The Russians are 'Pushing' Again

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Russian manipulation has led to the government of the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan telling the United States that it must cease using its Manas air base. The base is of major importance to U.S. operations and support of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Until 1991, Kyrgyzstan had been a part of the Soviet Union. And, like Afghanistan, it is a land-locked state.

Large-scale U.S. military operations in Afghanistan began shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Because no countries in the region -- including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which the United States had defended in 1991 -- would permit U.S. forces to fly combat missions from their airfields, initial U.S. air support came from aircraft carriers operating in the Persian Gulf. These included the carrier Kitty Hawk (CV 63) serving as an afloat base for special forces and their helicopters. Other flights to Afghanistan had to fly lengthy routes, with overflight permission need from several countries.

Thus the Kyrgyzstan base of Manas has been of great importance. About 500 tons of material and 15,000 U.S. troops move through the base every month. The United States has been paying the country just over $17 million per year for use of the facility.

Talks between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan governments are continuing as this is written, but the point has been made: The president of Kyrgyzstan announced the end of American use of the base at a joint press conference with Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev. This was another demonstration of the "new" Russia being a major player in world events.

Other recent examples of this attitude include the Russian invasion of Georgia last year, the difficult negotiations over energy pipelines to Europe through the Ukraine, the recent visit of a naval task force -- including a nuclear-propelled cruiser -- to Venezuela to boost the prestige of U.S. antagonist Hugo Chavez, the operation of a Soviet carrier task force in the Mediterranean, planted rumors that Russia is seeking to reestablish a naval base in Syria, and the periodic long-range flights toward NATO countries by Russian bombers.

These activities are not meant to provoke a conflict -- but perhaps crises. The "new" Russia is in no condition for a conflict beyond border incursions into neighboring countries (as the Georgia episode). But while the slow and expensive attempts to rebuild the country to be a significant military force, the political-military activities enumerated above will, in Russian eyes, contribute to the country again having a major role in world affairs.

Another factor, in the words of Baktybek Abdrisaev, who served as Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to the United States from 1996 to 2005, "all has not proceeded as we had hoped." Writing in The Washington Post on 20 February, he continued: "For one thing, economic arrangements relating to the base have always been obscure, and the employment and support relationships that many expected have not been realized. A couple of very troubling incidents, including the shooting death of a Kyrgyz man in 2006, have left many in Kyrgyzstan concerned about the candor of American officials and the attitude with which they approached their Central Asian partners."

But the bottom line: Russia will benefit, that government at the same time having said that it will assist in U.S.-NATO efforts in Afghanistan, including the logistics transit issues.

-- Norman Polmar

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