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Russia bolsters influence in Kyrgyzstan as US nears airbase exit

Vladimir Putin is getting most of what he wants out Kyrgyzstan, including a lease extension on a Russian airbase and part ownership of a torpedo plant, while America's star there is on the wane.

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin (l.) and his Kyrgyzstan counterpart Almazbek Atambayev talk during their meeting in the state residence outside Bishkek, September 20.

Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Reuters

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, visiting the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan Thursday, cut a new deal with Kyrgyz leader Almazbek Atambayev that will strengthen Moscow's military and economic presence in the former Soviet region even as it sets the stage for the departure of the US from Manas airbase near Bishkek in about two years.

Mr. Putin won a 15-year extension of Moscow's lease on Kant airbase, where about 600 Russian servicemen and a small squadron of warplanes are based. Kyrgyzstan's request for a rent increase above the $4.5 million Moscow has payed annually since 2003 was not met, but Putin agreed to gradually write off Kyrgyzstan's nearly half-billion dollar debt to Russia.

In exchange, Moscow will take large stakes in several Kyrgyz industries, especially the Dastan torpedo plant near the remote mountain lake Issyk Kul, which post-Soviet Russia has long coveted, because it manufactures the hyperfast VA-111 Shkval underwater rocket, one of the world's most advanced weapons.

As for the US airbase at Manas, which the Kremlin has repeatedly asked Kyrgyzstan to close, Mr. Atambayev said he recently informed Washington that the US will have to vacate the facility after its lease expires in 2014. A joint statement by the two leaders said that "Kyrgyzstan intends to transform the transit center at Manas airport into a civilian facility free of any military component." Putin denied that he played any role in the Kyrgyz decision to shut the US out of Manas.

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