U.S. Moves Flights to Kyrgyzstan

by Laurence on 6/15/2005 · 4 comments

The Washington Post reports:

Confronted by new restrictions on the use of a critical air base in Uzbekistan, the U.S. military has shifted key operations out of the Central Asian republic, repositioning search-and-rescue planes in Afghanistan and routing heavy cargo flights through neighboring Kyrgyzstan, U.S. officials said yesterday.

IMHO closing the Uzbek base might be seen as a geopolitical victory for the Islamists, who forced America to run under fire and cut ties with a “strategic partner” due to international pressure and poor public relations. Additionally, this move may strengthen Russian influence in Central Asia, if Putin puts his troops back into former Soviet facilities. In the end, the result might be a net loss for American prestige if Russia is seen as a more dependable partner than the US. I do not believe it will help improve the human rights situation in Uzbekistan.

Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 618 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use


Nathan June 15, 2005 at 9:12 am

It might be seen as an Islamist victory to the Islamists, but probably not to anyone else. And even as a morale booster, I don’t think it’d help them much.

Moving the base probably won’t help Uzbeks, you’re right. I would certainly hope that the negotiations on long-term access to the base are being used press the value to the Uzbek government of it getting back on board.

Nathan June 15, 2005 at 9:35 am

Waitaminit… Reading that again, it seems that part of the reason the Uzbeks restricted access was because they want a long-term commitment on the base.

This is worth pointing out as well:

“We have, despite all the screaming about the alleged differences, been very consistent,” said a senior official involved in the discussions. “We have not allowed our legitimate interest in K2 for operations in Afghanistan to be used as leverage against us to soften our democracy message. We’re not going to pull the plug on K2 deliberately, but we’ve sent pretty good messages that the Uzbeks need to do the right thing.”

Bertrand June 15, 2005 at 9:56 am

Have to disagree with Laurence’s analysis on this one. First of all, the base is not closed, there is a game going on between the U.S. and Karimov. First, Karimov ordered restrictions on certain air traffic regarding specific equipment and at certain times at the base in response to criticism from the U.S. over the Andijon event. He’s done this before. Second, the U.S. has finally stiffened its position relative to Andijon and is trying to make Karimov understand the U.S. won’t bend over and grab its ankles every time he makes a figurative or literal threat. Yes, the DoD believes this base to be strategically important…yada, yada, yada. They’re going to have to back down and it appears that is happening. Ultimately, while we’d like to keep the base, it’s not THAT important and we’ve finally set about proving it to the Karimov regime.

It’s time we stiffened our position. Islamic extremists aren’t going to read the situation in the manner Laurence suggests. The real extremists have little understanding of, nor interest in, nuance. However, moderate Muslims — not to mention a significant percentage of the Uzbek population — who believe the U.S. has been kowtowing to Karimov may read this correctly as to the point the U.S. won’t protect Karimov in every instance. It also puts us much more in line with the rest of the western world. This is a good thing.

Anti-American sentiment is rising dramatically in Uzbekistan and much of that has to do with the perception the U.S. is propping up the current regime. Rumors are now circulating on the Internet that the U.S. actually financed the group that initiated the Andijon event and knew what its conclusion would be in advance. I am here and I hear this over and over.

Russian influence in this region is basically viewed as a bargaining chip: back off or we’ll invite the Russians in. It’s time that chip is devalued. The fact of the matter is the Russians don’t have the resources to cover all these bases. Much attention has been given to trade agreements between Russia and Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan. The fact of the matter is these agreements don’t involve all that much money on an annual basis and always favor Russia financially. They cannot and should not be thought of as aid agreements. It’s basically, “I will build a refinery in your country. You’ll get a few jobs and some royalties but I’ll get most of the money.”

I believe in continued engagement with the Uzbek government. Not, however, at all costs. If the Bush administration is going to preach democracy and standing up against despots, they have to remain consistent to that philosophy in Uzbekistan. Otherwise our foreign policy will be judged — somewhat accurately — as having no consistancy nor a moral center.

There are limits and there are lines. The Karimov regime has crossed a line it cannot recross. The U.S. has to join with the UN, the OSCE, the EU, NATO (yeah, they’ll get there now that Rumsfeld is being backed off) and most of the rest of the free world in condemnation of the current coverup and demands for an international investigation. Finally, it appears we’re doing so.

There are carrots and there are sticks. I believe we should employ both. In the current situation in Uzbekistan, we should employ the stick. Currently, they’re only getting nourishment from the carrots.

Matt W. June 16, 2005 at 7:56 am

I think the post and the comments are pretty on and not necessarily contradicting each other.

It’s safe to say, as Laurence does, that pulling the base out would not improve the human rights situation, at least not in the short-medium term (in the long term only if it became a contributing factor to an eventual fall of the current regime, if that were replaced by something better). But the US also has to look out for its own image.

In terms of “US prestige” (which Laurence says would be damaged)– that’s a pretty amorphous term– if you mean straight-up ability to geopolitically manipulate space on a map to increase the power of given country to coerce other countries, then yes, perhaps it would be a loss of US prestige. If, for you, prestige is based on drawing the line somewhere and preserving the moral high ground by not having repulsive friends except when absolutely necessary, then perhaps moving the base south a bit would not be too bad. At the end of the day it’s a value judgement. I think even Laurence at some point would advocate removing the base if the human rights situation here got much worse — the question is at what point does a friend like Uzbekistan become enough of a liability to just give up?

It’s clear that things have taken a turn for the worst, and they were never that good. Not only in terms of how the GoU treats its own people. The US military wouldn’t be the only one to move South. I know of at least one medium-sized company that is moving its operations steadily South of the border because it’s — *gasp* — easier to do business in Afghanistan.

Previous post:

Next post: