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Kyrgyzstan and Military Base Politics

Interviewee: Alexander Cooley, Associate Professor, Columbia University
Interviewer: Hagit Ariav, CFR.org
June 23, 2010

The eruption of violence in Kyrgyzstan on June 10, which resulted in hundreds of deaths and large displacement of ethnic Uzbeks, has raised questions about the future of the Manas Air Base, an important U.S. military installation used to supply troops in nearby Afghanistan. In the wake of clashes in the city of Osh, the southern region of the country is "by all definitions a failing state," says Alexander Cooley, a professor of international relations at Columbia University who studies the politics of overseas U.S. military bases. "In any kind of circumstance like that, the status of the base becomes questionable, because even though the interim government has renewed the lease for another year, the base itself and questions about the base are going to be subjected to domestic political dynamics."

Recalling the Kyrgyz government order to close Manas in February 2009, Cooley says, "The base has always been fraught with some controversy, especially on the Russian end." However, he says the geopolitical competition over Kyrgyzstan between Moscow and Washington has lessened under current administrations in both countries. Russia maintains a base in Kyrgyzstan as well.

Cooley says Kyrgyz support for the United States is limited following the era of ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, in which the base became what he called the primary U.S. concern, to the detriment of all other forms of bilateral cooperation. "This is why now you see a real kind of either outright hostility to the base or kind of coldness to the base," he says. "The political space for supporting the United States in Kyrgyzstan is quite small."

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