Russia and the USA Enhance Their Presence in Central Asia

Russia and the USA Enhance Their Presence in Central Asia

By Arthur Dunn

Lately Russia has evidently given special focus to Central Asia. On September 19th-20th Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Kyrgyzstan, and October 4th-5th – Dushanbe. The agreements signed in course of these visits should assure stable military presence of Russia in Central Asia region for 20-30 years. On this ground the experts made a conclusion that the balance in the region established between the world powers gradually, but persistently leans to Moscow, especially at the background of withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan.


Within the relations of Russia with NATO this state represents a complicated dilemma. On the one hand, the developing situation there is potentially fraught with emergence of conflicts, on the other – creates ground for strengthening of bilateral partnership.


Moscow has perceived the presence of the Alliance’s troops in Afghanistan as challenge, considering that NATO deceived it, as all declarations about fighting terrorism turned out to be the cover to penetrate into strategic region of Central Asia and capture the sphere of “traditional influence” of Russia.


Such state lasted till April 20th, when during the Session of Russia-NATO Council the parties  agreed to cooperate on such issues as assurance of security within their territories and of stability in the whole world. Among other things, they agreed to cooperate also in Afghanistan.


In all appearances, despite the assurance of Moscow in failure of the mission “Adamant Freedom” it finally realized the need of such cooperation as security of its southern borders to great extent depends on stability in this country. The main threat is about that through badly controlled borders an uncontrolled flow of terrorists and fundamentalists can get into Russia, which for sure shall result into quite unfavorable consequences.


That is why Moscow votes for preserving of the Alliance’s troops in Afghanistan. A few months ago, in course of the visit to a training base on training paratroopers in Ulyanovsk region, Vladimir Putin said, that by absence of own armed formations in Afghanistan Russia should assist NATO, the troops of which should stay, to fight the hitmen.


Except for that, the Kremlin doesn’t at all oppose for the NATO member-states to keep on bearing moral expenses, resulting from death of its own military men, as well as victims among civilians, and also great financial losses.


I.e. Russia would like to achieve such positions, when the Alliance factually would perform armed defense of its interests, but by this couldn’t fix in the region and thus wouldn’t impede its intention to rehabilitate there its dominance.


Although, Moscow doesn’t have options to provide direct impact on delaying the term of troops withdrawal. This April Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov declared, that “till Afghanistan is not able to assure security in its country on its own, artificial schedules of withdrawal are not acceptable and shouldn’t be set”. However, the Chicago NATO Summit held in May proved that the withdrawal of International Forces of Security Assurance should finalize by the end of 2014.


Technical aspect creates more serious problem. Assurance of safe withdrawal of 129 000 persons from military and civilian personnel and transportation back to the USA of equipment of the total amount cost about 50 billion USD, including 120 thousand of containers with cargos and 70 thousand of armors, is quite a complicated task.


In theory the withdrawal can be performed in two ways. The first one is “South” one – via Pakistan. The second – “North” one – via Central Asia: Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and then Kirgizia, Kazakhstan and Russia. In course of several years Pakistani way was used for provision and was the most profitable – it demanded about 17 million USD annually. However, after mistaken attack of American drone fighters at Pakistani post in November 2011, which ended with death of 24 military men, Islamabad blocked all transport ways.


It was planned that in course of Chicago Summit the USA shall agree with Pakistan on resumption of transit,  But it demanded public apology for murdering of its military men, review of the US policy towards air attacks above the Pakistani territory, increase of payment for transit from 250 to 5000 USD for each car.


For Washington these demands turned out to be unacceptable, and it switched to “North way”, although it is longer and more expensive. According to the representative of the US Central Command Pentagon will have to pay to the states of Central Asia, involved into transit, more than 500 million USD annually.

In addition except for transit payment the region states have set tariffs for the use of their infrastructure.


The question about Russian military bases in Central Asia was one of the main problems of interrelations between Moscow and the states of the region. Uzbekistan announced itself a neutral party, which results into ban of allocation of military bases of foreign states within the territory of the republic. Soon the US Secretary of State Assistance Robert Blake paid a visit to Tashkent, having cancelled his visits to Alma-Ata and Bishkek within the frameworks of the presentation of the project “New Silk Road”. Experts consider that he tried to affect changes of Uzbekistani law on neutrality.


Due to these circumstances there is a question about possible influence of Russian bases in Central Asia on troops withdrawal and further situation in the region in general.


Kirgizia.  The air base “Manas” which is located close to Bishkek and since 2009 has been called “Transit Center” (CT), has been used by the USA for already more than 10 years. At the moment it is a big entrepot through which American soldiers and cargos are being transported to the battlefields in Afghanistan and back. 1.8 – 2.5 thousand military men go through the base daily.


Because of the position of Russia, which has already insisted for a long time on complete withdrawal of the base, its fate remains still indefinite. Yet in 2009 then President of Kirgizia Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced his intention to shut down “Manas”, but after negotiations with Washington on rent terms he agreed to extend it. His current successor Almazbek Atambayev also repeatedly promised to eliminate the base and on the site to erect “civil international transport node”.


Nevertheless, during the Summit in Chicago the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kirgizia Ruslan Kazabekov and the NATO Vice Secretary General Alexander Vershbow signed an agreement on land transit of international coalition cargos. If earlier Bishkek provided the coalition only with air space and “Manas”, then now with finalization of land road, complete logistic scheme has developed.


The USA wished at least to maintain status-quo. Their Ambassador in Kirgizia declared: “We are ready to discuss with our Kirgiz partners the future of Transit Center after expiration of the current treaty in 2014”. And the Assistant of the Secretary of State on South and Central Asia Robert Blake added, that  “we shall do our utmost, to find jointly the way, that would satisfy us as well as Kirgizia”. Thus, it is not excluded that having changed the name one more time, the base in Manas airport shall remain American also after 2014.


Moscow adopts measures, aimed at strengthening of its long-term military presence. During the mentioned visit of Putin they signed documents on creation in the country of united Russian military base.


The new structure shall include the OSCE air base in Kante, the 338th connection node of navy (station “Prometheus”) in Chui region, military navy equipment testing center at the lake Issyk-Kul and seismic station, cooperating with strategic missile troops. Till 2017 presence of the base shall be determined by the protocol, then by the treaty, that shall be valid during 15 years with possibility of extension for five years. The amount of payments for Russian military objects in Kirgizia remain to be 4 million USD annually.


Russia shall also obtain big shares in some industries of Kirgiz economy, including torpedo producing factory “Dastan”, situated by the lake Issyk-Kul. It’s noticeable that Moscow has hidden for a long time the fact of existence of this factory, producing high-speed underwater missiles ВА-111 “Shkval”, which are one of the most developed types of armament.


Although, according to Russian specialists, signing of this treaty in the essence doesn’t change anything, as it only fixes presence in Kirgizia of three Russian military objects and allows to bring to order the terms of their staying, including the issues of payment. By this the list includes the air base in Kante, although this base is not of Russian military forces but of the CSTO, which locates in the republic on special terms.


In different variations the subject of joint base has been discussed during number of years. In 2009 they signed a memorandum on its establishment in the south of the republic in the city Kyzyl-Kiya. Signing of the last treaty excludes that variant and leaves many questions about Russian-Kirgiz military cooperation in general. Since 2010 Kirgizia has turned into quite real platform for the USA: within its territory they hold construction of the link of new American missile defense system – 26 RADAR stations of high power, able to fix in shortest time all air objects far from the republic. The center of this system shall be aero-navigational complex, which is under construction in the airport “Manas” by Turkish company Serka, as if the contractor of Pentagon.


Kirgizia doesn’t refuse of also other types of military cooperation with the USA. In particular, there they are ready to accept military equipment which Americans can leave. In general of interest is motor transport and communication devices, but they also do not refuse of weapons.


Tajikistan. Till recently relations of Russia with this republic have developed following the same scheme: the parties couldn't reach mutual understanding on the issue of presence of the 201st military base – the biggest Russian overland base located out of Russia.


Tajikistani authorities insisted on annual payment in the amount, according to unofficial data, 250 millions USD. Moscow considered that presence of the base in the republic should be as earlier for free. Also it suggested to conclude a new rent treaty for the base for 49 years, when Dushanbe wanted to limit it with 10 years..


Russia also has in the republic optical-electronic station of detection and identification of cosmic objects “Okno”. It is a powerful modern complex, which covers total Central Russia and half of Siberia and protects from attacks from South, South-East and West.


Signed in course of Putin’s visit treaty on status and terms of presence of the 201st military base in the republic anticipates almost free presence till 2042. In exchange Tajikistan shall be given discount for Russian armaments, and officers shall be trained in Russian military academies.


Russia needs the 201st base not only because of the withdrawal of Americans from Afghanistan. If instability in an intractable autonomy in Gorny Badakhshan spreads over the total territory of Tajikistan, and further to neighbor states of Central Asia, then this shall become a direct threat for its national security. Tajikistani-Afghan border is not only the area for drugs trafficking and uncontrolled flows of migrants, but also a possibility for rapid activation of radical elements and terrorist groups.


Authorities of Dushanbe most likely recognize the threat of agreement on Russian conditions in a current domestic political situation: in 2013 they will have elections, in 2014 – parliamentary ones. The President of the country Emomalii Rahmon risks to lose a significant share of support, as Tajikistani elite  can evaluate the term of 49 years of rent as a threat for state sovereignty. Its opposers state that such form of military presence of foreign force in the county doesn’t correspond national interests of Tajikistan and that Moscow tries to aggravate the situation and exert pressure, especially in connection with the oncoming Presidential elections.


The fact that it’s pretty far for idyll is also proved by the absence of data about the readiness of Dushanbe to give Russia the aerodrome “Aini”, which has been of its interest for a long time. After reconstruction, which was finished by India in September of 2010 and cost 70 million USD, “Aini” is able to recover all existing in the world types of air vehicles, which turns it into the object of strategic importance.


Except for Russia, the USA and India also claim for the aerodrome. Although Moscow, naturally, protests, Washington has already discussed with the authorities of Tajikistan the possibility of its usage by its military air forces.


Uzbekistan. Tashkent gradually becomes the most important ally of the USA within the mission in Afghanistan. It plays central part in Northern distributional network, construction railway, which connected  Afghanistan with Central Asia, and also delivers electric power into this country.


When Uzbekistan suspended its participation in the CSTO, Washington began talks with it about establishment within its territory of the Rapid Reaction Center, the main task of which shall be coordination of actions in case of aggravation of the situation after American troops withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014.


Although Uzbekistan doesn’t have Russian bases, and their foundation in not planned, Moscow treats quite negatively possible emergence of military US object. There they still hope that Tashkent shall change its mind and get back.

Maybe this shall happen, however the President Islam Karimov have so many times changed the sides that he can hardly count to be trusted.


Kazakhstan. Formally Kazakhstan quite actively cooperates with NATO and also signed a treaty on participation in Northern transit network. But the scale and intensiveness of its relations with Russia in the sphere of security and the level of the CSTO involvement are much higher than the level of interaction of Astana with the Alliance.


So, Moscow has managed to get from Kirgizia and Tajikistan definite military-political loyalty in exchange for economic preferences. It’s possible that this achievement incites it to revise its approaches towards withdrawal of the troops of the Coalition under the aegis of the Alliance. Thus, the acting Head of the Mission of Russia to NATO Nikolay Korshunov declared, that after 2014 Moscow shall stop all types of cooperation with NATO on Afghanistan if it won’t get the UN Security Council mandate for post-war mission.


And the Vice Secretary General of the CSTO General-Colonel Valerij Semerikov reported that after 2014 Collective peacekeeping forces of the CSTO can be forwarded to Afghanistan. Although accomplishment of such idea looks absolutely impossible, the given statement proves that Russia (which again has restored its  great-power ambitions) considers Central Asia to be a significant support to return to leading positions in international arena, which as it thinks, is impeded by American presence.


They adopted in the CSTO  a regulation that the decision to locate within the lands of the member-states of military objects of the states, which do not participate in the Organization, can be only adopted by consent of all its remaining members, as if assures absence of further claims of the USA for military objects in the countries of Central Asia. However establishment of transport node of NATO in Ulyanovsk hints the leaders of Central Asia Republics oin possible exclusions, which shall be of temporary character. And as known there is nothing more permanent than temporary.


Russia has prepared itself well to take the place to be free after withdrawal of American troops. Putin declared that considering withdrawal of the forces of international coalition in 2014, the situation in Afghanistan shall hardly change for the better, and existence of Russian military component in Tajikistan and Kirgizia shall be a significant factor of stability.


It’s worth to keep in mind that in all post-soviet states of the given region, independently of what is said by the leaders in public, Russian policy in observed as neocolonial. This is proved by the confrontation which against Moscow in the issues on bases. As a result, there is no guarantee that signed treaties shall be accomplished and global plans of the Kremlin can become unfeasable.


A conclusion can be made that at the moment Russian military bases in the countries of Central Asia doesn’t affect the withdrawal of NATO troops in Afghanistan. But after its accomplishment the disagreements of views on future of Afghanistan and post-soviet Central Asia can become one of serious problems, and then their presence shall inevitably become the sources of  tensnion.


Experts more often give priority to the view that NATO troops withdrawal from Afghanistan shall become the end of not only pro-Western course of Kabul, but also the clan of Karzai. However, the prospect of victory in Presidential elections of the USA of the candidate from Republican Party Mitt Romney opens a window of options for Afghan President – new President shall not withdraw the troops. This naturally won’t solve the problem fully, but can give Americans another change to form a coalition government from the representatives of Karzai, as well as Pushtun and Tajik tribes. Now Washington shall be forces to make the broadest concession for Talibans, as they have time on their side. They shall return to power peacefully or capture it after NATO troops withdrawal from Afghanistan.








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