Thursday, February 5, 2009

Kyrgystan and Russia mess with Obama's Afghan plan

As we know, the situation in Pakistan has caused American military leaders to rely more on basis in Central Asia. A new development concerning Kyrgystan could make Obama's big -- and in my view, not particularly well articulated -- plan for a renewed Afghan offensive far more complicated.

Russian Jotman reader Sanjuro informs us that the Russians and Kyrgystanis appear to have conspired to make the US mission in Afghanistan more complicated and costly:
You have probably heard that Kyrgyzstan is closing the US military base at its airport Manas - something I didnt quite expect - this quick at least. Apparently the Kyrgyz govt. is indeed desperate for cash.

The base is critical to the Aghan military operation, as a major logistics hub. According to Gazeta, Russia will have to provide Kyrgyzstan with $2B preferential loan, plus complete writeoff of a previous $180M loan, plus various economic aid estimated at $150M ($150M equals the annual rent that the US has been paying for the base, according to Russia Today). Commenters among Gazeta's readership note that much of the money is likely to be embezzled by Kyrgyzstan's president K. Bakiyev and his clique, and that the Kyrgyz government will somehow attempt to sell the base again - again to the US that badly needs it for the Afghan operation, and now at a high premium.

I recall that this is happening after a recent Central Asian tour by Gen. David Paetreus where he seemed confident that the US would retain the base...
Comment from me [Sanjuro]: Without the base in Kyrgyzstan, there will be much more pressure on the southern route via Pakistan, and the southern areas of Afghanistan where the allies have no control over the roads. The US used to have a base in Uzbekistan, but lost it under similar circumstances in 2005. One country, embittered by its recent treatment by Russia (over gas pipeline project) is Tajikistan which "enjoys" even more convenient routes into Afghanistan.
On the surface, this appears to be a problem US dollars can solve. But the days when the US could successfully address strategic problems in this part of the world simply by writing big checks may be coming to an end. Although -- with oil prices falling -- the same thing could be said for the Russians.

Not that checkbook diplomacy was ever such a smart long-term strategy. Billions of dollars of US aid to Pakistan have had the opposite of the intended effect. As Sanjuro points out, it is widely assumed that Kyrgystan's leaders will pocket any new money they receive. The handouts governments in the region receive -- whether from Russia or the US -- will tend to have the effect of making the rulers less accountable to their own people and even more corrupt. Ironically, an unintended consequence of US determination to win a war in Afghanistan may be to destabilize friendly regimes in the other 'Stans.

Needless to say, a further irony here is that ensuring stability in Central Asia ought to be a shared objective of both the Americans and the Russians.

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