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U.S. base bargaining in Kyrgyzstan

June 10, 2010

The following article is reprinted with permission from Kyrgyzstan news agency, 24.kg, Bishkek.

U.S. base bargaining
©  24.kg
By Daniyar Karimov
June 9, 2010

Bishkek hurt Washington’s reputation by sound jobbery scandal around U.S. Transit Center at the Kyrgyz airport “Manas”. However, U.S. “knockout” can appear to be deceptive…

Billion margin

Pentagon has stopped refueling aircrafts in Manas Transit Center in response to big stink. U.S. military was accused of aiding and abetting corruption and was demanded to reconsider jet fuel contracts immediately. Official Bishkek has a suspicion that fuel money can be used for inciting situation across the country.

Fuel supply to Manas Transit Center had become the focus of attention of Kyrgyz law enforcement body since power had been changed in Kyrgyzstan. There is a belief that jet fuel business is very profitable and it is no wonder that families of former presidents of Kyrgyzstan fed at it.

Jet fuel for Manas Transit Center was supplied by foreign companies who were the final point in the chain created during Askar Akaev’s era. Kyrgyz resellers sold them Russian fuel bought by privilege prices. Russian fuel, as unofficial channels inform, was supplied only for needs of Kyrgyzstan but milieus of former presidents gained $1 billion through fuel transactions and this amount of money was lost on the way to the treasury.

One month to go before upheavals Kremlin officially sounded suspicions that Bishkek sold Russian fuel to a third party, a geopolitical rival of Moscow. However, the previous government of Kyrgyzstan declared that they are not aware of fuel reselling while the new government has revealed hard-hitting facts and a rising spout of debate touched the U.S. Congress forcing it to start an investigation.

Washington sent several high-ranking envoys to Bishkek and no one admitted that issues of the U.S. base were discussed at meetings with the interim government. Recent after USA and Kyrgyzstan unexpectedly stated agreement about the Transit Center and Americans have made pre-schedule transferring of $15 million for first quarter of lease. However, a major question of fuel supply bringing $200,000 annually for Kyrgyzstan is still open. According to U.S. officials the question of fuel supply is under consideration. Meanwhile Bishkek is ready to suggest that the Pentagon [procure] alternative variants of supply though it is unclear which ones. The one thing is clear Bishkek is not going to cut fuel prices. The U.S. base continues operating to help in the “war against world terror” while the major question of the political background of the scandal remains without answer.

Bargains

The U.S. base became an object of bargaining between Bishkek and Washington many times. The question of base closing is being debated permanently as a favorite topic of local politicians. So, this is not a surprise that the interim government had tried to take advantage of the base.

Debates about reconsidering the character of cooperation with USA had started after April events. Deputy Head of the interim government Almazbek Atambaev accused Washington of sustaining “corrupted regime”. Law and enforcement agencies started investigation for confirming statement of high-ranking official. To find facts of using “fuel schemes” was an easy case as it was well known but security officials preferred to turn a blind eye to them. Selective tactics of the interim government shifted the base topic from the political level and USA harried to take advantage of that.

“We have been given assurances by the new leadership in Kyrgyzstan that the United States will retain access to the Manas air base,” U.S. Secretary of State Clinton said. She noted that Washington had discussed the issue with Russia because Moscow has allowed the Pentagon to transport materials and troops destined for Afghanistan across Russian airspace. However, her statement doesn’t mean success of U.S. diplomacy. The interim government of Kyrgyzstan in spite of anti-bribery declamation and making a good leg to Russia wasn’t able to consider closing the U.S. base in the country as Kyrgyzstan must inform America about base closing within 6 months prior to end of the agreement. The time was up in March – before the power change. Besides, the interim government being not legitimate doesn’t have rights to solve the problem of the U.S. base. USA mentioned this fact saying that they will leave if the people of Kyrgyzstan will insist on that.

What is next?

Obviously, USA understands the instability of their military presence in Kyrgyzstan. Maybe this is a reason why Western experts consider the Kyrgyz anti-bribery campaign as leverage for rent increase of Manas Transit Center.

Today the only legitimate guarantee of U.S. base existence is the interim president Roza Otunbaeva. The interim government is still hesitating about closing the U.S. base but there are no warranties that a new cabinet of ministers will agree to keep it.

In autumn 2010 elections of legitimate parliament will be held. New parliament will form a legitimate cabinet of ministers and following political traditions the Transit Center will be the focus of their attention. The base lets local politicians feel their own importance as international players able influence USA.

The history of independent Kyrgyzstan showed “games” with super powers are dangerous but such conclusions are unpopular now in Bishkek especially as USA plays into the hands of the new Kyrgyz government. Thus, USA stated about their readiness to help in search and returning of stolen funds. U.S. Ambassador Tatyana Gfoeller noted that the Treasury Department of the U.S. has possibilities for finding and freezing of secret accounts. At the same time Washington envoys persuade Kyrgyzstanis that military presence of USA is not a reason for trouble. Michael McFaul stated in Bishkek that USA doesn’t have plans of long-term using the base; they are going to close it as soon as the war in Afghanistan ends. USA in every possible way has made assurances that in the near future the need for U.S. base existence in Central Asia will disappear. But how can we explain current discussions about the U.S. base establishing in Kazakhstan? There is no reasonable answer.

[End.]

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