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Does Russia Really Want to Close Manas?

Surprisingly, there are still some people out there arguing that this isn’t the Kremlin’s aim in Kyrgyzstan:

“The American base is not against Russia,” said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Even the Russian military understands it is the place where the cooperation between Russia and the United States is the most valuable.” Kyrgyzstan is the only nation where both Cold War foes have military bases.(…)

“Russia is genuinely concerned about this as a regional security issue,” said Christopher Langton, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

I don’t buy this argument – even though they are both certainly right that it would be in Russia’s best interests to have NATO be successful in Afghanistan.  It seems that the Russian desire to oust the United States from the Manas base is a long-term vision of the presence of a major foreign military force in Central Asia, which may persist long after Af-Pak is no longer the most fashionable global terrorism war theater. Who is to say, for example, that the Americans will leave that nice base so easily upon eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan – that’s the concern I think Moscow is obsessed with.

Washington doesn’t really seem to get it – they see NATO as performing a service for Russian national security – which is true in the short term, but instead they expect Russia’s conduct to conform to the rational interests which they define.  I don’t think NATO should expect a thank you note any time soon.