Representatives of the Russian energy giant Gazprom confirm that the company is poised to participate in a joint venture to supply fuel to the US-run Manas Transit Center, a key logistics hub for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Gazprom’s subsidiary, Gazpromneft-Aero is “ready to consider proposals from the Kyrgyz Republic to establish a joint Russian-Kyrgyz venture for aviation fuel supply at Manas airport,” a spokeswoman for the company told Eurasianet.org on October 20.
The US facility outside Bishkek uses around 10 million US gallons of aviation fuel per month and is currently being supplied by Mina Corp, an affiliate of Red Star Enterprises.
However, controversy has dogged the existing arrangement. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the arm of the Pentagon tasked with procurement, opened a new competitive tender in June for 240 million gallons of TS-1 jet fuel to be delivered over a two-year span. A decision on the new contract’s winner is expected to be made after the US mid-term elections in early November.
Mina Corp is one of the contenders to secure the new contract. Contracting practices at Manas are the subject of official investigations in both the United States and Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz president Roza Otunbayeva has expressed opposition to Mina Corp having a continuing role as a Manas supplier. As an alternative, she has pushed for a Kyrgyz-Russian joint venture to take over fuel supply responsibilities.
The Pentagon has resisted Otunbayeva’s plan, due mainly to the likelihood that Gazprom, a company controlled by the Kremlin, would be a participant in the fuel-supply joint venture, a Washington insider told EurasiaNet.org. Despite the Kyrgyz government’s position, the DLA has pressed ahead with the tender process.
The amendment provides the legal framework needed to make part of the award outside of standard Federal Acquisition Regulations, sources told EurasiaNet.org. One source familiar with negotiations between Washington and Bishkek suggested that Pentagon concerns about a Gazprom role were overblown, noting that the bulk of jet fuel supplied to Manas to date has come from Russia.
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.