April 8, 2010

Russia Stabs US in Kyrgyzstan

President Barack Obama’s attempt to reengage Russia on nuclear weapons is laudable, but he might not get far on the claim that US-Russian ties are on the mend.

"Today is an important milestone for nuclear security and non-proliferation, and for US-Russia relations," Obama told the crowd.

Russia often wields an iron hammer, yet it likes to augment this persona by hiding its dagger behind a smile. While Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev exchanged pleasantries in the Spanish Hall of the Prague Castle, Kyrgyzstan’s newly installed opposition claimed Russia is providing muscle.

Attempting to head these reports off at the pass, Michael McFaul, Obama's senior director for Russian affairs, emphasized that the White House did not view the conflict as a proxy struggle between the U.S and Russia. He said the two countries are hoping to jointly police any potential crisis.

"This is not some anti-American coup, that we know for sure," he said. "And this is not some sponsored-by-the-Russians coup, there's just no evidence of that."

Maybe not, but Russian troops have landed in Kyrgyzstan to protect its bases, so it says. And the giant elephant that is Manas International Airport is about to become a political and possibly military battleground.

The Washington Post reported earlier in the day that Kyrgyzstan’s opposition has already put Manas under review. Their plan, like the old government, is to extort an even higher price from America or close the base, which would have crippling effects on the US supply route into Afghanistan.

The Post reports that Manas traffic has tripled since Obama ordered his surge, so shutting down the pipeline creates a potentially insurmountable challenge inside Afghanistan. Yes, another one.

The White House will also be at a disadvantage if it must scramble to find another route; whatever country agrees would be able to name its price. And whatever became of Russia's promise to allow combat flights over its territory? Most likely another dagger.

Then there’s the possibility of Russia taking over the base, which makes more sense than letting it go to waste.

Skeptics of Moscow, and they have valid reasons, have quickly poked holes through Obama’s engagement, but the real dagger is in Kyrgyzstan.

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