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Kremlin Intrigue And The Closure Of Kyrgyzstan Air Base

File photo: KC-135 Stratotanker at Manas Air Force Base, Kyrgyzstan.
by Ariel Cohen
Washington (UPI) Feb 19, 2009
A sinister Kremlin agenda may be involved in the intrigue around the closure of Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. The Kremlin is obsessed with the U.S. missile defense deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic. Sources in Moscow tell UPI that the Kremlin may use the Manas closure and an offer of cooperation in supply of the Afghanistan deployment as a bargaining chip in its negotiations with the United States on the future of missile defense in Europe.

Russia is essentially creating bargaining chips it may be willing to trade in exchange for the American concessions it considers vital. This was the case with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's threat to deploy short-range, nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad province on the Baltic coast in response to the planned ballistic missile defense site that the Bush administration planned to construct in Poland. The missile shield in Europe has become even more vital after Iran launched its first satellite. History is witness to many a satellite program becoming a precursor to an active long-range ballistic missile program, or vice versa.

Along with China, Russia has lobbied the Kyrgyz government to evict the United States and NATO from Manas. This is not the first instance of evicting NATO bases from Central Asia. In 2005, at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting, Moscow and Beijing had pushed for the closure of the American Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan. Since 2005, Manas remained the only U.S. air base in Central Asia.

Currently, NATO ships some 75 percent of supplies for the coalition forces -- from food and fuel to construction materials and heavy equipment -- to the Pakistani port of Karachi and then trucks the cargo for some 600 miles through Khyber Pass to Afghanistan. Taliban fighters target the convoys regularly and threaten the security of the supply troops and the cargoes. Hundreds of trucks have been destroyed, jeopardizing the vital supply line.

With the supplies interrupted, the Taliban may score a victory, which would be to the detriment of Russia's own long-term interests and security. But some in Moscow may be advocating a high-risk strategy: If the United States fails in Afghanistan, it -- and NATO -- would also suffer a massive setback to its geopolitical power and prestige.

Yet Russia would remain in this volatile neighborhood with neither the tools nor the historical standing to intervene and fix the situation. The Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan is a painful memory for many Russians, similar to Vietnam for the Americans. In the 1980s, after 10 years of bloodshed, Moscow suffered a defeat in Afghanistan from the U.S.-supported mujahedin. The America-haters in Moscow may think it's payback time.

The Kremlin's interference is just one example of how detrimental Russian policies may be, including obstruction of the U.N. sanctions against Iran, supply of nuclear technology to Tehran, the sales of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to protect the Iranian nuclear program and support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The Obama administration is under pressure to develop a coherent policy vis-a-vis Russia and correlate it to its goals in Afghanistan. Otherwise, the standing and reputation of the United States throughout Europe and Eurasia will be irrevocably damaged. --

(Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is a senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies and international energy security at the Catherine and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute at The Heritage Foundation.)

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Sea Viper Shows Its Fangs
Ile du Levant, France (SPX) Feb 17, 2009
The new Sea Viper air defence missile system demonstrated its ability to protect air, land and sea forces during a second, successful test firing. The missile system was successfully test-fired from the 12,000 tonne trials barge Longbow, near the Ile du Levant off the French coast.

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