Who lost Kyrgyzstan?

posted at 5:59 pm on February 19, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The new administration just got an object lesson in power politics, and now has given Russia control over the supply lines to the biggest effort in the war on terror.  Just when Barack Obama announced an increase in troop levels in Afghanistan, the Kyrgyz parliament almost unanimously backed President Bakiyev’s decision to evict the US out of Manas AFB, a key part of our lines of communication into Afghanistan.  Now the US will likely have to rely on Russia to move troops and materiel, putting Vladimir Putin in charge of the NATO operation:

The Kyrgyz parliament voted Thursday to force the U.S. military to abandon its air base here — part of what many say is a Kremlin-backed initiative — posing a severe setback to American efforts in Afghanistan.

The vote, a resounding 78-1, signaled that Kyrgyzstan’s government is ready to follow through on its president’s threat to close the Manas Air Base.

Now that the parliament has passed the measure, all that remains is for President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to sign it and his government to issue an eviction notice giving the Americans 180 days to pack up.

This should have been an easy move for the Obama administration.  They needed to outbid the Russians, who are now cash-poor after the collapse in oil prices over the last six months.  Instead, as comments from the Kyrgyz parliament make clear, the US waffled around until they ran out of time for a counteroffer.

How easy was this for Putin?  He wants leverage against NATO expansion to include Georgia and Ukraine.  With energy prices crashing, he can’t afford to cut off Europe any more.  This move was as clear to see as anything else on the Great Game table.  NATO’s most vulnerable in its supply lines into Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan holds the key.  Putin offers to give NATO some supply lines, and then makes sure he has the only paths possible for resupply by buying out the Kyrgyzstan government.

A child could have seen this coming.  After Putin played the card two weeks ago, the Obama administration still could have responded by upping the ante.  Instead, for some reason, Obama sat on his hands and allowed himself to get punked by Putin:

One Kyrgyz parliament member seemed to suggest that the small country — with a population of some 5.3 million — would take what it could get.

“Our government has the full right, without explaining anything, to terminate this agreement,” said Alisher Sabirov, a deputy with the president’s party. “Our friends are not those who are stronger, but those who help us.”

Of course, and our side should have understood that.  It sounds as though we’re seeing the replay of the Carter administration in losing friends and influence on the foreign stage.


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