Putin Reportedly Concerned About Lingering U.S. Presence In Kyrgyzstan
Russian President Vladimir Putin is concerned about the possibility of the American military conducting intelligence operations in Kyrgyzstan and will bring up the issue with his Kyrgyzstani counterpart Almazbek Atambayev when the two meet at Sochi during the Olympics. That's according to Russian diplomatic and military stories quoted in a story in Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta which provides a useful report what Moscow is thinking these days about Central Asian security.
Russian media has been promoting the possibility that the U.S., as it withdraws from the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan, might be secretly setting up a secret intelligence-gathering operation in the country. That may sound like an implausible conspiracy theory, but at least according to NG's sources, it's plausible enough for Putin to bring it up to Atambayev. The paper writes:
Atambayev, having managed the U.S.'s withdrawal from the Manas military base, still leaves on the territory of the country a large-scale foreign military aviation presence, including American (and their allies). Concern has been expressed by experts about the possibility of conducting military surveillance with them. But Russia, of course, has no need for that. Evidently Putin, in his conversations with his Kyrgyzstan colleague, will touch on this problem. Russia has contributed too much to strengthening regional security for its interests not to be considered,
The piece also mentions the billion-plus dollars in military aid that Russia has promised Kyrgyzstan, and complains that "for Kyrgyzstan that's a lot, but the leadership of the republic, it appears, is trying to sit on two chairs" [that is, the U.S. and Russia].
There are other interesting bits of reporting in the piece, as well. One is that Tajikistan is apparently dragging its feet -- again -- on the final stages of the ratification of the base deal they worked out last year. Putin also expects to work that out in Sochi, with his counterpart Emomali Rahmon. And Russia also is conducting "complex negotiations" with Tajikistan on arranging the use of the long-disused Ayni air force base, which apparently started late last year. The piece notes that although Russia spent "considerable sums" updating the base (conventiently not mentioning the more substantial sums India spent), Tajikistan is demanding "a significant sum" for rent.
And it says that Russia is concerned about the recent conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and how it may affect Russia's security. "The upcoming withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops means that the possibility of the export of instability on to the territory of the CSTO is increasing. But our closest allies in collective defense are fighting border conflicts and are not fully engaged in providing security on the southern border of the CIS," a "diplomatic-military source in Moscow" told the paper. That, too, is going to be on Putin's agenda in Sochi with Rahmon and Atambayev.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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