Letter from my contact in Kyrgyzstan following the recent revolution:
Firstly, the two military bases: the Americans have a base at Manas, and the Russians have a base at Kant. The Russians pay no rent, the Americans paid 60 million US for their last deal, I forget the length of the lease (check it). The friction between Russia and the US that you seem to be referring to is of long standing, but obviously came to a head recently with the revolution. Some months ago Bakiev played the old Cold War game of organising a bidding war between the two rivals. Upon Bakiev’s visit to Moscow earlier this year, Russia pledged a large grant and a vast low, or possibly zero interest (check), development loan with the tacit, or possibly written, understanding that Bakiev would boot the American base out the country in return. Bakiev then went to the Americans to see what he could get, and negotiated a 500% (check the figure) price hike for the Manas base. The Russians did not forgive him for taking the piss. To compound the Russian’s anger, President Bakiev’s son, Maksim Bakiev, was made head of a new ministry of development – the ministry that (surprise surprise) took the role of handing out the fat wad of cash recently awarded by the Russians. Allegedly, Maksim took the interest-free money from the Russians and began loaning out chunks at interest, personally benefiting to the tune of fuck loads.
Your question seem to be concerned with how all this affected the local people. As the Russians live here rent free, any financial benefits are limited to what the Russian staff spend in the local economy. The benefits from the American base, in an ideal world, would be much greater. However, there seems to have been high level corruption going on that meant the Bakiev family skimmed off large amounts of the American money, as well as enjoyed a monopoly on the lucrative business of selling jet fuel. If this money had reached the local economy, the benefits would be quite substantial, but they did not. Also, it seems the Americans were aware of such shenanigans but kept quiet as their overriding concern is keeping the base open as it is vital to their war effort in Afghanistan.
The American base has not directly exacerbated poverty. One could make an argument however, that the American government’s stance on keeping quiet about Bakiev’s excesses ultimately led to the revolution. Wishing to maintain the status quo, the Americans rarely criticised the Bakiev regime despite its drift towards corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism – this unchecked drift eventually ended in revolution.
A key foreign policy question is what sacrifices should be made in order to maintain their base in Central Asia. Many commentators have written that American foreign policy should avoid recent realpolitiking and primarily focus on ensuring human rights are protected – an attitude they hope will ensure American foreign policy is better respected by its allies and will pay dividends in the long run. With the Manas base being of such vital importance to the war effort in Afghanistan however, it seems that the Americans have difficult decisions to make and in this case have been caught conniving at a rotten government and its corruption to protect their own interests.
In an ideal world the American base and the Russian Base would remain open, and the financial benefits of hosting the Americans would be channeled into the now empty national coffers. However, the Russians are hell bent on getting Manas closed down. It therefore seems likely that at some point or possibly sooner, the new government will be pressured into choosing between the Americans and the Russians, and it seems very unlikely that the Russians would allow themselves to be jilted. Owing to historical legacy, cultural and geographical proximity, to most Kyrgyz, Russia seems the more appropriate long term bed fellow. Regardless, until the Kyrgyz government stops slutting itself around in an unwholesome threesome, the tensions look set to continue.