THE PLANK FEBRUARY 5, 2009
Kyrgyzstan's President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced at a press conference in Moscow Tuesday that his country plans to close a U.S. military base that occupies part of Kyrgyzstan's main civilian airport. The base, which the U.S. has been operating in Bishkek since 2001, is critical for operations in neighboring Afghanistan. Bakiyev is insisting that the U.S. hasn't given enough money to Kyrgyzstan to warrant maintaining the base.Media reports rightly indicate that this reeks of Russian influence. Putin, Medvedev, and Co. dislike the U.S. military presence in the former Soviet region, and they have leverage to pressure Kyrgyzstan by offering billions in debt relief and other aid. However, the base has long been unpopular among many in Kyrgyzstan. Grumbling reached a peak in 2006 when a U.S. soldier shot a Kyrgyz civilian at the base, allegedly in self-defense, and never faced a local trial.A year ago, a group of citizens chose an innovative route to broadcast their discontent. As reported here, on the regional blogging network Neweurasia, a local organization sponsored an American Idol-esque song contest, the sole purpose of which was to encourage lyrics that protested the base. The prize for the best song was $200."Surely, Kyrgyz rock and rap singers will back the idea," the organizer said at the time.