snapshots

Russia, Kyrgyzstan: A Second Russian Military Base Moves Closer to Reality as Regional Security Realigns

4 MINS READFeb 4, 2019 | 19:37 GMT
The Big Picture

After the announcement that the United States will withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, Stratfor forecast that regional players would try to fill the security void there. In light of this development, Russia has resumed discussions with nearby Kyrgyzstan to place a second military base there.

What Happened

Russia is "ready to consider" opening a second military base in Kyrgyzstan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Feb. 4. Lavrov's statement echoes a Feb. 1 Tass interview of Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Russia. The diplomat said that he did not rule out the possibility of a second Russian base in his country and that Russian President Vladimir Putin might discuss this possibility during his March visit to Kyrgyzstan.

Why it Matters

Kyrgyzstan is a key foothold for Russia in Central Asia, and one of Moscow's most loyal allies in the region when it comes to security and defense. The country is a member of Russia's Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military bloc, and it has long hosted a Russian military presence at Kant air base near the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.

The two countries have discussed a possible second Russian base, this one in the southern city of Osh, for several years. Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov reportedly explored the matter with Putin during the latter's visit to Bishkek in September 2018. The issue, however, has taken on greater urgency given the recent U.S. announcement that it plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Russian and Kyrgyz officials have acknowledged that the threats that emanate from Afghanistan, including terrorism and narcotics trafficking, have driven the base discussions. The prospect of a U.S. withdrawal and the specter of a security vacuum subsequently opening up in Afghanistan make the Russian-Kyrgyz discussions more urgent.

Tactically, a military base in southern Kyrgyzstan would help Russia defend Kyrgyz and Russian interests there. At present, Russia has a fairly limited deployment of ground-attack aircraft and helicopters (Su-25s and Mi-24s, respectively) at Kant. Deploying ground forces in southern Kyrgyzstan would give Russia many new capabilities. The forward basing of military assets would allow Russia to swiftly boost security in surrounding areas, and even allow it to project its military capabilities into Afghanistan if needed to support a particular side or to pursue its political interests there.

Strategically, a second base in Kyrgyzstan would give Russia a firmer presence in the Fergana Valley, an important region that has experienced militant attacks and political instability. A second base would also be part of Russia's broader push to increase its security presence in Central Asia not only to stem militancy but to also bolster its position as the external power with the greatest influence in the region. It would come as China is increasing its activity in Central Asia and as other rivals such Pakistan and Iran adjust to the new security reality in Afghanistan. But previous discussions over a base have not led to formal agreements, and as before, a second Russian military base is not a done deal. Still, the changing regional climate makes the prospect more likely this time.

Previous discussions over a base have not led to formal agreements, and as before, a second Russian military base is not a done deal. Still, the changing regional climate makes the prospect more likely this time.

Background

Russia currently operates air force units out of the Kant base. Its presence is part of the broader CSTO deterrent structure, in which Russia shoulders much of the immediate responsibility for providing air power. Kyrgyzstan previously served as a logistical support location for U.S. forces in Afghanistan until the 2014 closure of Manas air base. Since then, U.S.-Kyrgyz military relations have soured, and Kyrgyzstan has become much more closely aligned with Russia, and to a lesser extent with China.

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