The United States may have paid Kyrgyzstan a pretty penny for the right to keep its Afghan supply lines open, but when it comes to France, the Kyrgyz government was little more than a cheap date.
Kyrgyz officials rebuffed French pleas for access to the country’s Manas air base until the French promised to arrange a trip to Paris for then-Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and an upgrade to the two nations’ political relationship, according to a 2009 confidential U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks.
The trip reportedly was to include a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy lasting at least an hour and a half. Meanwhile, France pledged to replace its diplomatic mission in Kyrgyzstan with a full embassy, stationing two permanent advisers there to help expand the Franco-Kyrgyz economic relationship.
The concessions provided Kyrgyzstan little in material value. Nonetheless, the deal paved the way for French troops to return to the aviation facility months after the Kyrgyz government announced it was revoking base privileges for all governments conducting military operations in Afghanistan.
The new Kyrgyz policy meant that any country depending on the Manas air base to resupply neighboring forces would have to renegotiate its lease agreements with Bishkek. According to the cable, French officials were left in a “despondent” state upon being told their troops would not be allowed to return.
Spanish officials faced a similar dilemma. Seeking counsel from the American ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, the Spanish ambassador asked whether the Kyrgyz government might simply renew an agreement on Manas.
“The Kyrgyz want to feel like partners, not simply landlords,” the cable describes the U.S. ambassador as saying.
That Kyrgyzstan thinks it deserves more than it’s gotten certainly shows in the way it’s repeatedly waved the Manas air base around like a golden ticket. In 2009, Kyrgyzstan successfully used the base to play the United States against Russia. Some experts believe that Kyrgyzstan’s motivation for revoking base access had to do with Russia’s earlier pledge of $2 billion in aid money to Kyrgyzstan. The United States ultimately wooed the Kyrgyz government back when it offered to increase its annual payment to $180 million.
The United States’ lease comes up again in 2014 — and despite having overthrown Bakiyev in bloody riots last year, Kyrgyzstan’s new leadership seems about as ready to play hardball as the last.
“After 2014 there will be a civilian transport hub there. There must not be anyone’s military base,” said Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev in an interview on Russian television.
Maybe a trip to Washington would fix all that.