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Uzbekistan Warns Over Russian Base Plan

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan is warning against a Russian plan to open a military base near the Uzbek border in southern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Uzbek Senator Surayo Odilhodjaeva told RFE/RL that the proposed new base -- reportedly near the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh -- would not contribute to the security of Central Asia.

"I think the less military bases we have in the region, the better," she said.

Uzbek political commentator Sanobar Shermatova said Tashkent's objection to an increased Russian military presence close to its borders is natural.

"Tashkent wants to maintain a balance of power," Shermatova said. "It realizes that Russia may lean [more] toward Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan [than Uzbekistan and that] Kazakhstan may join them, thus leaving the Uzbeks alone and reducing the country's influence."

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov met with Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev in Bishkek on July 7. The three reportedly discussed a proposal for a new military base in southern Kyrgyzstan.

If approved, such a scheme would be the second Russian-operated military base in the country, after a base in Kant that opened in September 2003 under an agreement with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to station Russian forces for 15 years.

U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns said in Bishkek on July 12 that "any such decision is obviously the sovereign right of the government of Kyrgyzstan."

Uzbek President Islam Karimov told Burns in Tashkent one day later that Uzbekistan is willing to further develop ties with the United States.

Regional analyst Deirdre Tynan told RFE/RL that a move by Russia in Kyrgyzstan gives Tashkent "plenty of room and political justification to cooperate further with the U.S. in order to create a level of security for Uzbeks."

Russian observer Fedor Lukyanov said another step that Karimov might take in response to Russia's attempt to secure another military base would be to withdraw from the CSTO. He said that Karimov has already tried to "sabotage the Russian initiative to establish CSTO's rapid deployment forces last month [by not agreeing to the proposal]."