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Geopolitical battle in Kyrgyzstan over US military Lilypond in central Asia

kyrgyz-oppositionAfter the Fall of the Berlin Wall, a triumphant US-led capitalist West went about dismantling the Union of Socialist Republics and ‘induced’ Moscow’s erstwhile allies in Europe to join NATO. US & NATO forces dismembered the multiethnic, multireligious and multilingual Slav and orthodox Yugoslavia which, with religious and ethnic affinities, was strategically closer to Russia. 

Using as a pretext the 119 attacks on US symbols of economic and military might in New York and Washington (which more and more people now believe to be an inside job or at best allowed to happen like “Pearl Harbour), Washington, instead of attacking Saudi Arabia and Egypt, from where most of the hijackers originated, first bombed Afghanistan, coercing ally Pakistan into joining it, and installed a former UNOCOL consultant Hamid Karzai as the new ruler in Kabul after the Taliban leadership disappeared into Pakistan and the northern Alliance marched into Kabul. Then, on flimsy grounds,

Taking advantage of the unraveling of USSR into many states now in utter disarray, under the pretext of the US-led ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan,Washington acquired bases in the heart of central Asia: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the latter being next door to China’s turbulent Turkic-speaking Uighur province of Xinjiang. 

Washington then organized US-franchised street revolutions financed by US non-governmental fronts and organisations, CIA and Washington’s envoys in former Russian allies in Europe and in Moscow’s near abroad. It succeeded in Serbia (from which Montenegro was detached, making it landlocked), Georgia and Ukraine, but failed in Belarus. In Uzbekistan, where the regime change was attempted a few weeks after the Kyrgyzstan regime change in March 2005, feisty Islam Karimov expelled the US forces from its base.  

Throughout history,the former Soviet Union steppes have been the scene of decisive battles and wars by chariot-riding Indo-Europeans and horse-riding Turkish, Mongol and other tribes who moulded the history of the then known civilized world in Asia, Middle East, Eastern Europe and Mediterranean. Once again, it occupies a central strategic space, and along with the energy and other resources of the Middle East, has become an arena for rivalry and control. 

"Lilypad" concept of mini-bases for US forces to leapfrog around the globe 

In the post Berlin Wall era, fancy schemes were crafted in Pentagon under defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and others. In 2004, still gloating over its ‘mission accomplished’ in Iraq, in ignorance of the ground realities of an Iraqi resistance on the rise, the Pentagon, after acquiring new bases in former Warsaw pact powers like Bulgaria and Romania, wanted an all-comprehensive link to new US bases being built across Central Asia, Pakistan, Iraq, and the Gulf, designed to cement Washington's hold in the Middle East and Central Asia to exploit its natural resources. 

Army heavy tankers and artillery were to be replaced by light, Canadian-made wheeled armoured vehicles. Troops were trained in counter-insurgency operations and urban warfare. A "lilypad" concept of austere, rapidly-created skeleton mini-bases would allow US forces to leapfrog around the globe. 

The US armed forces were to be restructured for "expeditionary warfare" (the British used to call it "the imperial mission"). This planning process began a decade earlier but accelerated under the Bush administration, which, under the influence of the military-industry complex, has relentlessly militarized US foreign policy. The US now spends as much as the rest of world combined defending, strengthening and expanding its hegemony around the world. The bases in the central Asian republics and elsewhere were the lilypads for quick transfer of mobile lightly-armed forces to occupy the bases until heavier equipment and larger forces arrived.  

But the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan, just outside the capital of Bishkek, is more than a lilypad. Its strategic location in the heart of central Asia is a lynchpin in the US armed forces' movement of troops and supplies in and out of Afghanistan. When the Kyrgyz government threatened to cancel the lease to the base last summer, the president was wooed with a private letter and other inducements. Yes, the rent on the lease tripled, but little benefit from this "strategic relationship" trickles down to the impoverished people of Kyrgyzstan. 

The US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, paid his first visit in February to Kyrgyzstan, and the three other former Soviet Central Asian republics which border it, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. said,"35,000 US troops were transiting each month on their way in and out of Afghanistan." At the rate he mentioned, it adds up to 420,000 troops annually. This is no small lilypad, it is a lilypond. While US military movements have never been disrupted, movements by troops by regional countries were hampered.  

Another ‘Revolution’ in Kyrgyzstan, now pro-Moscow 

After Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled Bishkek on April 7, in the wake of widespread violence in which 75 people were killed and 400 wounded, Ms. Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister, announced that she would lead a “people’s government” until a new constitution could be written and elections held. 

Dr Andrea Berg, a Berlin-based Central Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch, commented recently "The human rights situation has deteriorated in the last two to three years, and especially in the last six months. There have been physical attacks and murders of journalists, closures of newspapers, trials against high-ranking opposition members. I think the last straw was the socio-economic problems, increase of the prices for energy, and on cell phone fees. The US has criticised certain developments in Kyrgyzstan, but in general the main concern was about stability. Human rights came second." 

Ms. Otunbayeva played down reports that Russia had helped the opposition win power after another senior figure, Omurbek Tekebayev, said that Moscow had “played its role” in deposing Bakiyev. Tekebayev cited to The Times a series of critical articles in Russian newspapers which emboldened the opposition and “acted as a signal that Russian authorities would not support Bakiyev”. 

Bakiyev had infuriated Moscow by reneging on a pledge to close the US base last year after receiving $2.15 billion (£1.4 billion) in Russian loans, even though in the same month, the Kyrgyz parliament voted to end the US presence. The lease was ultimately renewed with higher rent. 

Russia has been the first country to recognise the new regime amid speculation that it wants the US airbase closed. Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has spoken to Otunbayeva twice since April 7 and offered financial aid and support. Ms. Otunbayeva visited Moscow earlier this year in January and March. 

Ms. Otunbayeva has sent a team led by Almazbek Atambayev, her deputy to Moscow, to discuss aid for rebuilding the country with Putin. Officials have accused Bakiyev of ransacking the state treasury before he fled Bishkek. The frozen banking system contained only $22 million (£14 million). “The state coffers are almost empty. All the funds have been transferred,” Edil Baisalov, Ms Otunbayeva’s chief of staff, said. 

Ms Otunbayeva insisted that she had no plans at present to revise the agreement on the Manas base with Washington. "The status quo would remain", she said. But this could change. The annual rent of about $60 million the the US pays to use the base could be renegotiated. But comments from a Kremlin official said that “in Kyrgyzstan, there should be only one base — Russian”. 

According to the New York Times, Washington made its first high-level contact with the interim government on April 10 and reportedly received assurances that the new leadership would allow American use of the Manas airport which is so crucial for the war effort in Afghanistan. But a statement on the State Department Web site did not say exactly how long the US could count on using the airport. 

The agreement was renewed last June and is due for renewal in July this year. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton telephoned Ms Otunbayeva in Bishkek and assistant secretary of state Robert O. Blake who was sent to Bishkek. Earlier on 10 April, the United States Embassy in Bishkek issued a statement that stopped short of endorsing the new government. “We remain a committed partner to the development of Kyrgyzstan for the benefit of the Kyrgyz people and intend to continue to support the economic and democratic development of the country,” it said. 

Bakiyev, who fled from Bishkek in the north, is now holed up in the south of the country in his home town of Jalalabad, in the very heart of the Ferghana Valley. He was installed after the overthrow following an organized street violence in March 2005 named the ‘Tulip’ revolution by the West. The fall guy was Askar Akayev, who was earlier promoted as poster boy of democracy by the West. Washington had even manipulated Kyrgyzstan entry into WTO. A poor country Bishkek was an unlikely candidate for WTO.  

In exchange, the US had free run of Kyrgyz territory adjoining China’s turbulent Turkic-speaking Uighur province in Xinjiang. Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked country of 5 million impoverished people without oil, is strategically located, sharing its eastern border with Xinjiang, Kazakhstan and Russia in the north, Uzbekistan in the west and in the south, Tajikistan. 

The US became suspicious in 2005 when the pliant Akayev, seeing the consolidation and rise of the Russian federation under President Vladimir Putin, was taking steps to come closer to the Kremlin. Ever since 2003 when Akayev allowed Russia to establish a full-fledged military base in Kant in Kyrgyzstan “he was not with us–America ‘. So Washington organized the Tulip revolution in the wake of the earlier successful Rose revolution in Georgia and and the Orange revolution in Ukraine and installed as Bakiyev as president. Putin acquiesced, China watched in dismay but it was not a complete success for Washington either. Akayev fled to his patrons in Moscow. 

"The base at Manas will stay as long as the situation in Afghanistan requires," Kyrgyz defense minister Ismail Isakov said during a news conference with Rumsfeld in July 2005. "Once there is stabilization, there will be no need. But now I agree with [Rumsfeld], who said the situation in Afghanistan is far from stable." This was Rumsfeld’s second visit to Bishkek that year. He added that independent countries made decisions without any pressure or outside intervention. 

President Bakiyev had thanked Rumsfeld for the US support and thanked Washington for its contribution in ensuring that the elections were pronounced democratic and legal. He said that the US administration had always supported Kyrgyzstan in its democratic and economic development since its independence. The US reportedly provided $750 million in aid to Kyrgyzstan since its independence in 1991. Claims in the Russian media that the United States granted $200 million in financial assistance for continued access to the Manas air base after 2005 regime change were denied by Kyrgyz officials. 

It is not that the Manas base pumps about $156,000 a day into the local economy and accounted for about 5% of Kyrgyzstan's GDP but the period of laissez faire under deposed President Akayev helped infiltrate US friends into positions of power in Kyrgyzstan. The country was infested with US supporters. The training provided to police and military personnel by USA in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere is very useful in subverting the loyalty to wards it. This was a routine Cold War game played by the two super powers.  

While US leaders and captive corporate media never stop lecturing others on corruption, nepotism, cronyism, human rights violations, Washington has allowed proxies like Bakiyev Viktor Yushchenko in the Ukraine or Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili to do the same. The Bakiyev family became extremely rich following contracts awarded by the Pentagon ostensibly for providing supplies to the US air base in Manas. Some estimates put the figure that the Pentagon awarded last year businesses to members of the Bakiyev family amounting to US$80 million. (US proxies around the world, knowing their time is short make hay since somebody is always ready to replace them and obey US commands.) 

Since the days of Akayev, Kyrgyzstan has also allowed US facilities to keep an eye on Xinjiang, via highly sophisticated electronic devices that "peep" into Xinjiang where key Chinese missile sites are located. For centuries, Kyrgyz and Uighur tribes, especially when pressured or harassed by communists in USSR and China, have moved from Kyrgyzstan to Xinjiang and vice versa. A sizeable Uighur community lives in Kyrgyzstan and almost 100,000 ethnic Kyrgyz live in Xinjiang. This facilitates the flow of information and the organization of other activities. Because of extreme poverty, hundreds of Kyrgyz nationals work in Russia and Kazakhstan. 

Strategic moves across Eurasia 

After the regime change in Bishkek in 2005, Bakiyev’s Kyrgyz government allowed continued use of its Manas air base by US forces. However, a few days later, following an attempt to overthrow Karimov in Tashkent, the Uzbek government courier delivered a note to the US Embassy in Tashkent demanding that Washington wind up its Karshi-Khanabad (K2) base in south Uzbekistan in 180 days. It only increased Manas’s importance for implementing US policy in the region. Soon after, there was an announcement of joint Russian and Chinese military exercises, sending a clear message to the United States and others. In an unprecedented move, China and Russia carried out joint military exercises from August 18 to 25 near Russia's far-east port city of Vladivostok, before moving to the Yellow Sea and then to an area off the coastal Chinese province of Shandong. Apart from 2000 Russian troops, the exercises involved Russia's Il-76 transport planes with paratroopers, Tu-95MS bombers firing cruise missiles at targets in the sea, and Su-27SM fighter jets simulating coverage of ground forces. 

On 5 July, 2005 the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) sent a notice to the US to set a timetable for withdrawal of its troops from bases in central Asia. These and other strategic moves were made on the Eurasian chessboard to counter US-led Western intrusion into eastern and even central Eurasian lands, by Russia and former Soviet republics as well as China. Moscow is also using regional multilateral organizations, including the SCO and the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) to undermine the American influence and presence in Central Asia. 

Russia separated the CSTO from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) into a core group to transform it into a full-fledged collective security organization. Along with India, Iran and Pakistan have been admitted as Observers to the SCO. 

Tulip ‘Revolution’ in Kyrgyzstan 

(For coverage of Washington’s regime change in Kyrgyzstan in March 2005 after successes in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, see my piece http://www.saag.org/common/uploaded_files/paper1310.html.) 

Briefly, a widespread uprising in Kyrgyzstan was instigated following disputed parliamentary elections held on February 27 and March 13, 2005, first in Osh in the south, bordering Uzbekistan, which then spread to the capital Bishkek on 24 March in north, forcing President Askar Akayev to flee to Moscow. 

Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who led the uprising, was sworn in as Prime Minister and acting President by the new parliament on 28 March, after a compromise with the old parliament. The new leaders won support and help from Russian president Vladimir Putin, who bided his time. He promised to send emergency aid in food and fuel which Bishkek desperately needed. The new leadership promised no radical changes in its foreign policy. 

"The coordinates of external policy will be the same. Russia is our close ally and the central Asians are brotherly neighbours. (We will) develop our relations with European countries and the West and first of all with the United States," acting Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva told reporters. She said that the new government would stick to agreements with Moscow and Washington, allowing them to keep their military bases in the country. Bakiyev said that the US Ambassador Stephen Young was "one of the first people who came to congratulate me." 

For the time being both Moscow and Washington appeared to have a common goal to preserve stability in the region, concerned about extremist Islamic groups. The Ferghana Valley, which the author visited in 1998, is shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with a crazy quilt-like mix of ethnicities. It is also considered a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism. When Afghanistan was under the Taliban, Kyrgyzstan had come under attack in the Ferghana Valley from militants led by Osama Bin Laden’s associate Juma Namangani, an ethnic Uzbek. The radical Uzbek Hizb-e Tahrir Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation, based and encouraged by the British – you guessed it, they are everywhere stoking disruption and divisions) has cells in southern Kyrgyzstan too. 

Then there is the old north-south divide in Kyrgyzstan. Bakiyev’s stronghold is in the south,which is predominantly ethnic Uzbek. Kyrgyzstan's ethnic divide is a problem. Its population is about 65% Kyrgyz with about 14% ethnic Uzbek. The bigger danger is that the instability may seep into the Ferghana Valley and affect Uzbekistan too. Osh in the south has traditionally been at odds with Bishkek in the north. A few sparks from the inter Kyrgyz conflagration in Osh, which has a sizeable Uzbek minority, with a history of Uzbek-Kyrgyz tensions and rioting, could ignite Kyrgyz-Uzbek conflict and could even engulf the whole of the Fergana Valley (partitioned between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan by Stalin in 1920s) with their mixed populations and enclaves, claims and counter claims. The British also left similar divisions behind to fester in Palestine, India and Cyprus. 

Changed international situation 

Unlike when, in 2005, the US was able to organize the overthrow of Moscow leaning Akayev and installing its proxy Bakiyev, the international scene has changed dramatically and is changing further to Washington’s disadvantage. US armed forces are caught in the Iraqi quagmire, with its military broken down as proclaimed in 2006 by former decorated Marine Congressman John Murtha. The collapsing nature of the US economy based on ephemeral and fancy financial instruments and services lies exposed, with its iconic institutions like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch collapsing on 15 September, 2008. Already severely in debt, the US economy is accruing even more debt, with little signs of real economic recovery. It is being sustained by the artificial stimulus of 3 trillion dollars which exists only on computer screens. The other shoe of economic decline could fall any time this year.  

US and Israeli protectorate Georgia, encouraged by its masters, was given a bloody bashing by Russia when to test Moscow’s will two years ago, Georgia tried to recover the disputed south Ossetia, which was transferred to Tbilisi by Georgia-born Marshal Stalin. Apart from south Ossetia, Abkhazia was also brought back under Moscow’s control. Since then, next door US ally Azerbaijan, strategically located on the Caspian, is also becoming cool towards Washington.  

A vital blow was struck against US-led encroachment on the strategic Russian space of Ukraine when its President Viktor Yushchenko, installed by the US-franchised Orange revolution in 2005 got 5% of the votes in the first round of presidential elections early this year. His Orange revolution partner, the ambitious, glamorous but erratic Yulia Tymoshenko, was defeated by pro Russian Viktor Yanukovich, who is undoing the damage in Russian-Ukrainian relations done by his predecessor. See my http://www.boloji.com/analysis2/0562.html 

Recently US's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, who used NATO power to break up Yugoslavia, toured the region. He spoke of the Al-Qaeda threat to Central Asia, suggesting that NATO had a role to play in the region as the only viable security organization. His tour was followed by the intensive two-day consultations in Bishkek by the US Central Command chief, David Petraeus. Any US future strategy in Central Asia now lies in shambles. 

What policies the Kyrgyz government will follow will have repercussions beyond Bishkek.

It could affect US and NATO plans for the largest military offensive of the Afghan war scheduled to begin in two months time in Kandahar province. It could also determine the future of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the two major potential barriers to the Western military running amuck across the immense Eurasian space. 

After much dillydallying,Washington finally signed the new strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia in Prague. It is ironic that the regime change in Bishkek took place on the same day that US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart President Dmitry Medvedev met to sign the first major US-Russia arms control pact of the post-Cold War era, which is supposed to set in motion the "reset" of relations between the two countries. 

Obama and Medvedev did discuss Kyrgyz regime change before signing the arms treaty. Michael McFaul, Obama's senior director for Russian affairs, emphasized that the US did not view the conflict (in Bishkek) as any kind of proxy struggle between the US and Russia, even though Russia previously tried to lay claim to an air base in the country that the US obtained from the regime now under assault. “ The people that are allegedly running Kyrgyzstan ... these are all people we've had contact with for many years," McFaul said. "This is not some anti-American coup, that we know for sure. And this is not some sponsored-by-the-Russians coup, there's just no evidence of that." McFaul claimed that the cooperation over Kyrgyzstan was another sign of improved US-Russia relations. He added that there was no specific decision on how the two nations might respond, though he raised the prospect of a cooperative measure such a joint statement. "We're trying to keep the peace right now. We talked in general terms of things we've got to coordinate " McFaul said. 

US troops working at the Manas base have been restricted to the facility. With humanitarian missions and other trips temporarily suspended, Manas air field spokesman Maj. Rickardo Bodden said on 9 April that NATO troops and supplies flying in and out of Afghanistan and have been cut back. 

Air Force General Duncan McNabb, chief of the US Transportation Command, said last December that although Manas is "very essential" to US operations in Afghanistan, "we obviously have other options," While most US troops arrive in Afghanistan via Manas, only about 20% of their cargo does. Roughly half travels overland through Pakistan, and the rest comes in from the north via rail and truck lines, largely through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. If the US were to lose Manas, US officials would likely seek a replacement base in the vicinity, exploring options in Azerbaijan, Georgia or even Uzbekistan. As part of Obama's plan to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan by fall, more than 1,500 US soldiers cycle through the base every day, either heading into or out of Afghanistan. Flights between Manas and Afghanistan are aboard Air Force C-17 and other military aircraft, while those from Manas to Europe use commercial airliners. But beyond that bus terminal mission, it's also key to lifting supplies into and wounded troops out of Afghanistan. Air Force KC-135 aerial refueling tankers also are based at Manas. 

But when it comes to coordinating and guarding their power in UNSC and nuclear hegemony, US and Russia with China and UK and France guard an exclusive club as can be seen regarding making the UNSC more democratic and in tune with the realities of 2nd decade of 21st century and not a an apartheid club of WWII victors and the also ran. 


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