Kyrgyzstan Plays 'Dangerous' Game

Bishkek authorities are warned of the dangers of playing host to the world's biggest military rivals.

Kyrgyzstan Plays 'Dangerous' Game

Bishkek authorities are warned of the dangers of playing host to the world's biggest military rivals.

The jostling of Russia, China and the United States for influence in Kyrgyzstan may have damaging and unpredictable consequences for the republic, analysts have warned.

They say the Central Asian state's decision to forge military ties with the three powers may bring a number of financial and security benefits, but could lead to an intense and possibly dangerous rivalry between the latter.

"We can get a lot of money from these powers due to their desire to be leaders in the region, but at the same time we risk becoming the centre of any confrontation between them," warned rights activist Yrysbek Omurzakov.

Russia stepped up its involvement in Kyrgyzstan after the signing of the Commonwealth of Independent States Collective Security Agreement, CSA, on May 25, 2001. The headquarters of this association - which brings together Russia, Armenia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Tajikistan - opened in Bishkek last year.

The two nations moved closer during Kyrgyz president Askar Akaev's visit to Moscow for talks with his counterpart Vladimir Putin earlier this month, during which both expressed an interest in the rapid development of a military partnership. Several Kyrgyz defence factories, idle since the collapse of the Soviet Union, are back in operation and working on Russian military hardware.

Meanwhile, Bishkek government sources claim there are plans to revive several Russian-built military installations along the shore of the Issyk-Kul Lake. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Krygyz-made underwater military equipment was tested here.

Beijing has become involved through the Shanghai Organisation for Cooperation, SCO, which consists of Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Originally a purely economic association, the SCO was transformed into a military-political bloc a year ago.

On June 7, 2002, an SCO agreement signed in St Petersburg gave the green light to a Bishkek-based anti-terrorist centre, and intense preparations are now underway to get the venture up and running.

A military delegation from China visited Bishkek and southern Kyrgyzstan in later August and the two nations conducted joint exercises over a period of several days, according to the Kyrgyz defence ministry.

Last, but by no means least, are the American troops based at Manas airport, just outside the capital. The Kyrgyz government granted permission for the US-led anti-terrorist coalition to use this facility in December 2001.

Alexander Kim of the independent newspaper Moya stolitsa - novosti warns that Washington, the CSA and the SCO are all pursuing their own strategic interests in the region - and that these are unlikely to coincide.

Turat Akimov, military correspondent for the Kyrgyz national information agency Kabar, goes one step further, arguing that the US, Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies are already placing agents in Kyrgyzstan under the guise of anti-terrorist operations.

"In the small city of Bishkek, the interests of these three behemoths have begun to collide every day. They will not only oppose one another, they will provoke one another," he said.

But Alisher Abidmomunov, head of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, believes the government needs to choose one strategic partner rather than trying to play host to a group of potential rivals.

"The most profitable partnership for our country is with the US and NATO," he told IWPR. "It may take Russia a long time to re-establish itself where it can begin active military cooperation with its former allies."

The government, however, is adamant Kyrgyzstan will continue to develop military cooperation with all three powers in tandem.

"The simultaneous presence of all three in Bishkek is in our national interest," said General Bolot Januzakov, public relations advisor to President Akaev and the former chief of the national security service.

Januzakov, who was dismissive of the concerns voiced by others, said the Kyrgyz state budget receives considerable funds from the US-led coalition, and that the revival of local defence factories with Russia's assistance will provide regular employment for hundreds of people.

"Our military factories are already receiving orders from or through Russia. We are not able to go on the world market ourselves, yet have been able to revive our defence industry thanks only to the ties established with Moscow," he said.

Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek

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