Everything is getting harder for the U.S. in Central Asia. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is touring the region and his caravan recently rolled into Kyrgyzstan, where he received some unwelcome news. The New York Times informs us that a top Kyrgyz defense official told the Secretary that his country plans to close a crucial U.S. military base when the lease expires in July 2014.How important is this base? As the NYT explains:
The base, officially called a transit center, is at the Manas airport close to the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and has been a vital hub for troops and matériel moving in and out of Afghanistan. It is the only such base that American forces have in Central Asia.
This isn’t the first time that Kyrgyzstan has threatened to shut down Manas. Similar grumblings of discontent three years ago were eventually silenced after the U.S. agreed to increase its rent on the base. At the time, U.S. officials speculated that the Kyrgyz threat was heavily influenced by Russia, which, like China today, wanted to push back against America’s expanding presence and influence in the region.No word yet on whether Moscow is behind this latest threat, and it may be something as simple as commercial rivalry if it is. (Moscow is offering NATO the use of a base on its own territory, presumably at a price, for use in Afghan operations going forward.) As the Game of Thrones heats up in Asia, smaller Asian and Central Asian countries like Kyrgyzstan will increasingly become the center of diplomatic struggles between the few great powers competing for influence in the region. As the game continues, Via Meadia to see many more of these diplomatic skirmishes in Central Asia.