Newly elected president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev, has made it clear that there is no desire to renew the lease on the US military base located in Bishnek when it expires in 2014. While past leaders, including Kermanbek S. Bakiyev, also balked at continuing to allow an American base to operate in the country, negotiations were successful to keep it open during his time in office. Whether or not the position of the new president will change between now and the end of the current lease remains to be seen.
It is also no secret that Russian Premiere, Vladimir Putin, is not comfortable having a US base in Kyrgyzstan and there are indications that some of the reasons behind President Atamayev’s resistance to renewing the lease are due to those same concerns. They include the possibility or retaliation by US enemies that could result in harm to the country’s citizens living near the base.
There is also speculation that the decision not to renew the lease has to do with an emerging trend of closer relations with Russia. Many within the government today view Russia as the most logical choice when it comes to a partner for both commerce and national security. In addition, there are no indications that a Russian military base located in the country is in any danger of being closed soon.
Among the possible ways that the relationship may deepen is the trade agreement between Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and other post Soviet Union states. The agreement provides for improved opportunities to engage in trade with the other nations, while also removing some of the current travel and trade restrictions that are in place. The agreement would also provide lower prices on certain types of imported goods and services, reduce the level of import tariffs and other fees associated with buying products produced in other countries participating in the agreement, and even make the task of obtaining travel permits and work visas much easier between the member nations. Former acting Prime Minister, Omurbek Babanov, supported negotiating such an agreement, but also noted that, “Kyrgyzstan has to put forward its own conditions when joining that union, taking into account the interests of our citizens working at the Dordoi and Kara-Suu markets.” Upon adoption of the agreement being announced in mid-October, Russian Premier, Vladimir V Putin, noted that, “we discussed [a free-trade agreement], made some corrections and adopted its final text”. The terms of the agreement now go to the parliaments of each nation involved for final approval and may go into effect as early as next year.
Since the plans of the United States government included beginning to hand over security operations to countries within the region, rather than maintain a presence, the potential ramifications of adopting the trade agreement are somewhat unclear. Depending on the final structure of the deal’s terms, the issue could have relatively little impact on trade between Kyrgyzstan and the US. What is certain is that as the base is closed, money currently introduced into the local economy by US military personnel will disappear and not be replaced, unless government officials can develop some new use for the retired base that offsets at least some of the lost income.