BISHKEK --- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says that Bishkek has not asked Moscow to open a second military base in Kyrgyzstan, but suggested that Russia is open to discussing the idea.
Speaking to students at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University in Bishkek on February 4, Lavrov was asked whether Russia was prepared to open a second base in the Central Asian country.
Claiming that "this is the first time we've heard about this," said Lavrov, who was meeting with senior officials in Kyrgyzstan -- his first stop on a trip to three Central Asian countries. "This is not our initiative. We will be ready to discuss with our Kyrgyz friends their ideas regarding security."
Reports and rumors about the possibility that Russia could open a second military base have been circulating in Kyrgyzstan and Russia for months.
Russia's air base at Kant, in northern Kyrgyzstan, was opened in 2003 under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.
A U.S. air base outside the capital, Bishkek, began hosting U.S. troops in 2001 as part of the campaign in nearby Afghanistan, but Kyrgyzstan shut it in 2014. Russia had pressed Kyrgyzstan for its closure.
In December 2018, Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov said that Bishkek was not negotiating with Moscow on the possible opening of another Russian military base.
In March, Jeenbekov said that the idea of a second Russian base was discussed before he was elected president in October 2017, but that no decision was made.
Earlier in 2017, then-President Almazbek Atambaev said that Russia could deploy troops in the Batken region on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border instead of increasing the number of troops stationed at Kant.
He said that the issue had been discussed years ago but that no decision was made due to questions about funding.
Also in 2017, the Kant air base and three other Russian military facilities in Kyrgyzstan were formally combined into a single base.
Lavrov is expected to visit Tajikistan on February 5 and Turkmenistan on February 6.