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Kyrgyzstan Turns Away From West, Towards Russia

Kyrgyzstan -- A US soldier guards the main access checkpoint to the US Manas air base, 04Feb2009

Kyrgyzstan -- A US soldier guards the main access checkpoint to the US Manas air base, 04Feb2009

(PRAGUE, Czech Republic) Is Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev's eviction of U.S. troops from the strategic Manas air base an attempt to win the votes of conservatives and nationalists in upcoming elections?

"At the very least, Bakiev could wring more money out of the United States in the long run, which might not be such a bad thing in some Kyrgyz voters' eyes," writes RFE/RL Central Asia reporter Bruce Pannier on the RFE/RL Transmission blog.

Pannier raises the possibility that Moscow's recent financial pledges to Bishkek and its plans to assemble a joint rapid-reaction force in Central Asia may be "a convenient smokescreen" for Bakiev as he heads into elections later this year or next.

RFE/RL's Farangis Najibullah and Ron Synovitz report that Washington is exploring possible new supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia. They say the strategic significance of Manas has recently grown due to militant attacks in Pakistan that are choking NATO's overland supply routes into Afghanistan.

Against this backdrop, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Radio Azattyk, is entering its fourth month off the air of the largest TV and radio network that carried its programs. In October 2008, Kyrgyz authorities removed its programs from the national, government-owned network, complaining that its programs were "too negative and critical" of the government.

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin said the move forces RFE/RL to consider alternative ways of connecting Radio Azattyk with its listeners.

"Frankly, we expected more from a country trying to prove its reformist credentials in the region," he said.

-An RFE/RL op-ed says Russia is "ratcheting up the anti-Americanism."
-"Central Asia's Great Water Game"
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