The decision to close the U.S. air base at the Manas airport in Kyrgyzstan shows that Russia is pursuing a policy of carrots and sticks in the region, with us in the role of the donkey.
The base closure was announced by the Kyrgyzstan president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, shortly after Russia promised Kyrgystan $2 billion in loans and aid. Russian and Kyrgyz officials deny any link between the money and the closing. But Russia is determined to treat the former Soviet republics as Russia’s “privileged” zone of influence. This is clearly incompatible with prospective NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, which is supported by the U.S.
Until now, Russia has made little headway in getting the U.S. to renounce plans to expand NATO. But Russia obviously hopes that cutting off the Kyrgyz supply line to Afghanistan will make us look more favorably at Russian proposals for a “grand deal.” Russian president Dmitri Medvedev hinted that Russia and Kyrgyzstan were still ready to cooperate with the U.S. over Afghanistan but “the forms of cooperation are to be agreed with partners.” In plain language, this means pushing the “restart button” in U.S.–Russian relations is not enough. The price of Russian cooperation over Afghanistan is U.S. recognition of Russia’s “right” to dominate its neighbors.
— David Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).