Andrew Osborn

 

 

Chief Russia Correspondent

 

Deputy Bureau Chief Russia/CIS

 

Reuters

 

 

Russia alarms West with plan for Kyrgyzstan military base

The Daily Telegraph, 25th June 2010 16:36

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Richard Orange in Almaty; 

RUSSIA plans to build a second military base in Kyrgyzstan in a bold gambit likely to alarm Washington and other countries in the region.

The Kremlin tried to win approval for the base in the south of the country last year but saw its chances evaporate when the man with whom it was close to making a deal, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was deposed in a coup earlier this year.

But the Kremlin has quietly revived the plan as the interim government that succeeded Mr Bakiyev struggles to maintain order after an outbreak of ethnic violence in the south of the country that left more than 200 people dead. The base, to be located in either Osh or Jalalabad, would extend Russia's influence deep into Central Asia and bolster its position with both China and the United States.

The plan - which comes less than a week after Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, said he thought a US airbase in Kyrgyzstan that supplied fuel and troops for the war effort in Afghanistan should not become a permanent fixture - is likely to be seen as an aggressive counter thrust.

"This is all about restoring the influence Russia lost when the Soviet Union collapsed," said one Russian analyst. Kyrgyzstan already has a Russian airbase and is the only country in the world with a Russian and a US base.

Russia appears to be growing weary of sharing Kyrgyzstan's strategic space with the United States and analysts say it is keen to use the recent violence as a pretext to expand in the region.

According to military sources quoted in the authoritative Russian daily newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Mr Medvedev has already ordered Anatoly Serdyukov, the Russian defence minister, to ensure that the new base, which it is estimated will cost Russia at least $250million (£167million) and house at least 1,000 troops, goes ahead.

Analysts say the recent ethnic bloodletting has convinced Russian military intelligence that continuing instability could result in Kyrgyzstan splitting in two along north-south lines and that Russia would be the loser.

The Kremlin is hoping it can resurrect talks on the new base as early as next week once a referendum intended to give legitimacy to Kyrgyzstan's interim government is out of the way.

Edil Baisilov, former chief of staff for the interim government and the current leader of the Aikol El Party, said: "Kyrgyzstan would welcome a large Russian presence, especially now, after the bloody conflict."

Neighbouring Uzbekistan is likely to strongly oppose the move. It said last year "there was no need" for such a base, fearing it would stoke "all kinds of nationalistic confrontations".

Washington would also be uneasy.

As recently as March, it spoke of building its own anti-terrorism centre in southern Kyrgyzstan to deal with rising Islamic radicalism in the region.