As a main theater of counter-terrorism operations and a quickly developing source of hydrocarbons, Central Asia has become a strategic priority for U.S. policymakers. However, the United States is not alone in its attempts to make an imprint in Central Asia. In recent years, China and Russia have demonstrated an increased interest in the region. In particular, Russia continues to have strong influence in Central Asia and has frequently sought policy goals that conflicted with U.S. interests. The most significant example of competing U.S. – Russian interests involves the presence of U.S. forces at Manas Airbase in Kyrgyzstan.
Since 2001, Manas has been a crucial hub for U.S. operations in Central Asia, serving as a major staging ground for non-lethal goods destined for Afghanistan. However, in February 2009, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed a decree evicting the United States military from the base. The decision came almost immediately after the disclosure of a $2 billion loan package from Russia, leading some to speculate whether the heavy hand of the Kremlin had influenced the decision. In the months that followed, a series of high-level visitors from allied countries, including Presidents Abdullah Gul of Turkey and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, met with the Bakiyev to discuss regional security-- including the status of Manas. After substantial closed door diplomatic maneuvering, it was announced on June 23, 2009, that President Bakiyev would allow the U.S. to continue operations at Manas, but only as a "transit center" for non-lethal goods. The new agreement calls for a one year extension of U.S. operations at Manas and an increase in the fees assessed to the U.S. government by Kyrgyzstan from $17 million to $60 million.
Bakiyev's change in course represents a diplomatic success for the United States. A base at Manas assures that the United States will continue to maintain a security presence in the region, and will serve as a crucial staging area for supplies en routes to Afghanistan. The decision on Manas comes during a time of possible deterioration in the Russia-Uzbek relationship, and Uzbekistan’s move could represent a shift toward greater integration with the West.