Russia cements military might in South Caucasus/Central Asia

YEREVAN/BISHKEK, Oct. 5 (The Conway Bulletin) — Armenia’s Parliament ratified a deal with the Kremlin that binds its military more tightly to Russia’s and, in Moscow, Kyrgyz PM Sapar Isakov looked to persuade the Kremlin to open a second military base in Kyrgyzstan.

Both acts highlight Russia’s position as the dominant military power in the region. The United States used to have an air base outside Bishkek until 2014 and Germany also closed it base near Termez, in south Uzbekistan, in 2015. The West withdrew from the region when NATO drew down its forces from Afghanistan.

Its main interest in the region now is the occasional military and naval exercise, headed by major NATO war games in Georgia.

By contrast, Russia keeps major garrisons in Armenia and Tajikistan as well as an airbase near Bishkek.

In Yerevan, the deal struck with Russia drew a mixed reception. Its proponents said it would help protect the country against Azerbaijani aggression but critics said it surrendered sovereignty to Russia.

“This is another shameful act of surrendering Armenia’s independence to Russia. What it really means is Armenian troops have been put under the direct command of Putin,” said internet user Sassoon Kosian.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are still officially at war over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. A shaky UN-ceasefire was imposed in 1994 but dozens of soldiers are still killed each year in sporadic fighting and research groups have warned that tension is rising. Armenia said at the end of last week that it was going to increase its defence budget in 2018 by 17% next year.

As for a second Russia airbase in Kyrgyzstan, Russian news agencies quoted Kyrgyz PM Isakov during a trip to Moscow on Oct. 2 as saying that no final decision had been made.

“The Kyrgyz Republic believes that in order to ensure security not only in Kyrgyzstan but also in the whole region, one needs to deploy a military base in the south,” a Kyrgyz government official told the RIA Novosti news agency.

Sceptics say that Kyrgyzstan also sees the military base as kudos and also as a rent earner.


— This story was first published in issue 346 of the weekly Conway Bulletin

« Back to newsdesk