Bishkek's recent agreement with Moscow to create a new military base in southern Kyrgyzstan is complicating relations among Central Asian states. Uzbek and Tajik leaders are questioning the logic behind the Kremlin's decision, and are warning that a new base could turn into a source of regional instability.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev agreed in early August that the base, which would operate under the auspices of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, would be situated in southern Kyrgyzstan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The two parties are expected to sign a final agreement spelling out specific conditions by November 1.
The move provoked an angry response from Tashkent. An Uzbek Foreign Ministry statement, issued shortly after the initial base announcement, said the facility could help fuel "all kinds of nationalistic confrontations." [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
In Tajikistan, the official reaction to the CSTO base announcement hasn't been as alarmist. But some prominent political figures, such as Rahmatullo Zoyirov, chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party, have suggested that a new military facility would not strategically benefit the region.
"There is no need for a Russian base in Central Asia," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty quoted Zoyirov as saying. "If regional states [cannot] come to terms with each other in jointly ensuring Central Asian security, they risk disintegrating and disappearing as a result of rivalry between the big powers."
Back in Kyrgyzstan, officials and political analysts are stressing internal political instability and security risks as reasons to proceed with the base. "South Kyrgyzstan is part of the Ferghana Valley, and this region is indeed very explosive," Kyrgyz political scientist Marat Kazakpayev said in an August 10 interview with Deutsche Welle. "One can see signs of religious extremism, political extremism, and, possibly, international terrorism there."
In Osh, one possible location for the base, a Kyrgyz military official told EurasiaNet that hosting the facility is a domestic issue, and not subject to regional discussion. "Kyrgyzstan is a sovereign country that can choose its own policies and its partners. The decision on the base is our internal matter, whether neighboring countries like it or not," the official said.
Others believe Uzbekistan is simply playing its customary role of spoiler. "Uzbekistan has always had a special [contrary] opinion in all post-Soviet integration matters. Frankly speaking, Uzbekistan enters regional organizations and begins the disintegration processes," Kazakpayev said. "What should Kyrgyzstan do in such situations? I think that it should not pay attention to such demarches by Uzbekistan and move forward keeping in mind its own national interests."
The Kyrgyz-Russian base agreement came about amid a political dispute between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, stemming from militant attacks in May in the Ferghana Valley city of Andijan and in Khanabad, an Uzbek village not far from the Kyrgyz border. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In recent weeks, Uzbekistan has strengthened its border fortifications, and has threatened to cut gas supplies if Bishkek does not immediately pay off its $18 million debt. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Uzbekistan has also announced plans to build a base of its own near Khanabad. Analysts say the Uzbek move may have more to do with internal security than serve as a response to the Russian-Kyrgyz base plans. Even so, Uzbek observers tend to view the CSTO base agreement as a Kremlin effort to punish President Islam Karimov's administration for straying from Moscow's preferred policy line. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Officials representing Batken, Jalalabad and Osh -- the three southern Kyrgyz provinces within the Ferghana Valley -- are now said to be lobbying to have the base located in their respective home regions, according to local media reports.
Local residents tell EurasiaNet they are eager to see the base built, voicing support for a stronger bilateral relationship between Bishkek and Moscow. "If it [the base] is going to deepen relations with Russia, I am all for it," one retired Osh resident told EurasiaNet. "Russia has been helping us for so long. My son works [as a labor migrant] in Russia. Many others also depend on Russia for a living."
Alisher Khamidov is a researcher based in South Kyrgyzstan.