The Russian and Kyrgyz presidents have tentatively agreed to establish a second Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Kyrgyz counterpart Kurmanbek Bakiev signed the deal on the second day of an informal summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, a regional security grouping dominated by Moscow. The three-day summit opened on July 31 at the Kyrgyz lakeside resort of Cholpon-Ata.
Under the joint memorandum, Kyrgyzstan allows Russia to establish a military base on its territory for a period of up to 49 years. The document states that Russian forces will be charged with "protecting Kyrgyz sovereignty" and repelling attacks by international terrorist groups.
Moscow has said the planned base would operate under the umbrella of the CSTO.
A definitive agreement detailing the status of the proposed base is due to be signed by November.
This would be Russia's second base in the mountainous ex-Soviet republic. It already operates an air base in Kant, about 20 kilometers east of Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek.
The memorandum said the size of the contingent could be up to a battalion but gave no specifics on the location of the new base.
Media reports suggest it could be deployed to Batken Province, near the border with Uzbekistan on the edge of the Ferghana Valley, a region that spreads across Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and has become a hotbed of Islamic militancy.
One potential obstacle to that location might come from Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who is thought to be opposed to the idea of having a Russian base close to his borders.
While Moscow may seek to turn an existing military facility near the southern city of Osh into its base, impoverished Kyrgyzstan reportedly wants the military base to be built from scratch using Russian money.
Russia is not the only country seeking to boost its military presence in Kyrgyzstan.
The United States also operates an important air base in the Central Asian country that has been a key support to its operations in nearby Afghanistan.
In February, Bishkek announced plans to close the United States’ Manas base, but reversed its decision after Washington agreed to pay $180 million to keep it open.
With the Russian base deal signed, leaders of CSTO member states -- including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- are now due to focus on the creation of a NATO-style rapid reaction force.
A preliminary agreement to create the force was signed at the last CSTO summit in June.
Belarus, however, has yet to sign the deal, as it snubbed the June summit amid a politically charged trade dispute with longtime ally Russia.