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Kyrgyzstan: Possible debacle looms for US government over Manas base

Posted by seumasach on April 11, 2010

Deirdre Tynana

Eurasianet

10th April, 2010

The upheaval that brought down Kurmanbek Bayiev’s administration in Kyrgyzstan occurred at a very inopportune time for the United States. Bakiyev’s son, Maxim, who is now wanted in Kyrgyzstan on criminal charges, happened to be in the United States when upheaval erupted in Bishkek. The younger Bakiyev’s continuing presence in the Washington threatens to catalyze what could turn into a major diplomatic embarrassment for Washington.

The US Embassy in Bishkek and the State Department in Washington are refusing to comment on Maxim Bakiyev’s whereabouts. US officials likewise are declining to say if they will cooperate with Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government, if the new leadership in Bishkek seeks the younger Bakiyev’s extradition.

An immigration lawyer who is well-versed in Kyrgyz politics, and who spoke to EurasiaNet on condition of anonymity, says the United States would face an uphill struggle in any attempt to return Maxim Bakiyev to Kyrgyzstan against his will.

Bakiyev, the lawyer said, can use to US immigration law to his “full advantage,” and would likely argue that he would not face a fair trial, and would be subject to political persecution, if he returned to Bishkek to answer the criminal charges against him.

“Criminal law and immigration and asylum laws are two very different things. In any case, there is no extradition agreement between America and Kyrgyzstan,” the lawyer told EurasiaNet.org.

It is unclear if the provisional government led by Roza Otunbayeva has made a formal request to the United States for the return of Maxim Bakiyev. A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Bishkek said on April 10: “It is the US government’s long standing position not to comment on extradition matters.” The State Department in Washington referred all inquiries back to the embassy.

Beyond the immediate issue of Maxim Bakiyev’s status in the United States, Washington’s engagement with the Bakiyev family seems to have the potential to develop into a diplomatic disaster for the US government, political analysts say.

The sudden turn of events in Bishkek has created a near-term crisis for US strategic interests in Central Asia and Afghanistan. The United States had cultivated a cozy relationship with Bakiyev and his family, with the apparent aim of ensuring access to the transit center at Manas airport outside Bishkek, an important support hub for military operations in Afghanistan.

The US government’s close relationship with the Bakiyevs has quickly emerged as a sore point in US relations with the new Kyrgyz leadership. Maxim Bakiyev’s presence in the United States could exacerbate hard feelings in Bishkek, potentially making it more difficult for the United States to hold on to Manas basing rights.

Maxim Bakiyev’s presence in the United States also could invite heightened scrutiny of possible inappropriate financial dealings involving the US Defense Department and the Manas base. At the very least, Maxim may well become a lightning rod for criticism of the United States coming from within Kyrgyzstan.

Already, the Central Asian state’s provisional government has expressed interest in reviewing US government contracts concerning Manas operations. In addition, EurasiaNet.org has learned that the US Congress is preparing its own probe of Manas contracts.

The offices of the Central Agency for Development, Investment and Innovation – a state entity in Bishkek responsible for managing most of the Kyrgyz government’s financial assets — were searched by a special commission from the Kyrgyz Prosecutor General’s Office on April 10. Bakiyev held a top position in the Central Agency prior to the early April upheaval in Bishkek.

It would seem that the Kyrgyz provisional government is intent on following the money.

Editor’s Note: Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.

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