22.03.2015 Author: Viktoria Panfilova

The USA looking to come back to Kyrgyzstan

709954062The treaty on the accession of Kyrgyzstan to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) was signed at the end of December 2014. The country will become a full participating member of the EAEU in May 2015. As the transition to a new level of integration approaches the opposing views between the pros and cons of the EAEU is growing. The economic situation in the country is deteriorating. The financial aid that was promised by Moscow to support the Kyrgyz economy has not been allocated yet.  NATO in the meantime has again requested Kyrgyzstan’s permission to transport goods on its way to Afghanistan on its territory.

The Kyrgyz opposition is stirring things up in the republic.  General elections will take place in November of this year. The leader of the “United Opposition Movement” Ravshan Jeenbekov feels that the irregular actions of the authorities have brought the country to a standstill. “The country is in crisis. We want to warn the government that sooner or later it is going to happen. Nobody expected that events in 2005 and 2010would lead to two ousted presidents.  (On March 24, 2005 the president Askar Akayev was ousted as a result of a coup d’etat and again on April 7, 2010 the president Kurmanbek Bakiyev got overthrown). We urge the people to show resistance against the authorities”, said Jeenbekov, specifying at the same time that he means peaceful demonstrations when he calls for “resistance”.  Experts however are predicting the next destabilization phase of the country. This might hinder Kyrgyzstan’s integration into the EAEU on one hand but on the other it might strengthen the shaky position of the US in the country after the withdrawal of US bases from the air base at the international airport “Manas”.

The Kyrgyzstan US Ambassador Pamela Spratlen called Bishkek’s rapprochement policy with Moscow a threat to Washington’s interests in November of last year. This turned out to be an error of judgement for the diplomat. Pamela Spratlen missed the accession of Kyrgyzstan to the EAEU and the expulsion of American troops. The well-known American diplomat, Richard Miles, known as the “father of revolution” in post-soviet circles, has been sent to Kyrgyzstan to smooth things over. Incidentally Washington sent him as the charge d’affaires and not as the ambassador. Experts say that this is not a coincidence. With Miles’ reputation of “father of revolution” the authorities wouldn’t have given him the agrément.

Andrey Grozin, head of the Central Asia and Kazakhstan department at the Moscow-based Institute of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) believes that if Miles doesn’t try to disrupt the process of Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the EAEU then at least he will try to slow it down. “I don’t think that Miles will be successful in disrupting things until spring. The “color revolution” is a system with well-know expert algorithms, a set of tools and necessary resources. It is almost March and this spring Kyrgyzstan simply does not have time to prepare for “democratic transformation”. But the expected general elections in fall is an entire other matter”, Grozin said to journalists. Taking this into consideration, the proposal from the Foreign Affairs Minister Erlan Abdyldaev to parliamentarians to re-examine the issue of NATO forces returning to the republic, shouldn’t be seen as random.

“The North Atlantic alliance has raised the question of the extension of the Agreement on the transit of cargo for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with Kyrgyzstan, to reflect the changes of format of operations in Afghanistan”, said the Foreign Affairs Minister Erlan Abdyldaev at a meeting of the Committee of International Affairs.

This “request” is tied to the fact that the United States intend to maintain a greater military presence than previously thought in Afghanistan.

The final decision on how many US troops will stay in Afghanistan as well as what their mission will be is still pending.

Reportedly the initiative lies with the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, who allegedly asked Washington for “some flexibility” in fulfilling the withdrawal schedule of troops and military base closures.

According to the Kyrgyz minister Abdyldaev, “the decision to facilitate a new NATO operation in Afghanistan is almost taken.”

“As a result of an inter-ministerial meeting, the decision on the need to elaborate a separate protocol amendment to the agreement on the transit of goods of ISAF through the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic was taken on May 21, 2012”, he said.

Changing the format of the presence of US forces in Afghanistan does not change their objectives, said Alexander Knyazev, expert author on Central Asia and the Middle East, in an interview. The USA secured their entry point. Having strong military transport aircraft, they can drop mobile forces and supplies in the region and not spend money. Americans will prolong the control of the country without leading military actions. Since September 2014 the USA has virtually not led military operations in Afghanistan. Military actions occurring today are solely conducted by Afghan security forces, the police, etc. The Americans are not involved in this but they provide military presence and protection. Therefore one can only speak of the full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan if ever for some internal reason the Americans deem it unnecessary to stay in Afghanistan.”, said Alexander Knyazev.

Asked whether it is a pretext for Americans to return to Kyrgyzstan Knyazev said that nothing could be ruled out.

“There is a very strong pro-Western lobby surrounding Atambayev: the Foreign Prime Minister Elran Abdyldaev, the head of foreign policy in the office of the President Zhapar Isakov, the leadership of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) and the Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev.

“Manas” in the meantime stands empty. There was mention that the base was being transferred to the National Guard, but there is no doubt that such an large area and number of buildings, structures, including equipment is simply not needed by the National Guard nor are they able to cope with it. The “Manas” air base has always been a subject of bargaining for all parties including Kyrgyz authorities. The temptation to the Kyrgyz leadership to again make money is clearly understandable. It is not at all impossible that Bishkek might try to enter in agreement for “Manas” with opponents of a Western presence in Kyrgyzstan: Russia or maybe even China. We must remember that Bishkek’s politics are irregular and the alleged view on Atambayev’s pro-Russian stance is naive. NATO and more specifically the USA, can always make the Kyrgyz government an offer they can’t refuse.”, Knyazev told the correspondant of “NEO”.

One must remember that the American base that they called “Ganci” was erected close to the Bishkek airport “Manas” in 2001. The base was the main transit point and NATO logistics centre in the region. In February 2009 the ex Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced that the government had approved the withdrawal from the air base in the country. At the end of February the Kyrgyz parliament denounced the agreement with the USA. However in June 2009 the agreement was signed in which the air base was restructured into a transportation Transit centre at the “Manas” international airport. In 2014 the Transit centre ceased to exist and NATO’s military contingent left the territory of Kyrgyzstan. Now the story of the deployment of Western troops in the Central Asian country may start a new countdown.

Viktoria Panfilova is a columnist for Nezavisimaya Gazeta and the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.