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The Monitor's View

Nuclear treaty and an overthrow in Kyrgyzstan: two sides of Russia

Even as Obama and Medvedev signed the START nuclear weapons treaty, Vladimir Putin was supporting the new government in Kyrgyzstan, where he wants the US to give up its military base. The US should have its eyes wide open about the promise of a "reset" in relations.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / April 9, 2010

Much has been made of the “reset” in US-Russian relations as the two countries signed an important nuclear weapons treaty this week – including in a Monitor editorial on Tuesday (click here).

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Then came the overthrow of the government in faraway Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday in which at least 75 people were killed. The circumstances of this takeover should remind everyone that reset or no, Russia will still work very hard to protect its own interests, and that this could be detrimental to the United States.

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, is the only country that hosts both US and Russian military bases. The Americans lease the important Manas airfield near the capital of Bishkek to ferry supplies and troops to nearby Afghanistan. Moscow wants the Americans out – they’re too close to Russia’s “sphere of influence.”

Last year, Russia tried to get rid of the Americans by offering a $2 billion aid package (payoff) to Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev – who was run out of office in a violent uprising this week. Mr. Bakiyev announced the US base would close. But he changed his mind after the Obama administration agreed to increase the amount of its rent payment for the Manas air base.

That put Bakiyev on the Kremlin’s bad side. Russia raised the price of its energy exports to Kyrgyzstan. State-run Russian media, which is watched in Kyrgyzstan, began a campaign against him, portraying him as a dictator and corrupt (indeed, Bakiyev has lived up to the image).

So it is not surprising that on Thursday, when the US and Russian presidents signed the START pact, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called the self-proclaimed Kyrgyzstan leader, Roza Otunbayeva, and asked how Russia could help – effectively recognizing her government.