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Putin Opens an Air Base in Kyrgyzstan

    Friday, October. 24, 2003
    The Moscow Times
    BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- While warplanes looped in the clear skies above, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday opened a Russian military air base and praised the event as a move aimed at strengthening security in the volatile Central Asian region. "By creating an air shield here in Kyrgyzstan, we intend to strengthen security in the region, whose stability has became a tangible factor affecting the development of the international situation," Putin said at the opening of Russia's first military base in the former Soviet Central Asia since the 1991 Soviet collapse.
    "We believe it will create a good basis for cooperation and will be a factor for deterring terrorists," Putin said.
    Secular governments in Central Asia have been struggling in recent years with radical Islamic groups inspired by the proximity of Afghanistan. The new base, however, is widely seen as Russia's response to the U.S. military presence in the region. Since December 2001, Kyrgyzstan has hosted hundreds of U.S.-led anti-terror coalition troops who support operations in Afghanistan.
    The Kant air base, 20 kilometers east of the capital, Bishkek, was established under the Collective Security Treaty signed by Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan -- a detail that Putin and his host, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, underscored.
    "The opening of the Kant base is a necessary and timely measure that will facilitate the solution of both collective and national tasks within the Collective Security Treaty," Putin said.
    Akayev said, "We see the opening of the air base as Russia's readiness to ensure the security of its allies."
    Both presidents said they did not see the coalition base in Kyrgyzstan as a U.S. base, and Putin said he saw no contradiction in the two bases' being next to each other. "They will complement one another," he said.
    The opening ceremony was followed by an air show performed by four fighter jets and a bomber in clear skies against the backdrop of mountains.
    The air base will house five Su-27 fighter jets, five Su-25 bombers and helicopters. The base will have some 500 pilots and maintenance personnel.
    After the inauguration, Putin met a group of local residents.
    "The base is being set up both for your and our security," he told them. "Please be vigilant, it [the base] will attract the particular attention of our enemies."

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