New Russian base in Kyrgyzstan to be symbolic rather than strategic

Politics Materials 6 August 2009 09:12 (UTC +04:00)

Azerbaijan, Baku, August 5 / Trend , V.Zhavoronkova, E. Ostapenko /

Additional military contingent of Russia in Kyrgyzstan, which was reflected in the memorandum on further cooperation between the countries signed at the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, would be of more symbolic than strategic significance, experts consider.

Informal summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) took place in Kyrgyzstan in the end of last week. The summit was attended by heads of participating states, just Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Armenia.

The summit focused on the efficiency of the organization, terrorism, extremism and a number of other pressing issues.

Russia and Kyrgyzstan signed a memorandum on further development and improvement of bilateral legal framework governing the presence of Russian troops on the territory of Kyrgyzstan and the deployment of additional Russian military contingent on the territory of Kyrgyzstan.

According to it, there are plans to deploy a military facility, which is likely to be a training base in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Experts consider that the new base will be less strategic, but rather symbolic.

Establishing additional base in Kyrgyzstan, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev is attempting to draw attention of international community to the situation in the south of the country, said Kyrgyz expert Venus Dzhumatayeva.

In 1999 and 2000, militants of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan tried to enter Uzbekistan from the territory of Tajikistan through the territory of Kyrgyzstan.

"Since that year, Kyrgyzstan has always been feeling the danger of the repetition of these events," expert, journalist of Kyrgyz edition of Radio Liberty, Dzhumatayeva, told Trend by telephone.

According to Dzhumatayeva, Bakiyev said at this CSTO summit that the south of Kyrgyzstan and neighboring countries - Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, is becoming a very dangerous and unpredictable territory where the CSTO should demonstrate itself as an organization, which aims to strengthen and prevent any pockets of danger.

In addition, according to Dzhumatayeva, Kyrgyzstan needs to be protected, in particular, from the claims of Uzbekistan.

"There are many disputed territories between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the border has not clearly defined, and Uzbekistan has a desire to expand its territory at the expense of those disputed territories," said the expert.

Therefore, the decision to open the base was made for security purposes.

"Kyrgyz government considers this base can be a source of protection, a symbol of protection from such threats, despite that this is likely to be no more than 400 people," said Dzhumatayeva.

However, unlikely this base will be of vital strategic importance.

Most likely, it will have a format of certain political demarche, said an expert on politics and interests of Russia in relation to the CIS countries, particularly Central Asia, Igor Torbakov.

"Serious military analysts in Russia, who have expressed informal opinions, deeply doubt that this base will have some strategic importance," Torbakov, research fellow of the Finnish Institute of International Relations, told Trend by telephone from Helsinki.

This is Moscow's attempt to show that the dominant force in post-Soviet territory, particularly in Central Asia, is still Moscow, not Washington.

Russian and U.S. bases have been co-existing in Kyrgyzstan for the past seven to eight years. Upon agreement between the Kyrgyz and U.S. authorities, the American base in Manas was opened in late 2001. After the Americans, the Russians opened a military base at the airport Kant, which is located 30-40 kilometers from Bishkek.

Russian expert on the CIS and Central Asia, Leonid Gusev, also believes that the base for Russia would have a symbolic importance of strengthening its influence in Central Asia.

"For Russia, opening the second base is important because it strengthens its role in Central Asia," Gusev, senior research fellow of Institute for International Studies of Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Foreign Ministry of Russia, told Trend via e-mail from Moscow.

Kyrgyz leadership needs the base in order to balance between Russia and U.S.

Over past few months, Moscow has a strong pressure on Bishkek to squeeze out the Americans, Torbakov said.

"There were talks before the presidential elections, Bakiyev needed money, Moscow promised big cash grant," said Torbakov.

In winter, Russia provided percent free loan of around $1.7 billion to Kyrgyzstan. After this, Parliament had decided to close the base of NATO Air Forces in Manas.

After that, Bakiyev agreed with the United States to rename the Manas military base into the center of transit transportations, as a result of which the contingent of NATO is still in the country.

"They call this base as transit center, but in fact it will be used for the same purpose as before," said Torbakov.

Russians did not like this idea, and thus the idea arose to establish a base in the city of Osh, said the expert.

Like other elite countries of Central Asia, the Kyrgyz leadership all the time maneuvers between different centers of power, he said.

However, the prospect of opening another base in the neighboring country is unprofitable for neighboring Uzbekistan, against which Tashkent opposed.

According to experts, there are several reasons.

According to Gusev, over last two years, Tashkent has again been demonstrating the desire to establish relations with the United States: the U.S. military gained access to the airbase in the border with Afghanistan, Termez (Uzbekistan), where soldiers from Germany were placed. Opening Russian base is contrary to the interests of the United States.

In addition, this year, Uzbekistan joined the NATO project on railway transportation of non-military cargoes to Afghanistan via the territories of Russia and Kazakhstan.

The relationship of Uzbekistan with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is relatively poor, said Gusev.

This is associated with the problem of water, which Tajikistan controls, and the problem of militants in the region, the expert said.

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