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Kyrgyzstan Review, 10 years ago




[13.02.23] Kyrgyzstan Receives Boost in Air Power

In late November and early December 2002 the Russian Air Force deployed planes to Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan, forming a joint Russian-Kyrgyz airbase under the auspices of a regional military bloc.
 
In May, members of the Collective Security Treaty (CST) plan to permanently base a combined aviation group to support antiterrorist or counter-insurgent operations at Kant, with Russia dominating the base. For Kyrgyzstan, whose armed forces struggled against Islamic insurgents in recent years, this new air power will provide a significant security boost.
 
In 1999, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) insurgents occupied portions of Batken Province. Air power might have helped repel the insurgents, but the Kyrgyz air force proved inadequate for challenge. Kyrgyz aviation consisted of five L-39 planes and small numbers of Mi-8 helicopters.
 
Following the deployment of American military personnel in Kyrgyzstan in late 2001, Russia sought to enhance the capabilities of the CST, whose members also include Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Many Russian strategic thinkers view the CST as a potential counterweight to the regional influence exerted by the United States and NATO.
 
Of late, Russia has aggressively courted Kyrgyzstan defense officials, and Bishkek has been open to Moscow's overtures. According to Colonel Igor Kurbatov, Chief of the Kyrgyz Air Defense Directorate, Moscow is now considering the possibility of supplying an entire air defense system, the S-300, to Kyrgyzstan. In addition, Russia has explored ways to reinvigorate Bishkek's military-industrial complex.
 
The foundation of the Russian-Kyrgyz partnership was established at a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kyrgyz counterpart Askar Akaev in December 2002. Significantly, the Kyrgyz debt to Russia was restructured at the same timeAt one point during their summit, Putin characterized Kyrgyzstan as one of Moscow's "reliable partners." In return, Akaev urged Russia to become "the major strategic pillar for Central Asia."
 
According to senior sources in the Kyrgyz government, the Russian deployment only took place after extensive consultations with China. On the whole, it appears that Beijing fully supports the establishment of the CST base out of the belief that it can help contain the expansion of a regional Islamic radical network
 
Kyrgyzstan currently appears to be solidifying its partnership with Moscow without endangering its new security relationship with Washington. The United States raised its military aid to Kyrgyzstan from $2 million in 2001 to $3.5 million in 2002
 
Kyrgyzstan now houses an American-led airbase at Manas and the CST base at Kant
 
The equipment that has been deployed recently at the CST base is well-suited for operations against small insurgent detachments. The Su-25 attack aircraft is ideal for direct troop support, capable of destroying single or group targets as well as low-speed air targets in conditions of visibility day or night. The Su-25 attack planes could hit targets in the mountainous parts of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, particularly the Fergana Valley. Other equipment can land airborne assault forces and Special Forces, carry conventional troops and supplies, or bolster search and rescue operations.
 
Roger N McDermott, Eurasianet, February 13, 2003

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