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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kyrgystan's Sharp Turn Toward Moscow

Kyrgyzstan's announcement that it plans to close the U.S. air base in Manas changes the security playing field in Central Asia. Those opposed to the U.S. presence in Central Asia will view the base closure as one more victory in the attempt to stop Washington's quest for world domination. Those critical of Moscow will view the decision as an attempt to undermine the worldwide spread of democracy and Washington's struggle against international terrorism.

But the true reason has more to do with Kyrgyzstan's internal politics than any foreign policy considerations. During his news conference in Moscow on Wednesday, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev expressed dissatisfaction with the rental terms for the air base. He also spoke about the misconduct of a U.S. serviceman, which was a source of tension with the local population.

There is also a third reason that Bakiyev did not mention. The agreement to open the base was originally reached with Bakiyev's predecessor, Askar Akayev, whose legacy and policies have come under scrutiny and criticism under Bakiyev. Akayev's regime was friendly toward the United States and agreed to the low price of just $63 million annually to rent the Manas base. There have been allegations in the media that Akayev agreed to this low price in return for U.S. promises to buy fuel from a company run by his son, Aidar. In any case, after Akayev's overthrow in 2005, the Bakiyev administration made the Manas contract with the United States a central component in its battle against corruption. Bakiyev also argued that it was high time to start promoting Kyrgyz national interests and stop letting the United States get a Central Asian air base at a fire-sale price.

The situation was aggravated by an incident in 2006 in which a U.S. soldier shot a Kyrgyz truck driver dead. As usual, the U.S. military command tried to sweep the issue under the carpet, claiming the soldier acted in self-defense and refusing to allow Kyrgyz authorities to investigate the incident. The U.S. military was also accused of polluting the environment. In the end, Manas became a central issue in Kyrgyz politics. People started protesting in the streets, demanding its closure, and political groups used the U.S. military presence on Kyrgyz soil as a rallying point to oppose the Bakiyev regime.

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When Bakiyev first came to power in March 2005 in the so-called Tulip Revolution, he received support from the West because of his declared commitment to democracy. But within several months Bakiyev was confronted with the country's increasing political instability and the threat of Kyrgyzstan breaking up into territorial clans. In order to maintain stability, the government opted for greater authoritarianism. He continued down the same path followed by most leaders of former Soviet republics, including Russia. Therefore, Bakiyev's autocratic rule made its alliance with Moscow a natural fit.

The official U.S. response was demonstratively nonchalant, diminishing the significance of losing the air base. In all fairness, Bishkek had made conscientious efforts to reach agreement with Washington, but the arrogant line taken by the United States helped drive Bishkek to its decision to expel the U.S. military.

Of course, Russia's promise of a $2 billion loan and $150 million in nonrepayable aid played a role in the decision to close the U.S. air base, but probably not the most important one. Moscow's aid does not exceed the total amount paid by Washington for the rent of Manas and other related expenses.

In addition, Kyrgyzstan's disappointment in NATO's campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan soured relations between Bishkek and Washington. Many in Central Asia no longer believe in NATO's ability to combat Afghanistan's two biggest security threats to the region: Islamic terrorism and drug trafficking. The initial euphoria that Washington could quickly solve all such problems has clearly evaporated. Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian states are now looking for other ways to increase security in the region. Therefore, these regimes are moving away from Washington and much closer to Moscow and Beijing.

Furthermore, Russia's victory in the Georgia war and its economic rise in recent years -- notwithstanding Russia's worsening economic crisis -- have increased Moscow's status among Central Asian states. Although all Central Asian states are battling their own separatist movements --causing apprehension about Moscow's decision to recognize the independence of Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia --they nevertheless recognize Russia as the dominant Eurasian superpower.

It is important that Moscow implements a concrete plan for Kyrgyzstan as a follow-up to Bakiyev's successful visit. It is necessary to show the Kyrgyz leadership and people a positive example of effective cooperation, thereby proving that Bishkek made the right choice aligning itself with Moscow. It must be clear that Kyrgystan, Russia's ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, will receive real benefits from constructive and friendly relations with Russia.

In addition, Kyrgystan probably drew the correct conclusion from Georgia's loss of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the August war with Russia: You can't count on NATO to provide security. On this backdrop, Russia can show Kyrgyzstan and other former Soviet republics that it is a much more reliable partner that can provide the type of security that Bishkek needs.

It was no coincidence that as Bakiyev announced the decision to annul the Manas contract with the United States in Moscow on Wednesday, President Dmitry Medvedev announced the creation of a rapid-reaction force among CSTO member states. It is obvious that these forces are designed to handle the problems that the United States and NATO were unable to resolve alone: providing regional security and effectively battling terrorism and drug trafficking. Those threats are common to both the region and the global community.

That is why it is important that neither Moscow nor Washington perceive the idea of creating CSTO rapid-reaction forces as an act of confrontation. To the contrary, an effective resolution of the Afghanistan (and Pakistan) problems and the provision of security for Central Asia are only achievable through collective effort.

The interests of Moscow, Washington and the Central Asian states fully coincide. What's more, experience has shown that those problems cannot be resolved without close cooperation among all parties. Increasing that cooperation therefore should be an urgent, top priority.

Alexander Lukin is director of the Center for East Asian and Shanghai Cooperation Organization Studies at Moscow State University for International Relations.