Kyrgyzstan: The End of an Era at Manas Air Base
Just days apart, two revolutionary processes are coming to an end in Kyrgyzstan.
Politically, Kyrgyz voters will head to the polls on October 30 to cast ballots in a presidential election that will close the book, at least nominally, on an era of upheaval that began with the downfall of Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s administration in the spring of 2010.
The second transition concerns the US transit facility at Manas, a key logistics hub for military operations in Afghanistan. Fuel-supply practices at the base have been undergoing an overhaul for the past 18 months, after allegations of corruption surfaced shortly after Bakiyev’s fall from grace. Mina Corp, which in early 2010 was the base’s sole fuel supplier, quickly emerged as the lightning rod for dissatisfaction, and by the fall of 2011, its stranglehold on Manas contracts was broken.
The final blow for Mina came on October 26, when the Pentagon announced that a competitor, World Fuel Services Europe (WFSE), was the recipient of a contract, worth a maximum of $938.4 million, for a minimum of 10 percent of fuel supplies at Manas. The announcement leaves Mina with no supply role at Manas.
WFSE will partner with a Kyrgyz-Russian enterprise, Gazpromneft-Aero Kyrgyzstan (GAK), which is already positioned to provide as much as 90 percent of the TS-1 fuel needed to maintain Manas operations. But should GAK, for whatever reason, fall short of the
90 percent delivery target, WFSE will have the opportunity to cover any shortfall, up to the facility’s full 100-percent supply needs.
A statement issued by the US Embassy in Bishkek said the WFSE award “complements another contract announced in September 2011 to Gazpromneft-Aero Kyrgyzstan. […] With the announcement of this contract, we seek to ensure a stable, secure, and uninterrupted supply of fuel, under the dual-contract arrangement we announced on September 27, 2011.”
The precise amount of fuel supplied by WFSE “will depend on the needs of the Transit Center, world market conditions, and the evolving capabilities of Gazpromneft-Aero Kyrgyzstan,” the embassy statement added.
Mina Corp, and its affiliated entity, Red Star Enterprises, had controlled Manas fuel supplies for almost a decade, starting in 2002. A US congressional investigation in 2010 into Manas contracting practices, although it found no hard evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Mina or Red Start executives, proved to be a catalyst for change.
By the spring of 2011, the Pentagon was committed to a restructuring that accommodated Bishkek’s demand for an entity of its choosing to hold a controlling interest over Manas supplies. According to informed sources, Mina Corp, reportedly displeased by the Pentagon’s revamped supply system, didn’t submit a bid for the contract announced October 26.
World Fuel Services Europe is a division of World Fuel Services, a Miami-headquartered company listed on the New York stock exchange.
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.