyrgyzstan – and the three other former Soviet Central Asian republics which border it, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – in February and said “35,000 US troops were transiting each month on their way in and out of Afghanistan.” [2] At the rate he mentioned, 420,000 troops annually.

The U.S. and NATO also established military bases in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for the war in South Asia, but on a smaller scale. (U.S. military forces were ordered out of the second country following what the government claimed was a Tulip Revolution-type armed uprising in its province of Andijan less than two months after the Kyrgyz precedent. Germany maintains a base near the Uzbek city of Termez to transit troops and military equipment to Afghanistan’s Kunduz province where the bulk of its 4,300 forces is concentrated.)

In February of 2009 the Kyrgyz government announced that it was also evicting U.S. and NATO forces from its country, but relented in June when Washington offered it $60 million to reverse its decision.

Kyrgyzstan borders China.

It not only borders China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, but is only separated from Russia by a single nation, Kazakhstan. To gain an appreciation of Russian and Chinese concerns over hundreds of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops passing through Kyrgyzstan, imagine a comparable amount of Chinese and Russian soldiers regularly passing through Mexico and Guatemala, respectively. For almost nine years and at an accelerating rate.

It is not only a military “hard power” but also a “soft power” threat that the Western role in Kyrgyzstan poses to Russia and China.

The nation is a member of the post-Soviet Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) along with Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – seen by many as the only counterpart to NATO on former Soviet space – and of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with China, Russia and the three above-mentioned Central Asian nations.

According to U.S. officials, during and after the Tulip Revolution of 2005 not a single U.S. or NATO flight into the Manas Air Base was cancelled or even delayed. But a six-nation CSTO exercise scheduled for days afterward was cancelled. 

The uprising and the deposing of standing president Askar Akayev in March of 2005 was the third self-styled “color revolution” in the former Soviet Union in sixteen months, following the Rose Revolution in Georgia in late 2003 and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in late 2004 and early 2005.

As the Kyrgyz version was underway Western news media were asking the question “Who’s next?” Candidates included other former Soviet states like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Uzbekistan. And Russia. Along with Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan those nations accounted for ten of the twelve members of the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

As Agence France-Presse detailed in early April of 2005: “The CIS was founded in December 1991 on the very day the Soviet Union disappeared….But over the past year and a half, three faithful Kremlin allies were toppled in…revolutions: Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia, Leonid Kuchma in Ukraine, and, last week, Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan….Even though Kyrgyzstan’s new interim leaders have vowed to continue their deposed predecessor’s Moscow-friendly policies, the lightning toppling of the government there has spawned speculation that the CIS would soon collapse.” [3]

The leader of the “color revolution” prototype, Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili, gloated over the Kyrgyz “regime change,” attributing the “brave” actions of the opposition in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan “to the Georgia factor,” and added, “We are not waiting for the development of events, but are doing our best to destroy the empire in the CIS.” [4]

Shortly after the uprising former Indian diplomat and political analyst M.K. Bhadrakumar wrote of the then seemingly inexorable momentum of “color” revolts in the former Soviet Union:

“[A]ll the three countries [Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan] are strategically placed in the post-Soviet space. They comprise Russia’s ‘near abroad.’

“Washington has been expanding its influence in the arc of former Soviet republics — in the Baltics…the Caucasus, and Central Asia — in recent years with a tenacity that worries Moscow.

“Ever since 2003 when Mr. Akayev decided on allowing Russia to establish a full-fledged military base in Kant he knew he was on the American ‘watch list.’ The political temperature within Kyrgyzstan began to rise.

“The Americans made it clear in many ways that they desired a regime change in Bishkek….The ‘revolution’ in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan has already thrown up surprises. A comparison with the two earlier ‘colour revolutions’ in Georgia and Ukraine will be a good starting point.

“First, the striking similarities between the three ‘revolutions’ must be duly noted. All three are meant to signify the unstoppable spread of the fire of liberty lit by the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11.

“But behind the rhetoric, the truth is that the U.S. wanted regime change in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan because of difficulties with the incumbent leadership. The leaders of all the three countries — Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia, Leonid Kuchma in Ukraine, and Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan — had enjoyed the support of the U.S. during most of their rule.

“Washington had cited them repeatedly as the beacons of hope for democracy and globalisation in the territories of the former Soviet Union.

“Their trouble began when they incrementally began to edge towards a resurgent Russia under Vladimir Putin.” [5]

Seven weeks after Bhadrakumar’s column appeared his analysis would be confirmed by no less an authority on the matter than U.S. President George W. Bush.

Visiting the capital of Georgia a year and a half after its “Rose Revolution,” he was hosted by his counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili, former State Department fellowship recipient and U.S. resident, who seized power in what can only be described as a putsch but nevertheless said:

“Georgia will become the main partner of the United States in spreading democracy and freedom in the post-Soviet space. This is our proposal. We will always be with you in protecting freedom and democracy.”

Bush reflected Saakashvili’s inflated estimate of himself: “You are making many important contributions to freedom’s cause, but your most important contribution is your example. Hopeful changes are taking places from Baghdad to Beirut and Bishkek [Kyrgyzstan]. But before there was a Purple Revolution in Iraq or Orange Revolution in Ukraine or a Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, there was a Rose Revolution in Georgia.” [6]

A few days after the Kyrgyz coup Bush welcomed Ukraine’s “orange” president Viktor Yushchenko – who this January only received 5.45 per cent of the vote in his reelection bid – and applauded his U.S.-assisted ascent to power, saying it “may have looked like it was only a part of the history of Ukraine, but the Orange Revolution represented revolutions elsewhere as well….We share a goal to spread freedom to other nations.” [7]

Beyond the threat of the dissolution of the CIS and of the CSTO, in April of 2005 Der Spiegel featured a report with the title “Revolutions Speed Russia’s Disintegration.”

In part it revealed the prime movers behind the events in Kyrgyzstan. According to Der Spiegel, (April 4, 2005):

“As early as February,” Roza Otunbayeva – now the apparent head of the provisional government – “pledged allegiance to a small group of partners and sponsors of the Kyrgyz revolution, to ‘our American friends’ at Freedom House (who donated a printing press in Bishkek to the opposition). … 

“Trying to help the democratic process, the Americans poured some $12 million into Kyrgyzstan in the form of scholarships and donations – and that was last year alone. Washington’s State Department even funded TV station equipment in the rebellious southern province town of Osh.” [8] [9]

This process of geostrategic transformation, from the Balkans to the former Soviet Union and the Middle East was also supported by Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and other non-governmental organizations.   

A week after the “tulip” takeover the project director for Freedom House, Mike Stone, summed up the role of his organization with two words: “Mission accomplished.” [10]

A British newspaper that interviewed him added, “US involvement in the small, mountainous country is higher proportionally than it was for Georgia’s ‘rose’ revolution or Ukraine’s ‘orange’ uprising. [11]

Assistance also was provided by Western-funded and -trained “youth activists” modeled after and trained by those organized in Yugoslavia to topple the government of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000:

Compare the names:

Yugoslavia: Otpor! (Resistance!)
Ukraine: Pora! (It’s Time!)
Georgia: Kmara (Enough)
Kyrgyzstan: KelKel (Stand Up and Go)

Behind them all, deposed Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev identified the true architects of his ouster. On April 2 he stated “There were international organisations who supported and financed the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan.

“A week before these events I saw a letter on the internet signed by the US ambassador to Kyrgyzstan. It contained a detailed plan for the revolution.” [12]

The Kyrgyz Tulip (formerly Lemon, Pink and Daffodil) Revolution was as unconstitutional and as disruptive to the nation as its Georgian and Ukrainian predecessors were, but far more violent. Deaths and injuries occurred in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal Abad (Jalalabad, Jalal-Abad) and in the capital of Bishkek.

It was also the first “color” revolt in a nation bordering China. Not only  did Russia and China voice grave concerns over the developments in Kyrgyzstan, Iran did also, seeing where the trajectory of “regime change” campaigns was headed.

In the four decades of the Cold War political changes through elections or otherwise in any nation in the world – no matter how small, impoverished, isolated and seemingly insignificant – assumed importance far exceeding their domestic effects. World political analysts and policy makers asked the key question: Which way would the new government align itself, with the U.S. or the Soviet Union?

In the post-Cold War period the question is no longer one of political philosophy or socio-economic orientation, but this: How will the new administration support or oppose U.S. plans for regional and global dominance?

With Roza Otunbayeva as chief spokesperson if not head of a new Kyrgyz “people’s government,” there is reason to believe that Washington will not be dissatisfied with the overthrow of her former “tulip” partner Bakiyev. She has already confirmed that the American base at Manas will not be closed.

Less than two months after the 2005 coup Otunbayeva, then acting foreign minister, met with her U.S. counterpart Condoleezza Rice in Washington during which the latter assured her that “the U.S. administration will continue to help the Kyrgyz government promote democratic processes in the country.” [13]

Shortly after the March “democratic transformation,” its patron saint, Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili, boasted that “Roza Otunbayeva worked in Tbilisi in recent years and was the head of UN office in Abkhazia. During the Rose Revolution she was in Georgia and knew everything that was happening…the Georgian factor was a catalyst of many things going on there [in Kyrgyzstan].”[14]

From the U.S. perspective she appears to have reliable bona fides.

Russia has put its air base in Kyrgyzstan on high alert, though comments from leading Russian government officials – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in particular – indicate an acceptance of the uprising which has already caused 65 deaths and hundreds of injuries.

But Russia attempted to put the best face on the revolt five years ago also.   

Which direction the next Kyrgyz government takes will have repercussions far beyond the nation’s small size and population (slightly over five million).

It could affect U.S. and NATO plans for the largest military offensive of the Afghan war scheduled to begin in two months in Kandahar province.

It could determine the future of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the two major potential barriers to Western military penetration of vast tracts of Eurasia.

The stakes could hardly be higher.

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