Putin Says Russian Base In Kyrgyzstan Key To Regional Stability
RFE/RL February 28, 2017
Russian President Vladimir Putin has wrapped up a three-nation tour of Central Asia with a visit to Kyrgyzstan, where he touted a Russian air base as a key to stability in the region.
Speaking to journalists after talks with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev on February 28, Putin said that Russia was ready to shut the Kant air base any time the host country wants it to.
"If Kyrgyzstan someday says that its armed forces have been developed to the extent that there is no need for the base any more, we will leave the place right away," he said.
But he suggested Moscow believes that time has not come, saying he and Atambaev "confirmed the common understanding that the presence of the Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan is an important factor of stability and security in the Central Asian region."
He also said they had agreed to military and arms-trade cooperation, without giving details.
Kyrgyzstan and Russia agreed in 2012 to extend Russia's lease on the Kant base near Bishkek by 15 years, starting this year.
But Atambaev seemed to voice impatience with the arrangement in remarks in December, when he said that Kyrgyzstan would in the future have to rely on its owned armed forces without playing host to any foreign military bases.
After his talks with Putin, Atambaev stressed that they did not discuss "expanding" the Russian base.
"We discussed the strengthening of the Kyrgyz Armed Forces and supplies of weapons," he said. "Russia wants to help us build up our own armed forces."
Putin's visit came amid political tensions in Kyrgyzstan following the February 26 arrest of prominent Kyrgyz opposition party leader Omurbek Tekebaev, which sparked protests by supporters calling for his release.
Kyrgyz media speculated that Putin would use the trip to assess the situation ahead of a November presidential election in the former Soviet republic, where street protests drove presidents from power in 2005 and again in 2010.
Atambaev told journalists after the talks that he had not discussed the election issue with Putin -- and said there would be no more "revolutions" in Kyrgyzstan.
He asserted that Tekebaev's arrest and the case against him -- which Kyrgyz authorities say is related to allegations he received a $1 million bribe from a Russian businessman while serving as deputy prime minister -- are not politically motivated.
Atambaev is barred from running for a second term in Kyrgyzstan's presidential election on November 19, but pushed through a referendum in December 2016 that transferred some powers from the president to the prime minister.
That has fueled speculation that Atambaev could position himself to become the next prime minister -- though he says he has no such plans -- or install an ally in the role.
Putin traveled to Kyrgyzstan after visits on February 27 to Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, two other former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
All three are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Moscow-dominated military and security grouping.
Putin said in Dushanbe that he and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon had agreed to jointly bolster security on Tajikistan's border with war-torn Afghanistan.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, TASS, and Interfax
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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