Heading into her September 24 meeting with US President Barack Obama, Kyrgyzstan’s provisional president, Roza Otunbayeva, told EurasiaNet.org in New York that she had a “bouquet of issues” she intended to raise. Sources familiar with US diplomatic thinking, meanwhile, billed the discussions as “a substantial meeting” and “not just a photo op.”
A central point in the discussions could be the American-run Manas transit center outside of Bishkek, a key logistics hub for US and NATO military operations in Afghanistan. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
Otunbayeva is on record as wanting a significant change in fuel-supply arrangements at Manas. Past supply practices are currently subject of a US congressional investigation. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
Specifically, Otunbayeva has called for Kyrgyz state-run enterprises, working in partnership with Russian suppliers, to assume fuel-provision operations at the transit center. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
Gibraltar-registered Mina Corp, an affiliate of the previous contract holder Red Star, has supplied TS-1 jet fuel to Manas since 2007. Mina Corp’s current contract, signed July 2009, is worth up to $730.9 million over three years.
Following the April collapse of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s administration, coupled with the launch of the congressional probe, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) chose not to automatically exercise its annual option with Mina Corp. On June 9 a fresh tender for the supply of 360 million gallons of jet fuel was opened. Mina Corp, however, reportedly is continuing to supply fuel on a month-to-month basis. A military spokesman at Manas said the facility consumed 9.6 million gallons of jet fuel in August. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
A source told EurasiaNet.org that the DLA is pressing ahead with its plans to award a new supply contract, based on competitive bids, despite Otunbayeva’s appeal for the Pentagon to do business with the Kyrgyz state. In mid-September, prospective suppliers were subjected to pre-award conferences, a key stage in DLA’s decision-making process, a source familiar with the process told EurasiaNet.org.
Several Washington insiders say the White House could yet pull the plug on the competitive tender and order the Pentagon to work with a nationalized Kyrgyz outfit in partnership with a Kremlin-controlled energy entity, such as Gazprom. The September 24 meeting between Obama and Otunbayeva could play a big role in determining the final US decision.
“The US government is not settled on this. On one side there’s [US Central Command] and DLA and maybe the Department of Defense (DoD) as a whole, on the other you have the State Department and the National Security Council (NSC),” a well-placed source told EurasiaNet.org on September 22. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
“It seems that the State Department and the NSC have not gone so far as to tell DoD to shut this down. But it’s also very clear that no final decision has been taken: when Otunbayeva meets Obama this will be on the top of her agenda,” the source continued.
The Obama White House has tended not to meddle in Pentagon tactical matters, but the Manas fuel-supply issue may represent an exception to that preference, the source indicated. “It [the fuel supply question] is close to coming to an end,” the source said.
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing on Central Asian affairs.