Putin’s recent Visit to Kyrgyzstan: Major Takeaways
Dr Pravesh Kumar Gupta, Research Assistant, VIF
Background

The Russian President’s visit to Kyrgyzstan is considered to be significant at a time when there is a strong anti-Chinese sentiments arising within the local Kyrgyz population regarding the arrest of ethnic Kyrgyz in Xinjiang by Chinese authority and holding them into internment camps. A large protest in December 2018 was staged outside the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek in this regard. Not only has this but, the increased Chinese economic presence also been facing deterrence in Kyrgyzstan since Chinese Projects in Kyrgyzstan are being controlled by only Chinese firms and they bring a large number of Chinese labors making the local populations distrustful of their activities.

The proposed China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway line under the aegis of Belt and Road Initiative has not been gaining impetus due to Kyrgyz reservations. The Kyrgyz side wants Russia to be involved in this project. However, firstly, Moscow, due to its financial inability, cannot participate in this project, and secondly, it does not want this project to survive as it will further jeopardize its influence in the region. Moreover, Kyrgyz side is not being compensated over transit fee negotiations.1 Kyrgyzstan is already under huge Chinese debt which made it more cautious of Chinese economic enterprises taking advantage of its economic vulnerability.

Against this backdrop, Russian President’s visit on 28 March 2019 has put forward a number of juxtapositions about the China-Kyrgyzstan-Russia dimension in the region, and as an outcome projected solidified political ties between Russia and Kyrgyzstan. Keeping the internal issues of political discontentment and north-south divide in Kyrgyzstan aside, one can definitely say that it is the only Central Asian country exercising democracy. Kyrgyzstan is a close ally of Russia since collapse of Soviet Union and a member of Russia led CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), EEU (Eurasian Economic Union) and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization). As a member of the EEU, Kyrgyzstan has been benefitted greatly. Russian Federation has a joint military airbase near Kyrgyzstan’s capital of Bishkek since 2003. It has bailed out more than $700 million of the Kyrgyzstan’s debt over the past fourteen years. 2

The state visit by the Russian President to Kyrgyzstan seems important as Russia is one of Kyrgyzstan’s largest investors and trade and economic partner and also its key strategic and military ally. For Russia too, relation with Kyrgyzstan is strategic in nature, therefore, political stability and economic sustenance in that country matters.

Major Takeaways from Putin’s Visit

During this visit, in order to strengthen regional stability, both countries signed a protocol on amendments and additions to the 2012 agreement on the terms and conditions and the status of the joint Russian military base (including a navy base in Lake Issyk-kul, a seismology center in the southern town of Mailuu-Suu and a communication center in the town of Chaldybar near Kyrgyz-Kazakh border3) in Kyrgyzstan. According to this agreement, the area of the military base will expand by almost 60 hectares and it will also increase the annual rent from 4.5 USD million to 4.8 USD million. The Russian President said, "The Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan makes a considerable contribution to strengthening the republic’s defense capability and its presence is an important factor of security and stability in Central Asia,”.4

A number of documents were signed in economic sphere in order to enhance bilateral trade and investments. In 2018, bilateral trade was estimated 1.95 billion USD, while direct Russian investment in Kyrgyzstan amounted to almost 123 million USD with a noted increase of 25 percent from 2017. During the talks, both countries stressed on the need to eliminate trade barriers and create more favorable environment for cooperation in agriculture sector specially to increase Kyrgyzstan’s agricultural exports to the Russian market. They have also discussed avenues to promote joint ventures in, energy, transportation and industrial development. Economic cooperation within the framework of EEU was at the forefront of discussion between the two countries as its potential as a regional economic forum has yet to be explored. It was also reported that Russia has also given a 30 million USD grant to Kyrgyzstan in order to help it support budget expends. 5

During this visit, agreements were signed of more than a billion dollars. Major projects over which both sides have agreed comprised of:-

  • A cooperation agreement between Russian financial group VTB and Kyrgyz’s Alyans Altyn to finance Jerooy gold mine in the Talas Region in Kyrgyzstan. The total investment in this project will be around 600 million USD over a period of the next 20 years. It is also important to note that it will create new jobs and local residents will be benefitted from the outcome of this project.
  • Both countries also agreed to develop a roadmap for Kyrgyzstan’s cooperation with the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) for the period 2019–2021. This roadmap will facilitate the completion of the ongoing projects and will also help to design new projects. This document enables Eurasian Development Bank to use the Eurasian Fund for Stabilization and Development of Kyrgyzstan. It is also planned to evaluate the prospect of the EDB participation in the purchase of long-term securities issued by the government of Kyrgyzstan and in projects for participating in the capital of the republic’s commercial banks.6
  • A memorandum of cooperation on enhancing trade and economic cooperation and sharing experience on implementing national projects was signed.
  • The high level delegation accompanying President Putin has also reviewed cultural cooperation between the two countries with a special emphasis on education. Consequently, a bilateral cooperation agreement was signed between the Russian Union of Rectors and the Association of Universities of Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz side also highlighted the need for easy travel, temporary stay and labor conditions for the citizens of the both countries. Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, at the first forum of rectors of higher educational institutions of Russia and Kyrgyzstan, stated that, “Improvement of quality education and high-tech technologies is a key priority for our country”. 7

    Having analyzed the outcome of this visit, it is important to note the long term implementation of these projects and their viability and financial suitability as promised. The signed documents are intended to support both countries aspirations of maintaining regional stability and to resolve a number of socio-economic problems in Kyrgyzstan and strengthen integration processes in Eurasia. However, there are other dimensions such as Chinese debt, financial incapacities, ethnic tensions, internal political imbalance etc. which would likely to impede the development of their bilateral relations.

    Endnotes
    1. Paul Goble, China’s Plan for Railway to Uzbekistan Is Transforming Central Asian Geopolitics, Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 40, 21 March 2019, https://jamestown.org/program/chinas-plan-for-railway-to-uzbekistan-is-transforming-central-asian-geopolitics/
    2. Russia Gives Kyrgyzstan $30M Grant as Putin Visits Key Regional Ally March 28 2019, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/03/28/russia-gives-kyrgyzstan-30m-grant-as-putin-visits-ally-a64986
    3. Bishkek, Moscow, Agree to Expand Russian Base in Kyrgyzstan, https://www.rferl.org/a/russian-military-base-in-kyrgyzstan-under-focus-at-putin-jeenbekov-talks/29847265.html
    4. Putin views Russia’s military base in Kyrgyzstan as stability factor for Central Asia, 28 March 2019, http://tass.com/defense/1050939
    5. Kyrgyzstan: Putin visits bearing gifts, 28 March 2019, Eursianet, https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-putin-visits-bearing-gifts
    6. Yelena Kuzmina, Putin's Visit to Kyrgyzstan Bolsters Integration in Eurasia, 2 April 2019 http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/putins-visit-to-kyrgyzstan/
    7. Maria Levina, Kyrgyzstan, Russia expand scientific and educational partnership, Times of Central Asia, 28 March 2019, https://www.timesca.com/index.php/news/20992-kyrgyzstan-russia-expand-scientific-and-educational-partnership

    Image Source: https://static.ca-news.org/upload/ennews/1/611051.1537170297.b.jpg

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