(The Guardian) While Russia’s relationship with Ukraine has been grabbing the headlines, Moscow has been steadily strengthening its foothold in another of the post-Soviet states – Kyrgyzstan.
In the past few years Russia has written off half a billion dollars of the impoverished Central Asian country’s debt, pledged to supply the government with weapons and military equipment and taken over its gas network.
The state-run oil giants Rosneft and Gazprom, the subject of new EU sanctions announced last week, have both invested heavily in new energy projects in Kyrgyzstan over recent years.
Significantly, Russian influence resulted in the recent closure of the massive US air base Manas outside the capital Bishkek, marking the end of American military presence in the region.
“In essence, the closing of Manas marks Kyrgyzstan’s new era as a Russian client state,” said Central Asia specialist Alexander Cooley, professor of political science at Barnard College at Columbia University.
Manas was built in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks and served as a base for more than 5.3 million Nato troops serving in Afghanistan. It officially closed in July 2014.
“The Kyrgyz side faced significant pressure from Moscow to close the facility,” Cooley said.
Acting under a mix of pressure and economic incentives from Russia, the Kyrgyz government first tried to evict the US from Manas in 2009. The Americans agreed to raise the annual rent from $17.4m to $60m, and the base was allowed stay.
But Russia grew increasingly wary of foreign military presence in the region, and upped the ante.
“This time Moscow has effectively used a number of instruments of influence to assert itself as Kyrgyzstan’s primary foreign policy and security partner,” Cooley said. [...]