Manas is a field for Russia-U.S. dialogue

Politics Materials 6 March 2009 09:04 (UTC +04:00)
Manas is a field for Russia-U.S. dialogue

Azerbaijan, Baku, March 5 / Trend , E.Tariverdiyeva/

Contradictory statements by Kyrgyzstan's senior officials regarding withdrawal of Americans from the Manas military base can be attributed to Russia's interests to have a new field for dialogue with the U.S., experts said.

"It is not clear whether the talks will be held with Russia's participation. But it seems that Russia made Manas an element of bargaining with the U.S. in global terms and the Manas will become a small change in other areas," expert for Central Asia, Stanislav Pritchin said.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said in an interview with BBC that he is ready to negotiate closure of the Manas with the U.S.

As far as the option that the airbase may avoid closure is concerned, Bakiyev said "Negotiations are not currently conducted, but I want to say that the door is not closed, [...] and we are prepared to consider all options to be offered by the U.S. Government to resolve the situation in Afghanistan".

However, Bakiyev's press officer Almas Turdumamatov said in an interview with Reuters on March 5 that Kyrgyzstan will not revise its decision to shut down the Manas.

The decision [on withdrawal of the airbase] has been made and the agreement [on the base] has been denounced by the Parliament. But the doors are open for talks on the situation in Afghanistan," Turdumamatov said.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the decision to shut down the base on Feb. 3 following talks with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow. On the same day it was announced that Russia would issue a two-billion-dollar loan to Kyrgyzstan.

The Committee for Constitutional Law, State Structure, Legality and Human Rights upheld Bakiev's order to close Manas.

The defense and international committees have approved the ordinance.

On March 5, the U.S. informed Kyrgyzstan that it is ready to withdraw its military contingent from the airbase in the international airport Manas in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbaev told MPs at a meeting of the Parliamentary Defense Committee, RIA Novosti reported.

The airbase was established in Kyrgyzstan in December 2001 under the UN mandate to support coalition forces' anti-terrorist Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The base hosts roughly 1,200 U.S. militaries, military aircraft and refuellers. On Feb. 20, Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry officially notified the U.S. Government about termination of the agreement on the U.S. military presence at the airbase.

Observers attribute the ambiguity on the Manas issue and Kyrgyzstan senior officials' contradictory statements on withdrawal of Americans from the base to Russia's interest to have a new field for dialogue with the U.S.

"It is quite possible that U.S. received Russia's agreement", Kyrgyz Political Scientist Orozbek Moldaliyev told Trend in a telephone conversation from Bishkek. "Because Russia sought to solve such issues through Moscow, but not directly with Bishkek."

Russia should designate who plays a key role in the region, he said.

Pritchin said an issue to close the Manas is not final, because Bakiyev is seeking to create a new platform for a dialogue - not use as a base, but as transshipment point. The base will exist, but under another format and other payment conditions, he said.

"From other side, it is acceptable for Russia, because all previous agreements are transparent and understandable, through they are refused," Commentator of Nezavisimaya gazeta (Independent newspaper) Pritchin told Trend in a telephone conversation from Moscow. "On the other hand, Russia is interested in stabilizing a situation in Afghanistan."

Moreover, Russia is interested that cargo will be transported just via this base and new U.S. points for cargo delivery to Afghanistan will not open in the Central Asia, he said.

Bakiyev wants to see how much the Americans will pay particularly given that Manas is increasingly significant to the Americans in the context of their troop increase in Afghanistan, British Expert on Central Asia Neil MacFarlane said.

"Russia may be an instrument in a game to get more out of the Americans," UK Chatham House Research Centre Expert MacFarlane wrote to Trend in an email. "I think this business highlights the possible utility of a Russo-American conversation about Central Asian security."

The Kyrgyz political scientist said President Bakiyev may be a signal for Moscow.

Signing a loan agreement worth $2 billion with Russia does not guarantee Kyrgyzstan to receive tranche, he said.

One may sign an agreement with Russia, but it is different to realize them, Moldaliyev said. "Perhaps, there are some delays to receive the first tranche worth $1.5 million," he said. "And Bakiyev's statement which urges to fulfill a leverage pressure role on Russia may be connected with it."

European Expert on Central Asia Niklas Swanstrom believes it may favor beginning a dialogue, but at the same time, this is reason for distrust in Russia due to its intention to cut U.S. troops in Central Asia.

"This fact can be a reason for distrust between Russia and U.S. which is obvious for me, Russia supported to withdraw the U.S. troops," Swedish Security and Policy Development Institute Director Swanstrom told Trend in a telephone conversation in Stockholm.

Kyrgyzstan is seeking to save relations with U.S. by making such statements, he said.

V.Zhavoronkova contributed to the article.

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