Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his first state visit to Moscow on April 24-25. The meeting began with Bakiyev stating that Kyrgyzstan today needs economic assistance, which Russia is able to provide. Putin welcomed the idea of intensifying bilateral cooperation in the energy sector and food industry with special attention to the development of small and medium businesses. However, Putin’s announcement that Russia will increase its military contingent at the Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) became the focus of the discussion.
Bakiyev approved Putin’s plans, acknowledging, “The Russian base in Kant contributes to the provision of stability and security not only in Kyrgyzstan, but in the entire Central Asian region” (Itar-Tass, April 24). Bakiyev’s support for intensifying security ties with Russia followed his abrupt request to the U.S. Embassy to increase the rent paid for the U.S. “Gansi” military base at Bishkek’s Manas airport (see EDM, April 20). This is the second time since the March 24, 2005, Tulip Revolution that Bakiyev has publicly pressured Washington over the status of the U.S. military presence. In July 2005, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Bishkek to discuss issues of bilateral security cooperation following Bakiyev’s demand to establish deadlines for the duration of the U.S. military presence. However, ten months after Rumsfeld’s visit, the agreement on the status of the military base remains without any significant changes.
Putin announced that Russia and Kyrgyzstan will conduct joint anti-terrorist training in 2006, focusing on efforts to eradicate transnational crime and the illegal drug trade. Previously Russia initiated several regional large-scale military training exercises within the CSTO, which scored high approval ratings among local security experts. However, these drills were also often criticized for carrying strong political symbolism, yet few practical applications (see EDM, May 24, 2005).
In summer 2005 Bakiyev proposed placing the Kyrgyz hydro-energy sector under the management of the Russian government-controlled Unified Energy Systems enterprise. The president’s proposal was regarded as highly corrupt, according to representatives of the Kyrgyz energy sector, because the government sidestepped an open auction to consider other options for the sector’s development.
Before visiting Moscow, Bakiyev was careful about making any definite statements about the possibility of Kyrgyzstan’s joining the World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Although there is a certain pressure from the international community on the Kyrgyz government to join the HIPC, many Kyrgyz experts believe this move would make the country dependent upon Western funds (Gazeta.kg, April 24). In particular, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Paris Club creditors would be able to increase their influence regarding the country’s economic and financial regulations. Furthermore, Kyrgyzstan would be unable to advance issues concerning its foreign policy, such as the U.S. military base.
The possibility of Kyrgyzstan joining the HIPC program has prompted wide discussion in the local media. Some claim that it is an issue of national dignity, as enrolling in the debt-relief program would mean joining the ranks of the poorest states in Africa and Latin America. Kyrgyzstan’s external debt is currently about $2 billion.
Days before Bakiyev’s visit to Moscow, the president’s former political allies again criticized his government for corrupt politics. Minister of Industry, Trade, and Tourism Almazbek Atambayev resigned to express his fundamental disagreement with the actions resulting from the president’s political alliance with Prime Minister Felix Kulov. He accused the president of engaging in clan politics and failing to curb criminal figures’ infiltration of state institutions. Atambayev had been considered to be one of Kulov’s few supporters, but he has now moved into the opposition. Former prosecutor-general Azimbek Beknazarov told Azattyk radio that the Bakiyev-Kulov partnership should be destroyed due to its dysfunctional nature (Akipress, April 22). Beknazarov commented that Bakiyev and Kulov are pursuing personal goals in politics and, “They both are very similar in their strive for power.”
Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz public, as well as the government, are preparing for the peace demonstrations in Bishkek on April 29 (see EDM, April 11). The Ministry of the Interior will deploy special security forces to prevent any acts of civil disobedience. The Kyrgyz Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society is the lead organizer of the demonstration, but several parliamentarians and numerous other civic organizations have expressed an interest in participating. Melis Eshimkanov, Beknazarov, and a number of other parliamentarians will mobilize their own constituents at the demonstration.
Bakiyev’s recent visit to Russia is his fourth since the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan last year. The president’s visit to Moscow confirmed the Kyrgyz government’s pro-Russian views. However, the president’s pro-Moscow tilt creates problems for Bishkek. The international community has condemned his attitude toward the status of the U.S. military base. The president also delayed stating his opinion regarding Kyrgyzstan’s joining the HIPC until after his consultations in Moscow.