Obama administration's plans regarding Afghanistan have taken a hit in the wake of Kyrgyzstan government's approval of a bill for the closure of Manas - a US air base, on its territory. This bill was approved a day after Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev made the announcement in this regard. The bill is about the cancellation of the agreement with the US on the presence of the American air base which was set-up to assist coalition forces fighting the Taliban from Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The air base is located outside Bishkek at Manas. It is home to over 1,000 foreign troops, most of them American, and handles about 15,000 US personnel coming and going from Afghanistan each month, along with 500 tons of goods. This air base is used as a vital supply route for Western military operations in Afghanistan. The government of Kyrgyzstan needs parliamentary approval to proceed with the closure and this approval is likely to be accorded to the bill as the main presidential party, Ak Zhol, dominates the Parliament. Once it has received the Parliament's approval, the government would have to send Washington an official note ordering it to shut the base. After that, the US military would be given 180 days to close operations and leave the country. Manas is the only remaining US air base in Central Asia. It is a hub for US operations in Afghanistan and has been at the heart of regional military planning since Uzbekistan evicted US troops in 2005. Its role has been heightened as Washington seeks to reinforce supply routes that bypass Pakistan where supply convoys face security risks. Plans to deploy extra 30,000 US troops in the next 12 to 18 months, which would almost double the number of US soldiers in Afghanistan, would make the need to secure supply routes even more. A spate of attacks in the last few months on military supply convoys and depots have enhanced the need for alternative means of transporting goods to Afghanistan and foreign forces. Pakistani supply routes are currently used for ferrying about 80 percent of supplies. It is said that this decision has been taken by Kyrgyz government on Russia's prodding as the announcement was made in Moscow after talks between Kyrgyz and Russian presidents. Russian president pledged more than $2 billion soft loans and an outright grant of $180 million for Kyrgyzstan, which is beset by economic woes. Moscow has also promised to write off $180 million debt. An increasingly assertive Russia, which also operates a military base in Kyrgyzstan, has long been anxious about the presence of US forces in Central Asia which it considers part of its strategic sphere of interest. However, Russia has gainsaid its involvement in the decision and opined that the issue is Kyrgyzstan's domestic affair. But one thing is clear that Kyrgyzstan has jettisoned the Americans in favour of Russia. It has now become abundantly clear that America cannot spare its blushes in Afghanistan without the cooperation of Russia as alternative routes pass through Russia or other parts of the former Soviet Union. But the Russians were unhappy about the Bush administration's willingness to include Ukraine and Georgia in NATO and they will probably not want to help Obama changes that position. In addition to guaranteeing that NATO will not expand further, the Russians want the US to promise that NATO forces will not be based in the Baltic countries. In other words, Russia wants the US to pledge that it will respect the Russian sphere of influence. They will probably want this guarantee to be very public, as a signal to the region and the Europeans - of Russian dominance. There is also no certainty that countries in the Russian sphere of influence, like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, would agree to let the US use these routes without Russian permission. Here is where Obama could use some European help. Unfortunately, that is not likely to come soon. Many Europeans, particularly Germans, rely on Russia's natural gas. In January, the Russians cut natural gas shipments to Ukraine. As much of the Russian natural gas that goes to Europe runs through Ukraine, the cut-off affected European supplies - in the middle of winter. Europeans can't really afford to irritate Russians and it is hard to imagine that Germans will confront them over supply routes to Afghanistan. The Obama administration is opting for the conventional approach of putting more troops on the ground in Afghanistan. That would be a feasible strategy if supply lines to Afghanistan were secure. But now quite the contrary. So how can Obama reconcile the two goals of strengthening the US presence in Afghanistan while curbing Russian expansionism - is a purely guessing game. The writer is a foreign affairs analyst. E-mail: irfanasghar99@yahoo.com