A Sinister Agenda?

After Kyrgyzstan announced the closure of Manas Air Base, many analysts speculated about Russia’s role in the affair, particularly in light of the $2 billion financial assistance package Russia giftwrapped for its former republic.

Today, the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan officially voted to end the American military’s eight-year lease on Manas. The New York Times reports that President Kurmanbek Bakiyev “is expected to send Washington an official notification requiring it to vacate the base within six months.”

“I think that the Russians are trying to have it both ways with respect to Afghanistan in terms of Manas,” said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. “On one hand, you’re making positive noises about working with us in Afghanistan, and on the other hand you’re working against us in terms of that airfield which is clearly important to us.”

Meanwhile, UPI has one of the best, most concise summaries I’ve seen of the political dimensions to the affair. But don’t call Russia’s response contradictory, says this writer in The Moscow Times.

“There is so much talk about the “confusingsignals” being sent by the Kremlin to the United States these days.Some are confrontational, while others are cooperative in equalproportions. And nowhere is the dissonance more pronounced than on theissue of Afghanistan. In the space of a week, the major U.S. supplypoint for its northern route — the air base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan –is being closed, while the Russian leadership proclaims its readinessto work more closely with Washington on this very question.

“But I don’t see a contradiction. The Kremlin is simply putting Washington on notice: This isn’t 2001 anymore.

“From Moscow’s perspective, the initial decision to support theU.S. presence in Central Asia in 2001 was based on two assumptions. Oneproved to be correct: The U.S. military could accomplish in a matter ofweeks what Russia (and Iran) had been unable to accomplish via theNorthern Alliance — the overthrow of the Taliban. The mistake,however, was to take at face value the assurances given in February2002 by then-Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones: ‘We don’twant U.S. bases in Central Asia. … Our goal with the Russians is tomake sure that they understand we are not trying to compete with themin Central Asia, [that] we’re not trying to take over Central Asia fromthem.’

“Instead, the Kremlin feels that in return for its support, it hasreceived color revolutions in three former Soviet republics, NATOexpansion in its backyard, renewed efforts to build energy pipelinesthat compete with Russian interests and plans to place missile defenseinstallations in Poland and the Czech Republic. It is not surprisingthat Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev mightnot want to repeat this experience with a new U.S. administration.”