Moscow influence in Central Asia boosted by Kyrgyz military deal

By Farooq Yousaf Source:Global Times Published: 2013-7-28 21:03:01

Since the cancellation of the lease for the US Manas Transit Center (MTC) in Kyrgyzstan, things are moving rapidly between Bishkek and Moscow in terms of bilateral cooperation.

From writing off Kyrgyz debt to entering arms deals, Russia has been blazing on all cylinders to strengthen its ties with the ex-Soviet state.

One of the Russian analysts, Michael Mamut, beautifully summed up this situation, calling these developments as "resuming relations between the two countries, as in Soviet times," made in the context of a financial agreement between the two countries.

It is also worth noting in regional context that along with Kyrgyzstan, Russia has also promised Tajikistan it will provide similar military assistance worth $200 million.

It is interesting to see the Russian urgency to begin supplying weapons soon before the announced date.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu recently announced that rather than 2014, the arms and equipment supply would start in the third quarter of 2013.

Russia had pledged close to $1.1 billion in military support to Bishkek that would include armored vehicles, tanks, small arms and rocket launchers, along with other equipment.

Apparently, Russia's efforts to beef up the military capabilities of these two states may well have been carried out in keeping with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in sight.

CSTO, a Russia-centered Central Asian military alliance, is a project Moscow has long been working on.

Russia still maintains that the early supply of arms has nothing to do with the MTC lease cancellation.

According to Igor Korotchenko, who heads the Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade in Moscow, the decision to supply arms before the announced date was to assist Kyrgyzstan to fight the rising Islamic militancy in the country.

On the other hand, the US also shrugged off such headlines. The US Department of Defense spokesperson Commander Bill Speaks played down the importance of this resolution, and hoped that the deal would be honored until July 2014.

But even if official statements from Washington downplay this situation, recent statements made by top officials in a personal capacity also explain the reality of how the US feels.

One such statement was the US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul's allegation on Moscow for bribing Bishkek to end US military presence in the county, a statement not taken too well by Russia.

It seems obvious that Russia maintains full confidence in the current Kyrgyz leadership under Almazbek Atambayev, something that has explicitly been expressed a number of times by top Russian officials.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a statement during a recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization ministerial summit that his country sees Kyrgyzstan as an important ally and strategic partner, and would thus continue to support its leadership.

It would not be wrong to state that Russia is looking to strengthen its grip over Kyrgyzstan in terms of its influence on economic and foreign affairs.

This influence may well be linked with the future of CSTO and joint security forces as well, as Russia may well look to utilize its Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan for that purpose in future. Thus, Bishkek is currently Moscow's top priority in Central Asia.

Considering its size and geographic location, Kyrgyzstan may have realized that it has to align itself with one of the global power blocs.

Meanwhile, given the signals coming out of Bishkek, it seems obvious that it wants to align itself to the regional power - Russia.

But considering the past interference and alleged Russian role in overthrowing the ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010, the Kyrgyz people - having a strong affiliation toward Russia - may fear whether with these new military developments, Moscow may now have greater control over their country's political dynamics.

The author is a program consultant and editor at the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.

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