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Kyrgyzstan Review, 10 years ago




[04.10.23] Politicians Never Lie

Last week the number one topic in the Russian media was the signing of the Kyrgyz-Russian agreement on a Russian air force base in Kant (a city 30 km east of Bishkek). Russian analysts presented the event as the real triumph of the Kremlin and Russian military, which is actually right, given the conditions on which Russia has occupied a Kyrgyz military camp in Kant.
 
According to the agreement, Kyrgyzstan is giving the military airfield in Kant to Russia for free. The 15-year rent agreement provides for no payment or compensation from the Russian side. Moreover, the Kyrgyz side, particularly the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry, will provide the Russian base with electricity and water and all other utilities. The Russian military in Kant will enjoy diplomatic status similar to that of the coalition servicemen at Ganci air base. The Russian side particularly insisted on the latter provision while drafting the agreement. So the Russian media did not exaggerate in claiming that the base agreement was a success of Russian diplomacy.
 
At the same time, not everyone in Kyrgyzstan believes the Russian air base here will ensure 100% security and fully meet the country's national interests. Some members of the parliament, high-ranking government and military officials in Kyrgyzstan have different opinions concerning the issue.
 
Kyrgyz military pilots, too, are discontented with the Russian air base's presence because they've lost their airfieldIt is yet unclear how Kyrgyz planes will fly. Local pilots think Russians may ask payment for use of the airfield in Kant by Kyrgyz aviation.
 
The Kyrgyz Defense Ministry has another airfield, Frunze-1, located in the suburbs of Bishkek. But it is only suitable for helicopters. In Soviet times Kyrgyzstan had a military airfield in Tokmok (a city 70 km east of Bishkek), but its infrastructure is ruined, the landing strip has never been repaired, and it can be used only after major repairs that will cost a great deal of money.
 
It is yet unknown how much money Russia will invest in its new air base. Russian Defense Minister, Sergey Ivanov, said the closure of Russian military bases in Cuba and Vietnam would allow the money saved to be spent (US $200 million) on other military needs (including military bases in Central Asia). In the summer of 2003 it was said that Russia is going to invest 136 million rubles (about US $4.5 million) in the Kant base. Later the Russian media referred to the Deputy Defense Minister of Kyrgyzstan, Maj.-Gen. Asylbek Ormokoyev, who allegedly said that Russia plans to spend US $130 million on the base in Kant.
 
And, finally, Kyrgyz Defense Minister Esen Topoyev, who signed the above agreement in Moscow, said Russia has already invested 100 million rubles in the Kant base.
Kyrgyz Defense Ministry officials say that so far the Russian side has not spent a single kopeck on the base
 
Almost a year ago the airfield in Kant was the topic of discussions between the United States and Kyrgyzstan. The commander of the coalition's Ganci air base visited the Kant base, and Ganci specialists thoroughly examined the airfield and found it fit for use. They probably considered the possibility of transferring the Ganci air base from Manas Airport to Kant. Initially, it was Kant that was considered for the location of the would-be air base of the US-led anti-terrorist coalition in Kyrgyzstan. Askar Mameyev, Deputy Secretary of the Kyrgyz Security Council, told a news conference that Manas Airport was out of the question. Several days later, however, the foreign air base was deployed at Manas Airport.
 
When it came to Kant, the Kyrgyz side said this airfield is in a bad condition and requires at least US $300 million for its repair. Now, after Kant has been passed over to Russia, Russian Air Force Commander Col.-Gen. Vladimir Mikhailov said the airfield in Kant is in excellent condition and needs no money for repairs
 
The presence of the Russian air base in Kyrgyzstan also has some positive aspects. In particular, the base will employ 100 locals to work there and some of the base's military personnel will be recruited from among local citizens.
 
Some Russian-speaking citizens of Kyrgyzstan consider the Russian air base in Kant a symbol that Russia has not forgotten about Kyrgyzstan and will probably increase its influence in Central Asia.
 
Taking into account the free of charge presence of the Russian base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan may hope for some concessions from Russia while solving political or economic issues.
 
As to the duration of the Russian base's presence in Kyrgyzstan, this will also depend on Ganci air base. Although Politicians say the opening of the Russian air base in Kyrgyzstan has no connection to the American military presence here, these events are certainly connected
 
Politicians never lie - they only say what they should say at a certain moment. Judging by everything, this moment has come in Russian-Kyrgyz-American relations.
 
By Alexander Kim,
The Times of Central Asia, October 04, 2003

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