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Russia’s Central Asian Bases Face Problems

S ource: Rferl

Statements from Kyrgyz officials about U.S. forces vacating the Manas air base have made the news often in recent months, but in recent days Russia is facing problems over its use of bases in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan’s president brought the subject of Russia’s unpaid rent for use of a base in his country during a February 23-25 visit to Moscow. Now Tajikistan is bringing up the subject of rent for Russia’s use of bases on its territory.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Tajik Service on February 28, Tajik Ambassador to Russian Abdulmajid Dostiev said his country and Russia are preparing to extend Russia’s use of three bases in Tajikistan for another 49 years. Asked why there was a delay in signing, Dostiev indicated among the details still being negotiated was the matter of rent for use of the Tajik bases and said “no one in the world today intends to give up even a small plot of their land for nothing.” The Tajik ambassador said, “our country should keep this in mind, whether there should be payment of some $300 million or compensation through providing military-technical aid,” adding “nobody will say thank you to those who give up their land for free to others.”

The $300 million figure has been mentioned in Tajikistan but Dostiev conceded that even 10 percent of that amount of money would be acceptable.

Russia’s 201st Division has been stationed in Tajikistan since just after the end of WWII. The unit remained in Tajikistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union, mainly providing support for Russian border guards along the 1,344-kilometer Tajik-Afghan frontier but also guarding vital strategic facilities in Tajikistan during the country’s 1992-1997 civil war. At the time many, especially the Tajik government, appreciated the presence of the Russian troops. Though the 201st officially stayed out of the Tajik fighting there were suspicions they propped up the Tajik government when its military forces were hard pressed. Dostiev said, “Today’s Tajikistan is not the same country it was in the 1990s when its fate was decided in other countries.”

Tajik troops took over watch on the Afghan border in 2005. Since 2001 there have been NATO troops, some 200 mainly French soldiers, using the air base outside Dushanbe for supporting operations in neighboring Afghanistan. Tajik authorities are not anxious for Russian force with its 7,000 soldiers to leave but they also say the situation has changed and Russia should pay rent for using bases in Dushanbe, Kurgan-Teppa and Kulob.

Tajikistan has raised the subject of Russia paying rent for use of bases before but this most recent statement may have been prompted by Kyrgyz President Almaz Atambaev’s visit to Moscow last weekend. Atambaev has said repeatedly when the U.S. military’s lease on the Manas base expires in 2014 it will not be renewed and he wants all the U.S.-NATO troops out. U.S. forces have also been using the base in Kyrgyzstan since late 2001 in support of operations in Afghanistan.

Atambaev said in an interview with radio station “Ekho Moskvy” on February 25, Kyrgyzstan might demand Russia vacate the base it uses in Kyrgyzstan, at Kant, some 40 kilometers from Bishkek. Atambaev said for the last four years Russia has been using the base but not paying rent. “This Russian base, which is located in Kyrgyzstan in Kant, is not even paying the lease payment and is not complying with its obligations,” Atambaev said, then asked, “Do we need such a base?”

Kyrgyzstan’s president said even the financial burden of paying the utility bills for the Kant base had fallen to Kyrgyz authorities. Atambaev told Russian President Dmitri Medvedev about the unpaid rent when they met. Atambaev said Medvedev was “shocked” to hear of it and order the Russian defense minister to make the payment within 10 days.

Atambaev’s public complaints may have prompted Russia to pay the approximately $15 million it owed for rent of the Kant base but those complaints also drew a response Russian media was quick to note. A Kremlin statement picked up by Russian news agencies and newspapers about rent for Kant said Russia “reaffirmed its readiness to make a prompt payment for the lease.” But the statement continued “the issue of payment of the sovereign debt of nearly half a billion dollars ($493 million) that Kyrgyzstan owes the Russian Federation is a more complicated issue.”

Written by the Central Newsroom with help from Mirzo Salimov of the Tajik Service

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