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Central Asia news

The Pentagon Goes out of Its Way to Retain the Airbase in Kyrgyzstan

16.06.2009 11:01 msk

Kommersant (Moscow)

Analytics Kyrgyzstan

Colonel Blaine Holt, new commander of Manas US AF Base, does not rule out the possibility that the Pentagon will retain military presence in Kyrgyzstan. The American military in general is convinced that this is something to be decided by the presidents - Barack Obama and Kurmanbek Bakiyev. It is rumored in Bishkek meanwhile that now that the president of Kyrgyzstan received financial aid from Russia, it is President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow who will be making the final decision.

The new Manas US AF Base commander was introduced to journalists in Bishkek, yesterday. Holt replaced Colonel Christopher Bence. Lieutenant General Gary L. North of the US Air Force attended the solemn ceremony. The decision to invalidate the 2001 Kyrgyz-US agreement on Manas was made by Bakiyev and seconded by the national parliament in February. The Pentagon was given six months to shut down the base. The deadline expires on August 18.

The Americans confirmed the readiness to respect Bishkek's decision. "Yes, we are ready to pull out. Preparations are under way," Bence said. "I'll carry out the order to withdraw whenever it is received," his successor confirmed.

Both US Army officers nevertheless allowed for the possibility that the Pentagon might retain military presence in Kyrgyzstan. "I hope that we will remain here. Certain improvement in Afghanistan notwithstanding, the airbase retains its importance. Anyway, the decision is to be made by two presidents," Bence said. Holt backed the outgoing commander. The officers reminded journalists of the advantages to Kyrgyzstan stemming from existence of the military base. "We invested $60 million in the Kyrgyz economy in 2009. We are ready to invest $50 million more," one of them said.

It is common knowledge in Bishkek that the United States is going out of its way to retain military presence in this Central Asian country. President of Turkey Abdullah Gul visited Bishkek in late May. He met with the Kyrgyz leadership and discussed the situation in Afghanistan and its influence on the whole region. Local experts assumed then that the Turkish president was an intermediary between Washington and Bishkek and that the matter concerned Manas. Bakiyev received a letter from his Afghani opposite number Hamid Karzai several days later with the suggestion to meet tête-à-tête and discuss Manas during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Yekaterinburg. A message from Obama to Bakiyev the other day was centered on Afghanistan.

"A new agreement on Manas has been drawn already. The rent may soar to $350 million," Kyrgyz political scientist Alexander Knyazev announced several days ago. "In any event, it is not the Kyrgyz leadership that will be making the decision. I reckon that everything will be decided by the presidents of Russia and the United States at their meeting in July."

Great Unity leader Emil Kaptagayev seconded this assumption. "It is for Medvedev to decide and not for Bakiyev," the politician pointed out. "With $450 million accepted from Russia, our president put the future of Manas in Moscow's hands."

“US BASE AT MANAS”. Bek Orozaliyev. Kommersant, No 105, June 16, 2009, p. 5. © Translated by Ferghana.Ru