Finger-pointing over Kyrgyzstan

February 9, 2009

One of the stories I’ve been following over the past few days has been the status of our base in Kyrgyzstan.  Manas Air Base serves as a transit point for troops headed in and out of Afghanistan as well as a base for aerial refueling tankers.  As such, it was disconcerting to read about  the Kyrgyz President announcing the base closure, citing U.S. refusal to pay more for the base, and incidents that had raised hostility towards the U.S.  That statement was re-iterated on Friday.

A post on Foriegn Policy’s The Cable blog gives backstory on Kyrgyzstan from various sources.  Here comes the finger-pointing:

A source involved with the negotiations for the Kyrgyz side told The Cable that the Obama administration was inheriting the brewing Kyrgyz base crisis, which he said had been neglected for years by the Bush administration.

“The U.S. government could have avoided this if they would have been receptive to Kyrgyz complaints,” said the source. “When the new government came into power [in Bishkek] and the [payoff] scheme was uncovered, they approached the Americans and asked them to compensate it for the losses. But the Americans were reluctant to acknowledge that there was anything wrong.”

The thing is, though,the U.S. did cut a new deal with Kyrgyzstan in 2006, which increased the rent several fold and provided supplemental aid.  It’s difficult to say that the issue wasn’t addressed. Maybe not to the complete satisfaction of Kyrgyzstan, but apparently well enough for them to agree to continue renting to us.  Short of giving in to the monetary demand entirely ($200 million per year), it’s not clear what more could have been done.

Like it or not, Kyrgyzstan (and/or Russia) waited until the change of U.S. Presidents to force the issue.

A couple of side-notes

A Defense Department spokesman said, “The actual original negotiations and now modern discussions [on the base] were all done by the State Department. … As far as I know, [the Pentagon] doesn’t normally talk to government institutions like that. We defer to the State Department, and the embassy.”

Contemporaneous reporting seems to back that up.  (See also, this State Department story.)

A State Department spokesman said he would check on such a meeting. In the meantime, he said, the U.S. government position is that it had not officially been notified by the Kyrgyz that they want to close the base.

They seem to be waiting on a vote by Parliament that has been delayed (this story says until Russia makes good on its guarantees, while previous ones suggested the vote would take place later this month).


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