Andrew Osborn

 

 

Chief Russia Correspondent

 

Deputy Bureau Chief Russia/CIS

 

Reuters

 

 

Russia expands military presence in Kyrgyzstan

www.telegraph.co.uk, 14th September 2010 15:58

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Richard Orange in Almaty

Russia is close to a significant geopolitical breakthrough that would allow it to consolidate and expand its military presence in the former Soviet Union as a bulwark against encroaching US and Chinese influence.

Under the terms of a draft deal being discussed by Moscow and the strategically important Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, Russia would be allowed to keep five existing military facilities in the country operational for a further 49 years and be permitted to open a brand new military base in the south of the country too.

The deal is expected to be agreed before the end of the year and comes after Moscow negotiated similar arrangements with Ukraine and Armenia earlier this year that prolonged Russia's military presence in those countries by decades, guaranteeing it a firm geopolitical foothold in the former Soviet space.

Improving its position in Kyrgyzstan, which hosts an important US airbase that supplies combat operations in Afghanistan, would be a major coup for the Kremlin as the impoverished Central Asian country is being actively courted by the United States and China too.

Russian daily newspaper Kommersant said that Kyrgyz defence minister Abibulla Kudaiberbiyev made the offer to consolidate and expand Russia's military presence in his country during a meeting in Moscow on Monday with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov.

It said he had argued that an agreement needed to be signed "as soon as possible" and that Kyrgyzstan wanted Russia to pay for the privilege in small arms and military hardware instead of cash.

The country's president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was deposed in a coup earlier this year, fresh parliamentary elections are due next month, and ethnic clashes in the south of the country in June left hundreds if not thousands dead.

Analysts say the country's new rulers are keen to beef up their security forces and their own position with Russian help to head off any future unrest.