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Kyrgyzstan's President Wants Another Russian Military Base


Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and his Kyrgyz counterpart Almazbek Atambaev. (file photo)

That's right. Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambaev said he wants Russia to establish a second military base in his country.

There hasn't been any Russian reaction to that so far but just as important will be the reactions from the governments in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan where officials must be pondering Atambaev's comments.

Atambaev visited Russia on June 19-24, meeting first with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and other officials in Moscow.

Atambaev and Putin discussed Russia's plans to strengthen the Russian-led base at Kant, Kyrgyzstan, some 40 kilometers from the capital, Bishkek.

A Russian officer patrols in front of Su-25 fighters at the Kant military base in Kyrgyzstan. (file photo)
A Russian officer patrols in front of Su-25 fighters at the Kant military base in Kyrgyzstan. (file photo)

On the last day of his trip, June 24, Atambaev went to the Russian republic of Tatarstan.

In Tatarstan's capital, Kazan, Atambaev told journalists he had asked Putin to open a new joint base in Kyrgyzstan rather than put more troops and military aircraft at Kant.

"What does Bishkek need to be protected from?" he asked.

"What we see in Afghanistan is the Taliban getting stronger there, and IS [the extremist group Islamic State] is also gaining strength there," Atambaev said.

Looking To The South

Atambaev said he told Putin that Afghan problems could spread to Kyrgyzstan's southern border and "I said, 'If you honestly want to think about the security of our borders, then we are interested in it [a new Russian base].'"

And Atambaev said he wants the base in Kyrgyzstan's southernmost Batken Province, in Kyrgyzstan's section of the Ferghana Valley, bordering Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

In fact, Atambaev said that, if Tajikistan "can't contain the situation [along the Afghan border], it will reach our borders."

The Kyrgyz president added: "Of course we will help Tajikistan; we will conduct joint exercises."

But the fact Atambaev has contemplated a scenario where Tajik authorities are unable to prevent problems spreading from the Afghan border to the Kyrgyz border hundreds of kilometers to the north won't be a welcome thought in Dushanbe.

Kyrgyz-Tajik relations have already been tense in recent years due to clashes between their citizens and border forces along their common frontier, much of which is still not demarcated.

Uzbekistan has a border with Batken and, in the past, when the late Islam Karimov was president of Uzbekistan, Tashkent was against any talk of a Russian military base in the Ferghana Valley.

Tajikistan and Russia discussed establishing a Russian military base in Tajikistan's northern Sughd region in the spring of 1999.

Karimov angrily questioned what need there would be for that kind of facility. "If such a base is created it will pose a threat to somebody," he said.

"Nobody said exactly toward whom it is directed, but all the same any military base is directed against somebody," he added, ignoring accusations, likely true, that a renegade former Tajik colonel had entered northern Tajikistan from Uzbekistan in November 1998 and attempted to seize control there, returning to Uzbekistan several days later when the plan failed.

Problematic Region

Officials in Kyrgyzstan have mentioned the desirability of a Russian base or some sort of military training facility in southern Kyrgyzstan for many years now.

But Russia has never shown much interest.

That is not surprising since the Ferghana Valley is a potentially problematic region.

Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war is still the greatest violence Central Asia has seen since the days of independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But since the civil war ended, the most violent events in Central Asia happened in the Ferghana Valley -- the coup attempt in northern Tajikistan in November 1998, the incursion of militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000, the Andijon violence in May 2005, and the interethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010.

While Atambaev can be credited for thinking about the security of his country, his public comments about a Russian base in southern Kyrgyzstan are not likely to be efficacious for better relations between the three countries sharing the Ferghana Valley, nor are they likely to encourage Russia to agree to establishing a base in southern Kyrgyzstan.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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