«If we however assume the scenario when this issue turns from a “regular” discussion into real action to open a military base, Kyrgyzstan will need to scrutinise the issue and ensuing consequences,» – notes Zamira Isakova, an expert in politics and security issues in Central Asia, wrote in the article specifically for CABAR.asia.Русский
- Discussions around the opening of the military base have been regularly circulating since 2005;
- The issue of military base opening is raised more to accommodate political trends, and as a regular, rather unnecessary favour to Moscow;
- Objectively, the military base in the framework of CSTO could facilitate the solution of a wide range of issues;
- The appearance of this base will put Kyrgyzstan at risk of losing a certain share of freedom in prioritising foreign political course, especially in terms of security and defence.
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Kyrgyzstan expects the state visit of the president of the Russian Federation scheduled for March 28 of this year. There’s no doubt that it will be accompanied by a series of joint agreements and declarations, including the significant issue regarding the new military base under the aegis of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic. The topic of military base establishment is interesting due to on-going outbreaks of violence in the border area of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, the history of Batken military actions, and political debates around resumed discussions about the establishment of a military base in southern Kyrgyzstan. This article may not have a single answer and the article doesn’t offer ready solutions, but provides a comprehensive review of historical facts of the issue and reflects the real discussion of the possible establishment of a military base of CSTO, in which Russia plays a key role. Background Discussions around the opening of the military base have been regularly circulating since 2005, when this issue was raised due to the bloody Andizhan events. Subsequent discussions didn’t lead to serious measures because new priorities appeared in bilateral relations of the Kyrgyz Republic and Russia. However, the issue was raised again in 2009 between the president of Kyrgyzstan Kurmanbek Bakiev and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, and was captured in the bilateral memorandum of intent to create a training base or a military division. But nearest neighbours, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, were strongly against it. The leadership of Uzbekistan overreacted. In its statement, Tashkent declared that “the base can give impetus to various nationalistic conflicts”. The reasons for such fears were caused by rather tense relations between the states of the Central Asian region. To compound that in May 2009 Uzbek towns of Andizhan and Khanabad bordering Kyrgyzstan were alerted by violent clashes. According to official sources, the alert was caused by “bandits,” and other sources said it was attacking by militants of Islamic Jihad extremist organisation, which split from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Back then, the official authorities of Uzbekistan saw the “Kyrgyz footprint” implying the indirect support of “bandits” by Kyrgyzstan. Due to those events and because of “oriental” nuances around the situation, the establishing of the base under the CSTO, where Russia would be playing key role, was almost forgotten. In 2012, the popular issue regarding “military base” in the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic was brought to life again under the president of the Kyrgyz Republic Almazbek Atambaev. According to the initial plan, the military base could be deployed in the southern Kyrgyzstan and could have united all military facilities of Russia, but border troops of the Federal Security Service of Russia based in Osh, and could have a sonorous name of the “Joint Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan”. Despite the fact that all discussions were about the establishing of the base in the south of the country, it ended up with the signing of an agreement in 2012, which came into force in early 2017 and envisaged integration of all military facilities of Russia in Kyrgyzstan in a single structure “for centralisation of control and more effective command.”. In other words, the joint military base consisting of four military facilities (Kant airbase, radio seismic laboratory of the seismic service of Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, long-distance communication hub of the Navy of Russian Federation and test base on Lake Issyk Kul) was given a status of a legal entity, which doesn’t imply any changes in quantity or deployment. The integration of all Russian military facilities under one flag alarmed not only the expert community and media, but also the political arena and the people. And then followed political flirting and unjustified statements of representatives of relevant government agencies led by the president of the Kyrgyz Republic Almazbek Atambaev regarding possible forced withdrawal of military facilities upon the expiration of tenancy period . Before coming into force of the integration process, in 2013 and in 2015 at the meetings of the CSTO the idea of establishment of the military base in the southern Kyrgyzstan also rose, but remained at the level discussion. Probably one of the most interesting moments in this story was that in 2017 Moscow stated it was not interested in creation of military bases in Kyrgyzstan, emphasising that “Russia, unlike some other well-known states, does not aim at covering the world with its military bases” . This somewhat unexpected gesture of Russia, given the fact that President Almazbek Atambaev tended to open another military base, generated two main insights . The first insight is that this unambiguous declaration can be seen as a unique attempt to position Russia as the “peaceful” ally of neighbouring states, especially amid the political events happening globally. The second and more reasonable insight reflects the attempt to indirectly influence the domestic affairs of Kyrgyzstan amid the hype about the then forthcoming presidential election in the country. The mention of a military base by the current leader of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Zheenbekov in 2018 partially proves the decisive role of Russia in this matter. Particularly, last year Sooronbay Zheenbekov emphasised that despite the fact that the second base issue was raised before him, Russia is a part that will make final decision. . In general, this issue has been long and consistently raised on the agenda of bilateral relations of the Kyrgyz Republic and Russian Federation.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.
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