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How much did Russia know about Manas negotiations?

Moscow might not have a choice other than to accept the US presence at the Kyrgyzstan air base.

Moscow immediately put a positive spin on the U-turn. President Medvedev said that he welcomed the decision, while the Russian foreign ministry said Kyrgyzstan was acting in its rights as a “sovereign nation.”

Not everybody was so sanguine, however. An unnamed senior Russian diplomat told Russia’s Kommersant newspaper that the Kyrgyz had played a “dirty trick” and Moscow would carry out an “adequate response.”

Konstantin Zatulin, a Duma deputy with close ties to the Kremlin and foreign policy establishment, nevertheless believes that Moscow did give its blessing to the negotiations. “Obama’s arrival played a substantive, important role [in the Kremlin’s position]. He created the ground for a new Russian-American relationship.”

Others do not doubt that some Russian officials are dissatisfied, but in the end their opinions matter little. “We have only two ‘senior diplomats’ — Putin and Medvedev,” said Aleksei Malashenko, a Eurasia expert at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, referring to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

If the Russians were on board, some experts wonder if they received anything for their acquiescence — an American concession to abandon an anti-missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, for example. This, however, would be a risky move, as it could be interpreted as a betrayal of the two countries that pushed for the shield, Poland and the Czech Republic.

But others say that the Russians were in fact not informed until the last minute. This raises the question of what measures they will take next. Just prior to the decision to kick the Americans out, Kyrgyzstan experienced a debilitating cyber-attack which some experts subscribed to the Kremlin.

On the other hand, the Americans may have simply handed the Russians a fait accompli, which Moscow, on the eve of its first summit with the new president, will have to accept.

“My sense is that they are as mad as hell,” said Stephen Blank, a professor of national securities studies at the U.S. Army War College. “They thought they had it locked up and we beat them.”

More on Manas air base:

The path to Afghanistan now runs through Central Asia

Why the air base debate drags on

Manas Air Base: A Pyrrhic victory?