Remember back in February when the Russians flew a delegation into Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, offering an extremely generous aid package of about $2 billion? Days later, the local dictatorship revoked the deal with Washington on the Manas air base, a critical supply line to the military campaign in Afghanistan. Months later, those clever Kyrgyz turned around and told the Obama administration they could keep the base, but at triple the rent. No word on whether or not Russia got a refund.
It’s hard to keep up on all the back forth – such as Russia granting greater permissions for NATO flyover rights, or their lobbying to build two airbases of their own in the Central Asian republic. However one of the main speculations on the Manas reversal was that the government of Kurmanbek Bakiyev was looking to give the Americans something that would convince them not to pay much attention to their July elections, which are likely to get pretty ugly. Today Baktybek Abdrisaev, a former Kyrgz ambassador, has an article on the elections in the Wall Street Journal:
The U.S. needs to avoid becoming obsessed with air base politics and pay more attention to its long-term relationship with Kyrgyzstan, including political reforms in the country. The upcoming presidential election in Kyrgyzstan next week will be an early test of political will on both sides to push for political reforms that have languished since President Bakiev came to power in 2005. The new contract for the “transit center” presents an opportunity for the U.S. to show the Kyrgyz people and the others that it still puts principles first. If it does so, we will know America is back on the right track.