Russia To Reinforce Kant Air Base In Kyrgyzstan; Putin Calls It ‘Important Element Of Defense Cooperation’

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Russian Kant Air Base in former Soviet state Kyrgyzstan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the military airbase has become a significant turning point in the deepening of defense and security cooperation between Moscow and Bishkek.

In a speech delivered on the occasion, Putin said, “We have gathered here to solemnly celebrate a rather significant anniversary – the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Russian joint military airbase in the city of Kant of the Kyrgyz Republic. This is an important milestone for our cooperation on defense and strengthening of regional security in general with our Kyrgyz friends.”

“This military outpost makes a substantial contribution to bolstering the republic’s defense capability, providing security and stability in the entire Central Asian region and fighting such acute challenges and threats as terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, and organized crime,” the Russian leader told reporters after the Russia-Kyrgyzstan talks in the Kyrgyz capital.

The 20th anniversary of the military installation was hailed by the Russian Putin, who was present at the Kant air base opening ceremony in October 2003, as “a major jubilee date.” He added, “The Kant personnel are currently participating in the Indestructible Brotherhood 2023 drills of peacekeeping forces that the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is holding on Kyrgyz soil.”

The Russian leader pointed out that the current talks focused on the issues of expanding bilateral cooperation in the military and military-technical spheres.

“I recall vividly how the Kant base came to be built. At the time, the republic’s leadership requested that our air wing be sent here as soon as possible. Kyrgyzstan had been attacked by armed gangs, causing many casualties and necessitating an immediate and coordinated response.”

The present discussions, as the Russian leader noted, “focused on the issues of expanding bilateral cooperation in the military and military-technical spheres.”

The visit to Kyrgyzstan marks his first overseas trip since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him in March. The head of the Kremlin hasn’t left Russia since the ICC issued a warrant for his arrest, accusing him of directing the forcible deportation of children from Ukraine.

The ICC’s accusations against Putin have been dismissed by Russia, which does not accept its jurisdiction. But Putin has refrained from taking a foreign tour since the warrant was issued. He has invited leaders from ally countries like China and North Korea.

File Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin with Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov

Amid strong indications that Russia’s influence in some former Soviet republics, notably Armenia, is under threat, his two-day visit to Kyrgyzstan will come to a close with his participation in a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Bishkek. The CIS is a grouping of some former Soviet republics which has traditionally been under Russian influence.

However, imposing Western sanctions against Russia after the Ukraine war has strained Moscow’s relations with other regional states, which it has historically considered its backyard.

Putin’s visit to Kyrgyzstan to mark the anniversary of the air base in the country has put the focus back on this military facility, which is also being reinforced to add more teeth to it. Putin also emphasized in his address that the Kant air station in Kyrgyzstan significantly contributes to the region’s security.

Russia’s Kant Air Base In Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov said, “Today we can confidently say that the Russian air base in Kant is a reliable guarantor of security and stability in the Central Asian region.” He also iterated that “the Russian air base successfully copes with its tasks and is a restraining factor for the terrorist and extremist threat.”

He said the air base on Kyrgyz soil was raised at an opportune moment in history. “Since the Kant air base was established, its personnel have been traditionally participating in international military drills conducted on the territory of Kyrgyzstan and neighboring states,” Japarov was quoted as saying by TASS.

The facility is situated at the military airport in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, which is 2 kilometers south of the town of Kant and 20 kilometers east of Bishkek. Both military transport planes and frontline aircraft can land there.

Just a day before President Putin’s visit, the country’s parliament approved the deal for a shared air defense system between Kyrgyzstan and Russia. According to the agreement, a five-hectare land area at the Russian military installation in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, will be used for the joint program.

Established and opened in 2003, Russia’s Kant air base is one component of Russia’s integrated military base in Kyrgyzstan. The more extensive integrated base includes a navy anti-submarine armament testing facility on Lake Issyk-Kul, a naval signal center in the Chuy Region, and a radio seismic laboratory of the Russian Defense Ministry’s seismic department in the Jalal-Abad Region.

File Image: Vladimir Putin

The facility was Russia’s first new air base outside the country since 1991. According to reports, the stationed unit is the 999th Air Base of the Air Defense Forces Army and the 5th Air Base of the Russian Aerospace Forces.

After the Russian government agreed to lower Kyrgyz’s debt by $500 million in December 2012, Kyrgyzstan agreed to lease the base to Russia for fifteen years with the possibility of an automatic extension for an additional five years.

As of February 2023, the Russian forces stationed at the airbase are outfitted with Mi-8MTV5-1 helicopters, Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a unit of the military police, and Su-25SM ground-support aircraft.

Both leaders stressed the importance of this base in strengthening regional security because the Kant base also forms an air component of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) Collective Rapid Deployment Force in the Central Asian region.

The CSTO was formed based on the same format as NATO but hasn’t been able to make much headway, unlike its Western rivals. Its primary goal is to control the Central Asian airspace.