NATO in search of allies for deployment of military contingents in Central Asia

Azerbaijan, Baku, April 24 / Trend /

Trend commentator Viktoriya Zhavoronkova

Not much time is left until 2014, when the withdrawal of NATO anti-terrorism coalition troops from Afghanistan is expected to take place; however, it still remains unknown what type of military contingent will remain in Afghanistan and Central Asia thereafter and which countries of the region will be selected by the West for this purpose.

Not much time is left until 2014, when the withdrawal of NATO anti-terrorism coalition troops from Afghanistan is expected to take place; however, it still remains unknown what type of military contingent will remain in Afghanistan and Central Asia thereafter and which countries of the region will be selected by the West for this purpose.

The fact that military contingents will remain not only in Afghanistan but also in the region is doubtless and is openly stated by officials. On Tuesday, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Robert Blake said the fact of the coalition's presence in Central Asia is unequivocal, adding that it is still not decided on what other transit points and bases will be maintained in the region.

Afghanistan is one of the main reasons why Central Asia is so interesting to the West, but other regional players such as China and Russia are also interested in close cooperation with the countries of the region.

Coalition military bases used to be located in the countries of the region, such as Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, but were later were closed down. These two countries and Tajikistan will most likely be the main choice for dislocations of Western troops in the region.

Turkmenistan, consistent with its policy of neutrality and the unwillingness of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to entice foreign policy vector to take sides will not host a military contingent. Kazakhstan may act as a transit country, but NATO's close long-term mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia is unlikely to give it hope for more.

However, things are not so simple with the remaining three countries. In mid-April, the President of Uzbekistan visited Russia, and some progress was witnessed then in relations between the two countries after a long cooling period. It is unlikely that the Tashkent leadership would go for talks with Russia if it has plans of placing Western military facilities on its territory in the near term.

Kyrgyzstan, with the former military base and present transit center Manas operating on its territory which must cease operation in 2014 due to the expiration of the lease agreement, also is quickly building up a partnership with Russia.

This can be seen by the frequent meetings of officials of the two countries, as well as desire to integrate alongside of Russia in the Customs Union. Bishkek has repeatedly said it would not renew the Manas agreement, which is a kind of message to Russia, in which it expresses its commitment to further cooperation with Moscow. It would be extremely illogical now to close down one transit center that brings economic benefits to the country only to open another one.

The situation is somewhat different with Tajikistan: some cooling has been observed in relations with its closest neighbor (Russia) and there has been an improvement of relations with NATO. Despite membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the presence of the Russian military and a Russian fiber optic node, Tajikistan is increasingly moving closer to NATO.

Western officials are increasingly visiting the republic, cooperation is developing in all areas, including through participation in NATO's various programs. For example, two U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State will visit Dushanbe this week. Dushanbe does not receive tangible investment from Russia, despite the presence of military bases on the country's territory of the Republic nor political support.

Perhaps if it were not for Tajik labor migrants, the country would long ago have completely turned away from cooperation with Moscow.

Assessing the situation and necessity for the presence of coalition forces in the region after 2014, one can conclude that the most appropriate partner for NATO today is Tajikistan. However, over time it turned out that countries in the region are able to redirect the vector of foreign policy in a very short time, and since there is still time left until 2014, unambiguous predictions on this issue are meaningless.

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