Kremlin was probably obliged to ease position on Manas airbase: Chattam House expert

Azerbaijan, Baku, June 24 / Trend , V. Zhavoronkova/

Kremlin was probably obliged to ease position on closure of NATO's Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan, European expert on Central Asia Yuri Fyodorov said.

On June 22, Kyrgyz government and the United States entered into an agreement, under which a transit center for the United States to support anti-terrorist forces in Afghanistan will be established. This agreement was unanimously approved by the Committee on Defense, Security and Law of the Kyrgyz parliament, RIA Novosti reported.

The base of the antiterrorist coalition Manas became operational in Kyrgyzstan after the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September. It was opened in December 2001 on the UN mandate to support U.S. Enduring Freedom operations in Afghanistan.

There are roughly 1,500 troops of the U.S. and other coalition countries on Manas airbase as well as military transport aircraft and aircraft-refueller. In spring, the Kyrgyz parliament terminated an agreement with the United States and 11 countries of the antiterrorist coalition signed to deploy their troops in the country.

A period of six months set for the withdrawal of troops will expire in August. Many observers believe that the reason for termination of the agreement with NATO was the pressure by Russia and Moscow's support and the loan of 2 billion dollars to Bishkek.

"Kremlin was probably obliged to ease position [on withdrawal of Manas] for three reasons," research fellow at Russian and Eurasian Program of Chattam House, Royal Institute of International Affairs Fyodorov said.

The expert said the first reason is that Russia's willingness to "squeeze" Americans from the Central Asian as soon as possible provokes disagreements by the Central Asian countries who are interested in the U.S. presence in the region.  

It [the U.S. presence in the region] enables them to keep balance between Russia, China and the U.S., and not be extremely dependent on one of these outside forces," Fyodorov said.

The political expert said the other reason is that a compromise on Manas is a step towards the United States prior to the U.S.-Russian summit in Moscow in early July.

Fyodorov said the third reason is that after the presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan, Bakiyev or a new president would be less politically dependant on Moscow and it is possible that he could accept the presence of the base.

"In light of this, the current compromise on Manas can prevent such a development, which would have been very painful political defeat for Kremlin," he said.

He said Kyrgyz leadership has been caught "between few fires."

"If Bakiyev had not agreed with the requirement to remove the American base from the Manas, he would not have received a Russian loan and, the most important for him, Russia would support his opponent in the presidential elections," he said.

But withdrawal of the base will substantially complicate condition of international coalition in Afghanistan which contradicts Afghanistan's interests, almost all Central Asian countries, including Kyrgyzstan and possibly China.

They are all very interested in victory over Taliban, or at least, in preventing Taliban's victory, the expert said.

He said the latter is likely to lead to expansion of Islamic extremists in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and then to Uzbekistan.

"It can be assumed that at the SCO summit in Yekaterinburg, Medvedev and Bakiyev have been severely pressured by the other SCO members and had to make some compromise and accept transformation of airbase into a "transit point" for the transportation of non-military goods," he said.

The agreements reached address problems of international coalition only to a certain degree, he said.

"It seems that aircrafts operating in Afghanistan will not get air refueling from Manas and military contingents of European countries and the United States will not be transited to Afghanistan via this airbase," he said.

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