27 February 2012
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev has called for a Russian air base in the country to be closed, saying neither Russia or Kyrgyzstan need it.
The Kant air base does nothing except "flatter the vanity of Russian generals," Atambayev said in an interview to Kommersant newspaper, adding Russia has not paid for the lease for four years.
“The current situation where a Russian military base is not fulfilling its obligations and even does not pay for the lease does not suit us ... There are many conditions, but the main thing is that the lease should be paid, one way or another," he said.
"And the base should fulfill certain obligations; for example train pilots for Kyrgyzstan. All these years we have been paying for the electricity and water, heat and phone bills and have nothing in return. I am convinced that Russia's government did not know about the true situation. And I was there when the Russian President gave the order to Russian Defense Minister to pay out all debts,” Atambayev added.
Russia had only been required to pay "a measly rent" for the Kant air base for four years, Atambayev said.
“In comparison with the U.S. base, it is just pennies. Less than $15 million for more than four years. Last year we paid $15 million on one percent of our debt to Russia! And the thing is not only in the lease payments. There have been a number of obligations. For example our pilots should have been trained there. No one was trained! So the question is: do we need such a base,” the Kyrgyz President said.
Atambayev announced plans in November 2011 to close the nearby American military air base at Manas in 2014.
The U.S. began operations at the Manas base near the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek in 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to support military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan. It remains a key supply facility for the ongoing military campaign there.
He said the decision was not an attempt to get more money from the USA for the lease, though this was not initially understood by Washington.
“The Americans could not believe me when I was saying that there should not be military base in a civil airport Manas," he said. "It was difficult to persuade them that Atambayev was not trying to get money from the U.S. for him and his family. There should not be a military base in any civil airport. And there will not be! During recent talks with Obama’s representatives, State Department and U.S. Defense Ministry realized that is a decision of principle ,” Atambayev said.
He denied speculation that the Kyrgyz authorities wanted to get the Russian forces out of Kant in order to transfer the U.S. military base there.
“It is more logical if Kyrgyzstan is connected with Russia not through some kind of base, but a single economic space, with a common external border. That would be logical. And there is not a whip which applies to Kyrgyzstan. We should avoid it,” he said.