(AFP) – Jun 24, 2009
MOSCOW (AFP) — Kyrgyzstan played a "dirty trick" in deciding to let the United States keep using an airbase that Moscow wanted closed, a source in the Russian foreign ministry was quoted as saying.
The unnamed source, speaking to the Kommersant daily newspaper, vowed that Russia would make a "corresponding response" to the Central Asian country's decision on the Manas airbase.
On Tuesday, Kyrgyzstan announced it had signed an agreement with the United States allowing US personnel to keep using the airbase as a "transit centre" for the transport of non-lethal military goods to Afghanistan.
The agreement effectively reversed an earlier decision in which Kyrgyzstan had ordered the Manas airbase to close -- a decision that was widely believed to have been made under Russian pressure.
"The news about the preservation of the base was an extremely unpleasant surprise for us. We did not anticipate such a dirty trick," the foreign ministry source told Kommersant.
The source said that Russia would give a "corresponding response" and dismissed the base's new description as a "transit centre", saying that Manas would essentially remain a US military base.
"Renaming the base a centre is a cosmetic alteration. The real nature of the US military presence in Central Asia has not changed, which goes against the interests of Russia and our agreements with the Kyrgyz government."
The comments were much harsher than Russia's official reaction, which said Kyrgyzstan had the "sovereign right" to make such a decision.
Manas airbase is used to ferry tens of thousands of troops in and out of Afghanistan each year and also hosts planes used for the mid-air refuelling of combat aircraft.
Its loss would have been a blow to coalition military efforts in Afghanistan at a time when US President Barack Obama is seeking to step up the campaign against the Taliban.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the decision to close the base in February during a visit to Moscow -- on the same day that Russia unveiled a generous aid package to his impoverished country.
In the package, Russia agreed to settle an estimated 180-million-dollar debt owed by Bishkek to Moscow, extend Kyrgyzstan a grant worth 150 million dollars, and loan it two billion dollars more, news agencies reported at the time.
Russia has consistently denied playing any role in Kyrgyzstan's decision to close the base. But the base's presence had long irritated Moscow, which sees it as an intrusion into its former Soviet domains in Central Asia.
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