Atambayev Collects Rent For Russian Military Bases, But What Is Moscow Getting?
Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev has something to bring home from his visit to Moscow: $15 million in past due rents for the various military facilities that Russia operates in Central Asia. From RIA Novosti:
Both Russia and the United State have important military bases in the country. However, Washington has paid its lease "without any delays," Kyrgyz media said.
Russia has not paid "the measly rent" for its Kant air base for four years, Atambayev told Ekho Moskvy radio.
He also complained that Russia did not meet its obligations. "They should be training our pilots. Well, they're not," he said.
Russia also is looking at forgiving some of Kyrgyzstan's $500 million debt to Moscow, reports Bloomberg:
Russia’s government understands the former Soviet state is facing a “severe financial and economic situation” and is ready to look at alternatives, it said....
Kyrgyzstan hopes to repay part of its debt to Russia by transferring shares from defense company OAO Dastan, Russian news agency Interfax reported, citing an interview with Kyrgyz Finance Minister Akylbek Zhaparov.
That would be an intriguing turn in the saga over Dastan, which has been a bargaining chip between Russia and Kyrgyzstan but more recently was the subject of interest from India, so that will be something to keep an eye on.
Atambayev seems to be playing the same sort of hardball with Russia as he is with the U.S. and its Manas air base, and while in Moscow publicly suggested that Kyrgyzstan didn't need any Russian military facilities, reports ITAR-TASS:
“As far as the Russian base is concerned, we will think it over because a base that does not comply with any of the terms of the agreement, that does not pay even the lease for more than four years, while Kyrgyzstan has to pay all utility bills – do we need such a base?” the president said, commenting on the results of his two-day working visit to Russia on Saturday, February 25.
Atambayev also claimed that his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, had been unaware of the debt, and that when Medvedev had been informed of it ordered the payment to be made within 10 days.
That seems an unlikely explanation of how all this went down. More likely is that Kyrgyzstan offered Russia something in exchange for the back payments. One possibility: The U.S. was close to coming to an agreement with the Kyrgyzstan Ministry of Defense to build a training facility in southern Kyrgyzstan, likely Kizyl-Kiya (in between Osh and Batken). Russia is thought to be very opposed to the U.S. having any sort of facility in the Ferghana Valley, even this sort of training center which wouldn't have any permanent U.S. presence. If that ends up not coming to fruition, it would be a reasonable bet that the scuppering of that facility is what Russia is getting for its $15 million.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.