The United States intends to build an anti-terror training center in the southern Kyrgyz province of Batken. The exact location of the facility, which is projected to cost $5.5 million, has not yet been determined.
The move is likely to be perceived by the Kremlin as further American encroachment into what has traditionally been Moscow's sphere of influence, analysts say.
"The Office of Military Cooperation, which is funding the project, [says] that work will soon begin. Work hasn't started yet," a spokeswoman for the US Embassy said. "The facility ? will be turned over to the Kyrgyz upon completion." The planned $5.5 million price tag would seem to indicate that the training center would be relatively small in size.
A spokesman for the Kyrgyz Ministry of Defense confirmed the project is under discussion. "There were talks about it with the US embassy, but no papers are signed on it yet. It is not finally decided," the Defense Ministry representative said on March 4.
The United States has already spent millions of dollars on upgrading and constructing training centers for Kyrgyz security forces.
Speaking at the opening of a $9-million Special Forces Training Compound for Kyrgyzstan's elite Scorpion Battalion in Tokmok last October, Ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller revealed that "brand new, modern military equipment - trucks, tactical gear, ambulances, night sights, body armor, and much more - are arriving in Kyrgyzstan daily and being distributed to Kyrgyzstan's armed forces."
"Our cooperation extends to [. . .] providing training to security forces and helping to build border-posts on isolated and porous borders," the envoy added, while acknowledging that the Scorpion Battalion has received "extensive training from US forces." [For background, click here].
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has identified Kyrgyzstan's borders as "the biggest threat" to national security, and a possible site of "terrorist insurgency."
As a result, the Kyrgyz administration is keen to see a proposed Russian base also open in southern Kyrgyzstan. Any such facility would be built under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and operate as a "training center," reportedly for the group's newly created rapid reaction force.
Russian leaders reportedly want to open the base near Osh, Kyrgyzstan's southern capital. But Kyrgyz officials are widely believed to want the CSTO base situated in Batken Province, not far from the Uzbek border. Uzbekistan has refused to participate in the CSTO's rapid reaction force and has warned that the proposed "training center" could stoke tension in the region. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Moscow maintains the facility would be purely defensive. "Kyrgyzstan said it needed assistance, that there must be an object to provide special services and armed forces in case of large-scale attacks by gangs," said CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha in August 2009. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Analysts say the opening of a US-funded training center in Batken would be widely interpreted as dealing a blow to Russia's geopolitical position in Central Asia.
"Batken is a very fragile place, and I think building such a facility there is part of US strategy and directed toward securing [the Pentagon's] place in the region," said Bishkek-based political analyst Mars Sariev. "I think the second phase of the process, after building and equipping the facility with American equipment, will be putting in American instructors to prepare our military or Special Forces."
"This will, of course, affect the Russians. Russia doesn't much like the prospect of strengthening US-Kyrgyz relations," Sariev continued.
Andrei Grozin, director of the Central Asia Department at the CIS Institute in Moscow, said an American-funded training center, even if it was officially handed over to Kyrgyzstan, would be viewed dimly by the Kremlin. "Having both a Russian base and anti-terror training center built by Americans [in Batken] says a lot about Kyrgyzstan's multi-vector politics," Grozin commented.
"For Russia, it's a geopolitical statement, it's about putting the Russian flag in the area," Grozin added, referring to the planned construction of a CSTO base in southern Kyrgyzstan.