“Manas” is Not the Same Any More, It is Different
30.06.2009 12:31
Boris Kaimakov, a political observer - specially for InfoSCO

The Parliament of Kirghizia has recently (June 25) ratified an Agreement between the governments of the USA and Kirghizia on the establishment in Bishkek Manas Airport of a Transit Center to support a military commitment in Afghanistan. Thus there is no more “military American Manas airbase”, and in its place a new structure appeared having left, as a matter of fact, the previous tasks. But now there is a much smaller contingent of military men here, and the status is different – there is no diplomatic inviolability. Manas Airport is now just a transit springboard.

The United States went out of its way to reserve this very convenient point in Central Asia. It fulfilled practically all demands of Kirghizia’s government, as well as considerably increased the rent: henceforth instead of $17 million and odd Bishkek will receive $60 million.

Moreover, the USA offered Bakiev to create a joint $20 million fund for economic development. By means of it, Americans will take a direct part in the development of priority economic projects in Kirghizia.

Kirghizia’s government explained the resumption of the broken annual lease contract by the fact that it was required by “national interests and the situation in the Central Asia region.” When deciphering this phrase it is clear that the new agreement satisfies Bishkek both in the commercial and political context. These conditions enable the USA to annually put a question within the next five years of the treaty prolongation without renegotiation.

For the sake of security maintenance at the airbase Americans will build new terminals, warehouses, and an apron. Towards that result the USA allocates $36.6 million... Another $30 million will be spent for the modernization of the Manas Airport flight facilities. Moreover, the USA will pay a rent for the land around the airport, and will pay dues for its aircrafts landing and parking places - according to the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The high commercial amount involved stimulated Bishkek to meet the American requirements and not to enter in the agreement a provision about the necessity of making a reservation of the nature of cargo the US government will transfer in Afghanistan from the Manas airbase. Of course, the aircrafts “not belonging the US armed forces are not subject to examination” too.

But what is Russia’s position here? Moscow did not express any critical comments concerning the American contingent’s further stay in Kirghizia. According to Aleksey Malashenko, Carnegie Center expert, “Russia receives more normal relationship with Americans, which is of particular importance in conditions of crisis. And that is why to strike Obama at the outstretched hand is indecorous.”

The civil and military experts’ viewpoints do not coincide here: the President of the Academy on geopolitical affairs, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov believes that Moscow “… is dissatisfied with the American military presence in the region, so long as the political presence is realized through it, as well as that of special services.”

However any transaction is a result of a compromise. That is why political interests seem to have been priority when approaching to the question of Manas.

This is also evident from the President Medvedev’s statement during his visit to Africa. There, at a press conference on June 25, he said that the establishment in Bishkek Manas airport of an American transit center “will be only to the good of the common cause, common struggle against terrorism.” He saw proper thereat to especially add that “the military base terminates its work, and a new activity on ensuring transit will be carried out upon other terms without use of immunity for military men, without presence of a big number of military personnel.” As a matter of fact, Moscow declared its consent to continue to support the American efforts in counterterrorism of Americans in Afghanistan. The USA cannot but appreciate it.

But let’s return to the historical background. When last February the President Kurmanbek Bakiev signed a decree on bilateral cancellation of the US lease of the Manas airbase, it was evident that it was just the beginning of a serious political game between Washington, Moscow and Bishkek.

Against the background of the Russian-American relations general cooling, especially after Washington’s declaration of the ABM treaty’s elements deployment in Europe, Moscow was justified in expressing dissatisfaction at the American military presence in its Central-Asian “underbelly”. Bishkek was promised credits and financial aid amounting to $2.15 billion. Russia promised to build a hydroelectric power plant as well and in general could prove the whole importance of deepening political relations between the two countries.

Bishkek explained Washington its decision’s strictness by the fact that Kirghizia had never become an “equal partner” in the relations with the United States. There were reasons for this. For example, the Kirghiz deputies complained of Americans’ ignoring a demand to make an enquiry of an incident when in 2006 American soldiers shot down by mistake a truck driver, having mistaken him for a suicide bomber. There was no response on the part of the American airbase headquarters to Bishkek’s demand to compensate damages of the Kirghiz airliner, into which an American military transport aircraft drove. In general, the American servicemen’s diplomatic status was not good enough for Bishkek.

It seemed that the Americans had nothing to do but look for a new airbase in neighboring countries for the annual airlift in Afghanistan of 500 tons of cargo and for the fulfillment of tasks of the military contingent rotation. But they decided to take a different road, began to search for compromise, in the first place, with Moscow. Obama began to speak about reloading relations between the two countries, Russia gave to understand that it was expecting just this developments. There was nothing else left to do but wait for such a "reloading” concrete results.

An occasion occurred at the SCO latest summit (June 15-16) in Yekaterinburg. Already the day before this high-level meeting the Afghan President Khamid Karzai’s address to the President Kurmanbek Bakiev did not escape the world press’s attention. He found it necessary to inform his Kirghiz colleague that the situation is not simple and requires a serious support in providing the international contingent with unmilitary cargo. And when their meeting at the summit took place, Bakiev was ready for a conversation, having discussed the problem with Moscow too. Karzai left Yekaterinburg with a positive result, which gave Americans a handle to move a concrete proposal to extend the lease of Manas.