Kyrgyzstan President Insists On Summer 2014 Deadline to Close U.S. Military Base
Monday 20 February 2012
BISHKEK (RTTNews) – The new pro-Russian Kyrgyzstan President has given a deadline of summer 2014 for the closure of a U.S. military base in the Central Asian country.
- A C-5 Galaxy cargo plane re-fuels at Manas International Airport, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on arrival from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The tank truck is a KrAZ-258.
(Photo: SSGT S.C. Felde, U.S. Air Force)
On 3 February 2009, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced that Manas Air Base would soon be closed. Bakiyev said that economic considerations and the negative public attitude towards the base contributed to the decision. A bill calling for the closure of the base and the eviction of U.S. forces was passed by the Kyrgyz parliament by a vote of 78 to one on 19 February 2009. The following day, 20 February, an official eviction notice was delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, according to the Kyrgyzstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The news of the base’s closure followed the announcement of a new agreement between Russia and Kyrgyzstan in which Kyrgyzstan will receive $2 billion in loans and $150 million in financial aid from Russia. Most observers see the two events as connected, and believe that Russian financial assistance was offered on the condition that U.S. forces were expelled from Kyrgyzstan. Currently, the U.S. government provides $150 million in aid annually to Kyrgyzstan. According to General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, around $63 million of that sum is directly connected to the base. The larger Russian package is viewed by some analysts as an effort to “out-bid” the Americans.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev made it clear at a meeting on Monday with visiting U.S. delegation led by Assistant Deputy Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Susan Elliott that the United States must withdraw all its troops from the Manas airbase in capital Bishkek at the expiry of the current lease agreement
“Speaking about U.S. military presence in the republic the head of state said no foreign military contingent should be in the Manas Civil Airport after the summer of 2014,” the presidential press service said in a statement on Mr. Atambayev’s meeting in Bishkek on Monday with a U.S. delegation headed by Susan Elliott, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia.
Kyrgyz presidential press service quoted Atambayev as saying that the future cooperation with the U.S. will be built around his country’s national interests, and democratic development will serve as a factor in strengthening bilateral relations.
The US official expressed gratitude to the Kyrgyz Republic for allowing the use of the key Transit Center – a logistics hub for Afghanistan – for the past decade.
The Manas base, set up after the 9/11 attacks, has been the only U.S. military base in the region. Around 1,200 servicemen deployed there are engaged in the maintenance of warplanes and fuelling of transport aircraft. It is also used for the transit of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan.
The interim government that came into power after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s ouster had agreed in April 2010 to extend the lease of Manas air force base for another year. The lease agreement was extended after Washington agreed to the host country’s several demands, including more than tripling the annual rent for the air base.
The impoverished mountainous former Soviet republic is home to both U.S. and Russian air bases because of its proximity to Afghanistan and western China.
Atambayev won the presidential election with an overwhelming majority in November. He has a reputation for pragmatism and support for close relations with Kyrgyzstan’s powerful neighbours China and Russia. Both the governments are keen to bring Kyrgyzstan into a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus. The Kyrgyz president is scheduled to soon have talks with the Russian leadership in Moscow. Kyrgyzstan hosts a Russian long-distance communication centre and a torpedo-testing base, among other facilities.
Kyrgyzstan had seen widespread inter-ethnic fighting in 2010 in the wake of the ousting of authoritarian President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Constitutional changes put into effect after Bakiyev fled the country made Kyrgyzstan Central Asia’s only functional democracy.