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No Reason for New Russian Base in Kyrgyzstan

By News Briefing Central Asia

At a roundtable on the role of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, CSTO, in Central Asia, held in Bishkek on March 28, the security grouping’s secretary general, Nikolai Bordyuzha, said Russia and Kyrgyzstan were intent on finalising a new agreement on Moscow’s military presence in that country.

Under the agreement, Russia’s four military facilities in Kyrgyzstan would be merged into one. Most controversial of all is a plan for a new military training centre located in southern Kyrgyzstan, close to the border with Uzbekistan.

When the Kyrgyz and Russian presidents earlier signed a memorandum on the southern base, Uzbekistan’s reacted badly to the prospect of Russian forces being deployed so close to its frontier.  

In an interview for NBCentralAsia, Farhod Tolipov, an academic and political scientist in Tashkent, explained why Uzbekistan is so concerned.  

NBCentralAsia: How well-founded are Uzbek authorities’ fears about a possible deployment of more Russian forces in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan?  

Tolipov: They are as well-founded as the need for this deployment is unfounded. Militarising the region is clearly inappropriate, and there’s clearly a geopolitical context to decisions like these. The first indications of what was termed Russia’s second military base in Kyrgyzstan, to be located in the south, came after agreement was reached to maintain the United States military airbase at Manas airport, albeit under a new name. [In 2009, the Kyrgyz authorities announced that the US base was to close, but a deal was later reached for it to remain, renamed a “transit hub”, apparently to save face.]
 
NBCentralAsia: What’s Uzbekistan afraid of?

Tolipov: Uzbekistan fears several interrelated consequences – excessive militarisation of the region; an intensification in geopolitical rivalries between the great powers; the potential for Russia to exert pressure on Uzbekistan; the risk that the mistrustful relationship between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan could worsen; and destabilisation of the region.

Depending on the circumstances, a foreign military base could serve a number of different functions.

NBCentralAsia: What reaction can we expect from Tashkent once the Russian base is set up in southern Kyrgyzstan?  

Tolipov: To my mind, possible scenarios include the following:

1. Uzbekistan withdraws or suspends its membership of the CSTO.
2. Uzbekistan reduces its role in the CSTO to a nominal one, where it is passive and merely uses its veto.
3. It takes political steps to demand that Russia does not deploy new forces.
4. It assumes a pro-western posture.

NBCentralAsia: Do you think a different superpower could set up a military base in Uzbekistan?

Tolipov: I think that’s not to be ruled out. However, everything would come down to whether both such a superpower and Uzbekistan had the capacity and desire to set up a base, not merely as a counterreaction to the Russian base, but on the basis of a convincing argument for strengthening regional security.

NBCentralAsia: In your view, what effect will the opening of the Russian military base will have on Uzbek-Kyrgyz relations?

Tolipov: A negative one, of course. Some might take the view that in light of the tensions between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that stem from their problematic relationship, the former has resorted to military assistance from Russia as a defence tool against the latter.

NBCentralAsia: What effect would the deployment of additional Russian forces have on the US presence in Kyrgyzstan? It’s recently been reported that the US is to fund a new counter-terrorist training center in the southern Batken province.  

Tolipov: I don’t think it will have any effect. Let’s recall that when plans for a second Russian base in the south were unveiled, the Americans said officially that they favoured any decision that strengthened Kyrgyzstan’s independence. Thus, if Kyrgyzstan believes the deployment is necessary to its independence and security, the US will support that decision.

Moreover, the US has shown repeatedly that it has no plans to dominate the region or to compete with Russia there.

Farhod Tolipov is a political scientist lecturing at the University of World Economics and Diplomacy in Tashkent.
 
This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing CentralAsia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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