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The time for a new “old Soviet Union”?

Written by on Friday, 31 December 2010
Homebase, Politics and Society
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The Russians have a saying: “Moscow wasn’t built at once”. Apparently the Kremlin is employing the same concept in its foreign policy in Kyrgyzstan. At least that is the impression one is left with observing how patiently Moscow has been crafting a government it is now happy with. It all started, as local observers argue, with the April 2010 events, which were “inspired” by the Kremlin following the “trick” ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev tried to play on Dmitriy Medvedev and Vladimir Putin. The trick mentioned is receiving money from the Russians for the Kambar Ata hydro-electric power station in exchange for terminating the contract with the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition’s base in Kyrgyzstan, which the Bakiyev administration insisted was not so.However, Bakiyev did promise that and even announced the decision during his trip to Moscow in February 2009. However, once he was back home among friendly mountains and family, the decision was reversed; although presented as “altered”. The alteration of plans, i.e. merely renaming the airbase into “a transit center” and not pointing to the door, cost Bakiyev his seat.

“Dropping curtsies in the Kremlin’s direction by those who ascended to power following [Kurmanbek] Bakiyev’s and [Viktor] Yushchenko’s removal suggest that Moscow is, too, capable of installing people it needs,” an observer in Bishkek told us.

The new Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev has not even attempted to prove it otherwise. In fact, during his “campaign speech” to the parliament prior to running for PM, he has even said he’d pay his first official visit to Moscow, which, according to now PM Atambayev, “is Kyrgyzstan’s major strategic partner and no alternatives exist”.

So it happens: Atambayev led a group of Kyrgyz delegates to meet his Russian counterpart in Moscow for an indeed fruitful meeting. According to official information, the Kyrgyz delegation has raised a number of issues: financial support, investments and debts, political cooperation. Atambayev returned from Moscow with a full basket of promises and plans: Putin said Russia would indeed invest in various fields in Kyrgyzstan–metallurgy, energy, gas pipelines–and cancel the exports fee on fuels introduced exactly a week before Bakiyev’s ouster. But Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev said in summer that a parliamentary country would be “a catastrophe” for Kyrgyzstan. Then why are Putin and Co so friendly to this country and its PM?

Logically because they want something in return, you will probably answer. Besides, Atambayev has himself said free cheese is available in a mouse trap only. Then, let us have a look at just what Russia could be eyeing in Kyrgyzstan.

The American airbase near Bishkek has always been a headache for the Russian leadership ever since it was established in late 2001. So ending the contract with them would logically be the first thing the Kremlin would wish to see happening. They even offered the previous administration around 2bn dollars in attempt to bargain its removal. However, Speaker Akhmatbek Keldibekov said earlier this week that the parliament is not going to be considering this issue any time soon. Given the fact that he occupies his current post largely, as some argue, thanks to the Kremlin’s efforts (which is rumored to have blocked “pro-Western” Omurbek Tekebayev’s appointment), the issue can rise as one of pressing ones at any time. Now, given the fact that both President Roza Otunbayeva and PM Atambayev want to see a Kyrgyz-Russian joint company delivering fuel to the airbase in question, it seems logical that both the parliament does not want to discuss this issue and Atambayev-led delegation has not raised the question in Moscow.

Based on how meticulously Russia was shaping a pro-Russian government in Kyrgyzstan and the impressive range of fields it wants to get financially involved here, it is probably safe to conclude that Kyrgyzstan will not only maintain its status quo of the only country in Central Asia which has the Russian language as an official language, but will also completely–financially, politically, socially–turn towards North. Although the cheese piece in the mousetrap might seem to be free, it still costs the mouse its life in the end.

We have already written that the Russian soldier was again setting foot on the Fergana Valley. Apparently the Kremlin clock now indicates a time of taking over the whole region.

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