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Russia and Kyrgyzstan in dispute over airbase

MOSCOW, March 23 (UPI) -- Russia and Kyrgyzstan are wrangling over Russia's Kant Airbase in the former Soviet republic.

Kant is Russia's first international military facility established after the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991.

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Kyrgyzstan is the only post-Soviet country to host both a Russian and U.S. airbase. Besides the former, the United States has access to the Manas Transit Center near the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.

The disputes include fuel deliveries to the base. Following a two-day working visit by Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev to Moscow, Russia lifted its Kyrgyzstan export duties on petroleum products.

In return, the Kyrgyz government agreed to free Russia from paying rent for the Kant military base, Kazakh Zerno reported Wednesday.

The issue of Russia's ongoing military presence in Kyrgyzstan has been contentious. Russian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Valentin Vlasov said, "The issue of a unified Russian military base in the republic was considered at Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev's negotiations in Moscow on March 18 and there were different opinions."

Atambayev said, "The (Russian) military base is needed in Kyrgyzstan. Russia is our strategic partner. We share a common past and common future and this year we will celebrate a number of significant events, such as 150 years of voluntary accession of Kyrgyzstan to the Russian empire.

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"This arrangement is not about money. Through the elimination of customs duties on petroleum products imported into the country, we could save more than $200 million."

Kyrgyzstan and Russia have been discussing the administration of the Kant Airbase with two other Soviet-era military facilities controlled by Russia within the two nations' membership of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, with Russia proposing concluding a rent agreement for 49 years with a possible 25 year extension with a clause prohibiting the abrogation of the agreement.

Noting the difficulty of the negotiations Vlasov told journalists, "Kyrgyzstan is not agreeing to accept this deal in its current form, citing international experience and its record of concluding agreements but we are saying: 'Let's not make a decision tomorrow but let's not drag it out either.'"

The U.S. base outside Bishkek has also frequently been a source of contention. Since its establishment in late 2001 the Manas Transit Center has come to play an increasingly important role in provisioning the more than 100,000 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom, which began a decade ago.

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