Wed, Feb 04, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Russia pressuring Kyrgyz president to close US base

AGENCIES , MOSCOW

Russia will grant Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev major financial incentives if he agrees to shut down a strategic US airbase during a visit to Moscow, a Russian broadsheet reported yesterday.

A Kremlin source said Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev had a good chance of securing financial aid during a visit to Moscow yesterday for talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Kyrgyzstan’s economy is in crisis and the small, impoverished republic has been holding talks with Moscow on financial assistance.

“Drafts of inter-government agreements have been prepared under which Russia will offer Kyrgyzstan major credit resources to stabilize the budget and develop key infrastructure sites,” the Kremlin source said without giving further details.

Russian newspaper Kommersant said Russia could offer a US$300-million credit for 40 years at a symbolic annual interest rate of 0.75 percent, provide a non-refundable US$150-million grant and write off US$180 million of Kyrgyz debt, it said.

“For a small state with an annual budget of around US$1 billion such a volume of direct financial aid is unprecedented,” Kommersant said.

The Kremlin source said military cooperation in Central Asia would also be on the agenda but made no mention of a US air base near the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.

The Manas airbase was set up with Russia’s blessing in 2001, when Kyrgyzstan became a transit point for NATO supplies to troops in Afghanistan, and is an important source of funds for the Kyrgyz budget. It is now home to more than 1,000 foreign troops.

Rumors have long circulated in Kyrgyzstan that the government might be prepared to close the base under Russian pressure, although US officials maintain that Moscow backs the Western operation to stabilize Afghanistan. A Bakiyev aide said no announcements on the US base were expected.

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