By Deirdre Tynan
It’s been an open secret for months, but government leaders in Kyrgyzstan have finally come out into the open with their aim: Bishkek wants full control of a US contract to supply aviation fuel to the Manas Transit Center.
Mina Corp is the holder of the current supply contract, which was awarded by the Pentagon last November and is worth $315 million this year. An amendment to the contract allowed for a Kyrgyz state-owned enterprise to supply up to 50 percent of Manas’ aviation fuel needs by this coming August. Manas is a key logistics hub serving US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
During a March 17-18 visit to Moscow, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev stated that Bishkek would not be satisfied with just a 50-percent share in Manas fuel supplies. “At the last meeting with the US Charge d’Affaires in Kyrgyzstan, I said that we now have to work on the second half of [fuel] deliveries, because we don’t want to have the firm Mina be the contractor,” Atambayev said. The prime minister said the government wanted to remove Mina from the process because it allegedly collaborated with Maxim Bakiyev, the son of ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The younger Bakiyev is suspected of systematic fraud in a variety of business ventures.
Mina Corp, in a statement issued March 21, vehemently denied links to Maxim Bakiyev. “This is part of a continuing illegal campaign to expropriate Mina’s business by the Kyrgyz authorities that came to power in April 2010,” the statement said. “The US Congress conducted a thorough eight-month investigation into this allegation by the Kyrgyz authorities and concluded that there was no credible evidence to support it.”
William Burck of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, Mina Corp’s legal counsel in Washington, DC, portrayed the Kyrgyz government as on a “collision course” with US policy. “The Kyrgyz government is in breach of its legal commitments to protect foreign investment from expropriation and refrain from interfering with US contractors supplying the Manas Transit Center,” Burck said. “There are many legal avenues at the international level and in the United States to hold the government accountable for this abuse of power. Mina Corp intends to vigorously pursue all of them.”
A US State Department representative said Washington was asking the Kyrgyz government to substantiate its claim of an illicit Mina-Maxim connection. “As Secretary Clinton said in Bishkek in December 2010, the Manas Transit Center fuel contracts issue is an important issue in our bilateral relationship,” the State Department representative said. “We are committed to transparency and an open dialogue. The government of Kyrgyzstan has continued to express concerns about Mina Corp. and alleged illegal activities. The United States has asked the Kyrgyz government to provide any evidence of wrong doing by contractors.”
Sources in Bishkek say that Atambayev’s demand for full Kyrgyz control of the supply contract has not been discussed in detail with US officials. The State Department representative noted that a US-Kyrgyz agreement covering fuel supplies is awaiting legislative confirmation in Bishkek.
The lack of ratification has prevented Bishkek from taking advantage of a provision to assume up to 20 percent of Manas fuel supplies starting in February. So far, the designated Kyrgyz supplier, operating in conjunction with the Russian energy giant Gazprom, has not directly delivered any fuel to Manas. Kyrgyz authorities are likely under pressure to speed the process up from Moscow, one source noted.
A well-placed source described Mina Corp’s public denouncement of Prime Minister Atambayev as a dangerous tactic. “It’s about who has the power, and at the moment that’s the Kyrgyz government,” the source said.
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.