Global News Journal

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How much did Russia know about Manas negotiations?


David L. Stern covers the former Soviet Union and the Black Sea region for GlobalPost, where this article originally ran.

KIEV, Ukraine  — Was Kyrgyzstan’s decision last week not to evict American forces from a strategic air base the result of the “Obama Effect” — President Barack Obama’s reputed benign influence on how other nations now view the United States — or evidence of the new president’s hardball negotiating tactics?

The answer holds implications for the American leader’s first meeting with Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, when he is in Moscow July 6 to 8. Depending on whether the Kyrgyz reversal was made with or without the Kremlin’s blessing, the base issue could be a sign of how U.S.-Russian relations will develop over the next four years.

Bishkek announced that an arrangement was reached last week to allow U.S. forces to remain at Manas air base, where they staff a major re-fueling and transport hub for operations in nearby Afghanistan. Parliament, in which all but a few seats are occupied by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s ruling party, quickly ratified the new agreement.

Rumors of a deal had been swirling around Washington and Bishkek for more than a month, but U.S. and Kyrgyz officials maintained a strict silence that allowed no official confirmation of the back-channel negotiations. Only three weeks ago, Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbayev said that the decision to eject the Americans by August still stood.