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Dispatches from Manas

Archive for November 2010

Wiki Leaks: Manas, China, Russia — and Prince Andrew

The U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Tatiana Gfoeller, is in the international spotlight for her detailed description of a 2008 meeting in Bishkek with a surprisingly candid Prince Andrew and British business representatives in a communique that’s among the thousands of secret diplomatic cables disclosed online this week by the Website Wiki Leaks. It’s a fascinatingly amusing inside glimpse of the intertwined world of politics and business.

But equally interesting, though drawing substantially less attention, is a 2009 cable describing a Feb. 13 meeting in which Gfoeller astutely notes that China Ambassador Zhang Yannian ridiculed by never “categorically” denied assertions that the People’s Republic would give Kyrgyzstan a $3 billion aid package to shut down the U.S. tanker base at Manas. A digital copy of the confidential cable can be found at the link above, but here’s an interesting passage:

After opening pleasantries, the Ambassador mentioned that Kyrgyz officials had told her that China had offered a $3 billion financial package to close Manas Air Base and asked for the Ambassador’s reaction to such an allegation. Visibly flustered, Zhang temporarily lost the ability to speak Russian and began spluttering in Chinese to the silent aide diligently taking notes right behind him. Once he had recovered the power of Russian speech, he inveighed against such a calumny, claiming that such an idea was impossible, China was a staunch opponent of terrorism, and China’s attitude toward Kyrgyzstan’s decision to close Manas was one of “respect and understanding.”

At the time of the meeting, the U.S. military base had been served with an eviction notice, which was later withdrawn after the Pentagon agreed to nearly quadruple the annual rental rate to
$60 million, accompanied with other U.S. aid. Diplomats also had heard that Russia, which also has a military base in Kyrgyzstan, had offered the Kyrgyz a $2 billion financial aid package as well in exchange for expulsion of the U.S. air base.

Zhang, according to the cable, went on to suggest that the eviction notice was little more than a ploy by the Kyrgyz to squeeze more money out of the United States, leading to a somewhat candid exchange:

“This is all about money,” he said. He understood from the Kyrgyz that they needed $150 million. The Ambassador explained that the U.S. does provide $150 million in assistance to Kyrgyzstan each year, including numerous assistance programs. Zhang suggested that the U.S. should scrap its assistance programs. “Just give them $150 million in cash” per year, and “you will have the Base forever.” Very uncharacteristically, the silent young aide then jumped in: “Or maybe you should give them $5 billion and buy both us and the Russians out.” The aide then withered under the Ambassador’s horrified stare.

Jet fuel supplier stirs Kyrgyz protest

Jet fuel, essentially the lifeblood of Manas Transit Center, has become a worsening diplomatic problem for the United States.

Kyrgyz government leaders want the Pentagon to scrap its new, $630 million supply contract with Mina Corp., which many believe has ties to ousted Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and is the subject of a corruption investigation by authorities in Bishkek. A U.S. congressional panel investigating ownership of the company has found no connections to Bakiyev.

The (London) Telegraph published a good wrapup of the standoff in today’s editions, an electonic copy of which can be found here. And late last month, The Washington Post published a lengthy examination of Mina Corp.’s secretive ownership, which includes a retired U.S. intelligence officer from California who owned a hamburger joint in Bishkek before becoming a billionaire fuel supplier. An electronic version of The Washington Post article can be found here.

The new supply contract was announced last week. Terms include a one-year, $315 million agreement for delivery of 96 million gallons of fuel, with an optional one-year extension. The agreement also allows for the use of subcontractors.

Kyrgyzstan’s state-run oil company, in conjunction with a Russian fuel supplier, was among the nine bidders for the contract. Mina Corp. and its sister company, Red Star, have held the fuel delivery contract at Manas since 2003. The U.S. State Department hasn’t commented on Kyrgyz demands to withdraw the supply contract with Mina.

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About this blog

Fairchild Air Force Base supplies 80 percent of the military aircraft and flight crews operating out of Manas Transit Center, a key hub along one of the primary NATO supply routes into Afghanistan. The small base, located outside the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek, is barely 400 miles from the Afghan border.


Colin Mulvany is a staff photographer for The Spokesman-Review.

David Wasson is a deputy city editor for The Spokesman-Review.

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