Following a bilateral meeting in Moscow, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov announced an agreement with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to begin cooperation in the hydro-energy sector (www.24.kg, September 17). Furthermore, Russian Gazprom will explore natural gas reserves in Kyrgyzstan. Chudinov was vague about how much Russia plans to invest in Kyrgyzstan’s hydroelectric sector but mentioned that Putin’s promised $2 billion would help cope with the looming winter energy crisis. With that, Kyrgyzstan will still be accountable for paying back its $193 million debt to Russia.
This coming winter Kyrgyzstan is expecting an energy crisis of a scale unseen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Due to shortages of water reserves in the Toktogul Reservoir, Kyrgyzstan’s major hydroelectric site, the Kyrgyz government will have to buy natural gas and electricity from its neighbors in the coming winter months. The water level in the Toktogul reservoir fell to 9.6 billion cubic meters, while the amount needed to generate enough power during winter is 13 billion cubic meters (www.gazeta.kg, September 15). Kyrgyzstan will be purchasing natural gas from Uzbekistan for $300 per thousand cubic meters and electricity from Kazakhstan. By October, three-phase capacitors will be replaced by one-phase capacitors across the country, and power outages will reach up to 10 hours a day. The local population is being encouraged to stock up on coal.
The continuing confrontations among Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan over the conditions of water supplies in the Syr Darya Basin leaves Kyrgyzstan uncertain about its future potential to produce its own electricity. On September 9 and 10 negotiations over water supplies among the countries sharing the Syr Darya Basin collapsed, as energy ministers of the three states could not reach an agreement on how to manage water resources between upstream and downstream countries. The failed negotiations showed that regional water management would not be solved soon.
Kyrgyzstan, with its worst energy crisis in many years, was not able to promote its own positions and secure its neighbors’ agreement to construct the Kambarata power plants. One of the main problems is Kyrgyzstan’s gradual revision of its definition of water resources, with more legislative acts defining water as goods that can be sold to downstream countries. Neither Kazakhstan nor Uzbekistan, however, wants to adopt this definition of water resources (www.parus.kg, September 15).
Chudinov expects most of the agreements between Russia and Kyrgyzstan to be signed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Kyrgyzstan in October. Moscow’s enthusiasm for assisting Kyrgyzstan comes prior to the CIS summit to be held on November 10 in Bishkek. Economic cooperation was similarly encouraged among Russia, Uzbekistan, and Armenia prior to the CSTO summit (see EDM, September 12). In return for economic assistance, Kyrgyzstan is expected to condemn Georgia for leaving the CIS and favor Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Kyrgyzstan, together with its immediate neighbors and Belarus, all members of the CIS, avoided open support of all of Russia’s positions at the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit on September 5.
Because such energy crises have not occurred in Kyrgyzstan in recent decades, the government is wary of possible social tension caused by power outages during the winter. Russia’s support, in effect, is directed primarily at backing President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s regime, while Chudinov tends to blame today’s problems in the hydro-energy sector on the previous regime led by Askar Akayev. “The offer of help to Kyrgyzstan’s economy came at the time when opposition forces could mobilize against the regime on the wave of public outrage over the lack of electricity and gas,” commented one Kyrgyz analyst.
To date it remains unknown who would be a potential investor in the Kambarata-1 and Kambarata-2 hydroelectric plants on the Naryn River. Russian and Kazakh investors seem to be the most likely to become engaged in Kyrgyzstan’s hydro-energy sector. The prospects of constructing both power plants are further complicated by downstream Uzbekistan’s denunciation of the entire project. Whoever decides to invest in Kyrgyzstan’s Kambarata plants will also need to mediate among the other countries of the basin. Russia’s need for support among Central Asian regimes might prompt it to take up the function.