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And in the end, it did indeed come down to money.
Western news agencies report today that Kyrgyz and U.S. officials have reached an agreement to allow American troops to continue using Manas airbase, just outside the capital Bishkek. Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev, you will recall, announced in February that his central Asian state was closing the base to Americans, who used it as a transit and refueling point for operations in Afghanistan. Bakiev gave the U.S. six months to pack up and leave, and as recently as a week ago western publications were reporting that the Kyrgyz were standing fast by their deadline.
But today a member of the Kyrgyz parliament told reporters that a deal had been brokered — signed just yesterday, actually. Now it will be submitted to parliament for ratification. This shouldn't be too much of a worry since Bakiev's party controls all but a few seats there.
The new agreement reportedly increases the rent from $17.5 million to $60 million, plus tens of millions of dollars more to upgrade the international airport where the base is located, as well as money for "economic development" and to battle terrorism and narcotics trafficking.
The base will also probably shrink its footprint. At the moment the base is home to some 1,000 troops — mostly American, but with contingents from other NATO countries — and about 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo pass through it every month. So far there is no mention in reports that the troop numbers will decrease. But cargo will be limited to "non-military."
Russia's reaction to this is anybody's guess. Bakiev made his original announcement during an official visit to Moscow, after meeting with his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev. The Russians also revealed at the time that they were providing Kyrgyzstan with some $2 billion in aid. Numerous observers believed that the Kremlin was paying the Kyrgyz to kick the Americans out.
So was it, in the end, all just a dog and pony show to get Washington to cough up more cash? Who knows? But it seems unlikely that Moscow would go along with this just so that the Kyrgyz could deposit $60 million more in their bank account. And it seems unlikely that the Russians would not want to wring some sort of concessions from the Obama administration in return for their cooperation.