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Kyrgyzstan May Decide On New Russian Base In August

The runway of the U.S.-controlled Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan.
ASTANA (Reuters) -- Kyrgyzstan may make a decision on setting up a new Russian military facility on its territory in early August, its ambassador to Kazakhstan has said.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev said this week that the new training center could prepare crack forces tasked with stemming the rising tide of insurgency spilling over from nearby Afghanistan.

On July 21, Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Kazakhstan Zhanysh Rustembekov said a decision on the new base could be announced at a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (ODKB), a Russian-dominated security bloc which includes Kyrgyzstan.

"We are hosting an informal ODKB summit on August 1-2, maybe we will make a decision there," Rustembekov told reporters.

Asked if the former Soviet republic was likely to accept Russia's offer, he said: "Why not? Russia is our strategic partner."

Kyrgyzstan, a small impoverished nation, has become the object of growing Russian-U.S. rivalry. It is important due to its proximity to Afghanistan and both Moscow and Washington now operate military bases on its mountainous territory.

Kyrgyzstan's parliament last February approved the closure of a U.S. air base at Manas after securing pledges of $2 billion in aid and credit from Russia.

But Kyrgyzstan later relented after the United States agreed to pay $180 million to keep it open. The U.S. base is a key refueling point for U.S. aircraft in NATO operations against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.