Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Kyrgyzstan

In the country of Kyrgyzstan the US and Russia both have air force bases just miles away from one another. The BBC has a nice article detailing the obvious juxtaposition. Here is an interesting excerpt:

The base was a slice of America plonked in the dusty heart of Asia. Gun-metal grey transport aircraft sat on the tarmac. A few yards away was a jumbled pile of old Soviet aircraft - Ilyushin airliners and MiG helicopters gently decaying in the grass.

Young US airmen were busy doing maintenance. When they're finished, they can head to a fully-equipped gym or have a gentle head massage in the base's hairdressing salon.

[...]

At the Russian base, five modern fighter jets were lined up on the runway. Here, it wasn't so much efficient and mechanical as a bit cloak and dagger. The base was shabby and broken-down. Scruffy conscripts were wiping the jets down with filthy rags.

When I tried to get close to the planes, I was shooed away. It all seemed a bit mysterious, this sudden Russian presence high on these remote plains. Security men in overcoats strode to and fro.

I felt like I was on the set of a James Bond movie, witness to some clandestine manoeuvrings, chess moves in an international power play.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin strode onto the base. With the mountains behind, he declared it open, then watched his planes in a spectacular air show.

We journalists were corralled into a tight group, made to kneel so the cameras behind us could get a clear view of Mr Putin.

He came and addressed us. Then I pounced with my question. "Mr President, are you just opening this base because the Americans have one here?" I asked.

This world leader looked down at me on my knees in front of him.

His eyes narrowed a little, almost dismissively. "We're partners with the Americans," he said. "I'm sure we'll co-operate," then strode off, leaving me to struggle back to my feet. Partners, I thought, it doesn't look like it to me.


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