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Kyrgyzstan: Business, Corruption and the Manas Airbase

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By early 2005 Akayev's increasingly authoritarian turn and increasing corruption alienated many of his supporters. Another less well-known factor in undercutting his authority were the activities of a number of U.S.-based non-governmental organizations, most notably Freedom House, which published many opposition papers.

Washington's disenchantment with Akayev began in 2003 when he decided to allow Russia to establish a full-fledged military base in Kant near Bishkek, its first outside the Russian Federation since the 1991 collapse of the USSR. Though less than a quarter of the size of Manas, Akayev's decision landed him on America's "watch list" and increased aid flowed to the Kyrgyz opposition via American NGOs. In 2004 Washington in assisting the democratic process directed $12 million, an amount six times the "formal" rent for Manas, into Kyrgyzstan in the form of scholarships and donations, while the State Department even funded TV station equipment in the restive southern provincial town of Osh. Goerge Soros through his various foundations also helped fund the opposition, while Freedom House operated a printing press in Bishkek.

In April, having fled the unrest, Akayev signed his resignation in Moscow and entered a gilded retirement. In Bishkek Freedom House project director Mike Stone said simply, "Mission accomplished." Kurmanbek Bakiyev now strode to center stage amid high expectations.

In essence, shortly after the 2005 Tulip Revolution, Washington turned its back on Kyrgyzstan and developments there. The Pentagon had Manas, and Kyrgyzstan had no oil and gas reserves that evoked such Western interest in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Washington simply rewrote its cozy contracts with the Baikyev administration for Manas, delivered intermittent harangues on democracy and human rights, and essentially ignored the country.

Manas would eventually prove an ace in Bakiyev's hand. The base's importance increased dramatically after the tragic May 2005 events in Andijan, Uzbekistan, when Tashkent, infuriated with Washington's ambivalent response, on 29 July unilaterally terminated its SOFA agreement allowing the Pentagon to utilize Uzbekistan's Karshi-Khanabad (K2) airbase, a mere 60 miles north of the Afghan border. Under the agreement's terms, the Pentagon had 180 days to evacuate the facility, which it did.

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