Moscow, July 11 (RIA Novosti) - The United States' military base near the Manas Airport, in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, must go and Russia's, at Kant, should stay, the Kyrgyz Ambassador to Russia said Monday at a press conference here. Apas Jumagulov recalled the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit explaining the need for the Manas base's withdrawal by the fact that the situation in the neighboring Afghanistan was returning to normal.
The SOC, a regional security alliance of Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China, was established in 2001 as a counterbalance to American influence in Central Asia, shortly after the U.S. had launched its military campaign against the Taliban regime.
"I don't think it [the pullout] is likely to happen overnight, but it will be happening little by little," he said.
The Russian base, 30 kilometers east of the capital city of Bishkek, should remain in place, Jumagulov said, calling it "a key base of the Commonwealth [of Independent States]."
He also said Russian-Kyrgyz cooperation was developing successfully and that, consequently, Russia's Kant base could not be compared to the U.S.'s Manas, adding that having a Russian base was of strategic importance to Kyrgyzstan.
Jumagulov acknowledged the withdrawal of the U.S. base would not be an easy process and that its pace would depend largely on developments in Afghanistan, but said the goal had now been identified and that the sides would be gradually working toward it.
"The American base is losing its relevance, and this is an issue to be negotiated. This was predictable," Jumagulov noted, adding that Kyrgyzstan and the U.S. had no other contentious issues between them.
Jumagulov said Russia would remain a strategic partner of Kyrgyzstan's for centuries to come, something that had always been a Kyrgyz priority and would remain one in the future.