Russia to Keep Kyrgyzstan Military Base


President Vladimir Putin on Thursday agreed a deal with Kyrgyzstan that will allow Russia to keep a military base in the country until 2032 as Moscow and Washington jostle for influence in the region.

The agreement -- essentially a set of memorandums of intent ahead of formal treaties -- also foresees Russia wiping out nearly $500 million (380 million euros) in debt owed by Kyrgyzstan, a significant sum for the central Asian ex-Soviet state.

Landlocked Kyrgyzstan is the only nation in the world to host both Russian and US bases. Both Moscow and Washington are seeking to extend their presence in the country following the ousting of president Kurmanbek Bakiyev in a bloody revolution in 2010.

The agreements signed during Putin's visit include a document spelling out the terms for the presence of Russia's Kant base and another document to settle Kyrgyzstan's debt to Russia.

A source in the Kyrgyz government told AFP Russia would be able to keep its base in the country for another 15 years after 2017.

"A new document should be developed by 2017," the source said, adding the agreement could then be extended every five years.

Kyrgyzstan is also home to a US air base which is a vital transit point used to ferry troops to Afghanistan, refuel warplanes and evacuate wounded soldiers.

The current lease on the Manas air base expires in 2014, and US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta travelled to Kyrgyzstan in March in an effort to persuade the local government to leave the door open to renewing access to the base after 2014.

Speaking to reporters, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev confirmed that his government would like to turn the Manas base into a civilian airport after 2014, while Putin sought to stress that the fate of the US base was not the subject of Thursday's talks.

He indicated however that Moscow was ready to help turn the Manas airbase into a profitable civilian facility.

"We are ready to help fill it up with concrete economic substance," Putin told reporters, adding that the Russian military presence would be a "significant stabilising factor" in the region.

Kyrgyz Finance Minister Olga Lavrova told AFP that Russia had agreed to write off Kyrgyzstan's $489-million debt.

"Part of the sum in the amount of $189 million will be fully written off in a lump sum," she said. "The other part in the amount of $300 million will be written off in annual installments beginning from 2016."

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