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Kyrgyzstan - Russian Relations

Whereas the other Central Asian republics sometimes complained of Russian interference, Kyrgyzstan more often wished for more attention and support from Moscow than it had been able to obtain. For all the financial support that the world community offered, Kyrgyzstan remained economically dependent on Russia, both directly and through Kazakstan. In early 1995, Akayev attempted to sell Russian companies controlling shares in the republic's twenty-nine largest industrial plants, an offer that Russia refused.

Akayev was equally enthusiastic about more direct forms of reintegration, such as the Euro-Asian Union that Nazarbayev proposed in June 1994. Because Kyrgyzstan presumably would receive much more from such a union than it would contribute, Akayev's enthusiasm met with little response from Russia and the other, larger states that would be involved in such an arrangement. Akayev's invitation for Russian border guards to take charge of Kyrgyzstan's Chinese border, a major revision of his policy of neutrality, was another move toward reintegration.

The Kyrgyz government also felt compelled to request Russia's economic protection. The harsh reality of Kyrgyzstan's economic situation means that the nation is an inevitable international client state, at least for the foreseeable future. Despite concerted efforts to seek international "sponsors," Akayev received not much more than a great deal of international good will. Even if the president had not lived seventeen years in Russia himself and even if his advisers, family, and friends were not all Soviet-era intellectuals with a high degree of familiarity with Russia, economic necessity probably would push Kyrgyzstan further toward Russia.

On his February 1994 visit to Moscow, Akayev signed several economic agreements. Having promised the republic a 75-billion-ruble line of credit (presumably for use in 1994) and some US$65 million in trade agreements, Russia also promised to extend to Kyrgyzstan most-favored-nation status for the purchase of oil and other fuels. For its part, Kyrgyzstan agreed to the creation of a Kyrgyzstani-Russian investment company, which would purchase idle defense-related factories in the republic to provide employment for the increasingly dissatisfied Russian population of Kyrgyzstan. In early 1995, prime ministers Jumagulov of Kyrgyzstan and Viktor Chernomyrdin of Russia signed a series of agreements establishing bilateral coordination of economic reform in the two states, further binding Kyrgyzstan to Russia. After lobbying hard for inclusion, Kyrgyzstan became a member of the customs union that Russia, Belarus, and Kazakstan established in February 1996.

For its part, Russia saw aid to Kyrgyzstan as a successful precedent in its new policy of gaining influence in its "near abroad," the states that once were Soviet republics. Russia does not want a massive in-migration of Russians from the new republics; some 2 million ethnic Russians moved back to Russia between 1992 and 1995, with at least that many again expected by the end of the century. Akayev, on the other hand, must find a way to stem the loss of his Russian population, which already has caused an enormous deficit of doctors, teachers, and engineers.

For these reasons, despite opposition from Kyrgyz nationalists and other independence-minded politicians, in 1995 Akayev granted the request of Russian president Boris N. Yeltsin to review the constitutional provision making Kyrgyz the sole official language. Early in 1996, Kyrgyzstan took legal steps toward making Russian the republic's second official language, subject to amendment of the constitution. That initiative coincided with the customs union signed with Russia, Kazakstan, and Belarus in February 1996. The long-term success of Akayev's search for reintegration is questionable because of Kyrgyzstan's minimal strategic importance and the potential cost to an outside country supporting the republic's shaky economy.

The foundation of the Russian-Kyrgyz partnership was established at a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kyrgyz counterpart Askar Akaev in December 2002. Significantly, the Kyrgyz debt to Russia was restructured at the same timeAt one point during their summit, Putin characterized Kyrgyzstan as one of Moscow's "reliable partners." In return, Akaev urged Russia to become "the major strategic pillar for Central Asia."

Relations with Russia remained a primary concern because Kyrgyzstan had been unusually dependent on the Soviet structure in security and economic matters. The rights of the technically adept Russian minority have been a sensitive issue. After the posting of U.S. troops in Kyrgyzstan for the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan in 2002, President Akayev sought to balance that presence with ongoing Russian interests. The early policy of Akayevs successor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev (elected in July 2005), sought to retain that balance in the face of pressure from China and Russia to expel U.S. troops. However, U.S. influence diminished in September 2005 as Russia concluded a bilateral agreement with Kyrgyzstan. The agreement expanded Russian military aid, arms sales, and aid in building energy infrastructure. Bakiyev continued to cultivate political support from Russia in 2006.

In early February 2009, Russian President Medvedev pledged a $150 million grant, forgiveness of $193 million in Kyrgyz debt (in exchange for a 48% stake in a military goods manufacturer), a $300 million low interest loan and $1.7 billion in financing for a Soviet-era hydroelectric project to Kyrgyz President Bakiyev. There are concerns that, even if Russia delivers on the promised assistance, the funds will disappear through corruption, pet projects, and spending related to President Bakiyev's expected 2009 reelection campaign. In addition, the hydroelectric project would grant Russia de facto control of upstream water resources, and increase Russian influence over the release of water downstream to Uzbekistan -- a constant source of irritation between Tashkent and Bishkek. Despite the elimination of existing bilateral debt, the Russian package, if implemented, could expand the Kyrgyz Republic's net debt burden by at least $1 billion if the mostly Kyrgyz state-owned joint venture partner is unable to offload this debt.

For a time, Russias power appeared to be on the wane. But the overthrow of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakievs regime a might have paved the way for Moscows resurgence. An angry Russia used a combination of hard and soft power to help destabilize Bakievs government, after the Kyrgyz leader reneged on his promise to kick out the Americans from Manas in exchange for a $2 billion loan.

During Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Bishkek in September 2012, he signed agreements on the creation of a new Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan, Russian military aid to Bishkek, and the construction of hydropower stations in Kyrgyzstan by Russian companies. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambaev near Bishkek on September 20 to discuss issues including the future of a Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan. Putin said in a joint press conference with Atambaev after the meeting that the Russian base in Kyrgyzstan and Russian bases in neighboring Tajikistan are "acting as a factor of stability" in those two countries and in Central Asia generally. "[The Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan] was established after gangs of terrorists had entered the territory of Kyrgyzstan and when the leadership of Kyrgyzstan requested Russia to set up a military outpost here that would stop the flow of drugs and extremism into Kyrgyzstan," Putin said. "We did it back then, and now we have agreed on its further functioning."

Pn 20 September 2012 during the official visit of the Russian President, the Minister of Defense of Kyrgyzstan Taalaibek Omuraliev and Defense Minister of Russia Anatoly Serdyukov signed an agreement on the status and conditions of the joint Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan as well as a protocol on cooperation in the military field. The Agreement on joint Russian military base was developed to improve the bilateral legal framework regulating the presence of Russian troops on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. The Agreement enters into force on January 29, 2017 and is in force during 15 years and is automatically extended for the next five-year period. In general, the presence of Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan is in the interests of the republic.

On 28 February 2013, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency quoted Kyrgyz Defense Council Secretary Busurmankul Taabaldiev as saying that Bishkek had asked Moscow to provide Kyrgyzstan's armed forces with tanks, artillery, and heavy military machinery. Kyrgyz Defense Council inspector Adylbek Kurbanov confirmed that a list of requested equipment had been sent to Moscow by Bishkek. He did not give details about the request, saying the list was currently under review in Moscow. Russian media reported an agreement on Russian use of the Kant military base, some 40 kilometers from Bishkek, was ready for signing. Those reports said rent for use of the base would remain $4.5 million annually, as it has been since 2003 when the original agreement was signed.

Russia had little to fear from the outcome of the October 2015 parliamentary election, as all the parties regard Russia as a major partner. It is inconceivable, as things stand now, that any new government would reduce ties with Russia, especially in light of Kyrgyzstan's recent entry into the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, which many here in Kyrgyzstan see as a chance to improve the country's rather bleak economic situation.

Russia has contributed a total of $700 million to help Kyrgyzstan integrate into the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Russian President Vladimir Putin said. "We allocated $200 million for this adaptation. We furthermore created a development fund in which Russia deposited another $500 million. In total, 31 projects are being implemented. Several hundred are to be implemented soon," Putin said in an interview with a Kyrgyz journalist, which aired in a RenTV broadcast on February 28, 2017.

The money was used to develop various sectors of the Kyrgyz economy and the Central Asian state's large and medium-sized businesses, Putin added, stressing that the decision to help Kyrgyzstan adapt to EAEU membership was made by the Russian and Kyrgyz leaders. Kyrgyzstan, one of the less developed states in the bloc, joined the EAEU in August 2015, months after the other states joined in January that year. Its accession process included the adaption of its economy to EAEU standards, as well as changes to its legislation and customs infrastructure.

The EAEU, comprising Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, is an international organization that encourages regional economic integration through the free movement of goods, services, and people within the union.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said 04 February 2019 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, 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.

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 2018, 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. Also in 2017, the Kant air base and three other Russian military facilities in Kyrgyzstan were formally combined into a single base.

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Page last modified: 07-02-2019 18:56:18 ZULU