World News

EXCLUSIVE - Russia seeks new Kyrgyz military base-source

U.S. servicemen board a plane bound for Afghanistan at Manas Air Base near Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek, February 13, 2009. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Russia, seeking to offset growing U.S. influence in Central Asia, has asked Kyrgyzstan to allow it to open another military base in the impoverished nation, a senior Kyrgyz official said on Thursday.

Russia and the United States both operate their own military bases in Kyrgyzstan, an arrangement security analysts see as a symbol of Moscow’s rivalry with Washington for control over the strategically important region bordering Afghanistan.

A senior Kyrgyz government official told Reuters Moscow had asked Kyrgyzstan to allow it to open another military base in southern Kyrgyzstan.

“Russia voiced this request itself,” the source said on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue. “Russia wants to restore its influence.”

A Russian delegation led by Igor Sechin, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s powerful deputy, was in Kyrgyzstan for closed-door talks this week. Officials in Moscow and Bishkek have declined to comment on the nature of these talks.

The U.S.-operated Manas air base opened in Kyrgyzstan in 2001 to support military operations in Afghanistan. Like Russia’s Kant air base, it is located near the capital Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan announced this year it would close the U.S. facility but later changed its mind.