Kyrgyzstan, Relations with
- The territory of modern Kyrgyzstan was occupied and annexed by the Russian Empire in the late 1800s. During the Stalinist era, the Kirghiz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) was elevated to the status of a union republic. In 1990, Askar Akayev, the liberal-minded president of the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, assumed the highest post in the country. After an attempt to remove him from power during the August Coup, he moved rapidly to declare the republic’s independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on 31 August 1991. Kyrgyzstan, along with most other Central Asian republics, strongly supported the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in 1991.After independence, Kyrgyzstan sought to maintain friendly relations with the new Russian Federation, including joining the Russianbacked Collective Security Treaty in 1992. Russian aid in the wake of a disastrous 1992 earthquake also helped bilateral relations. Heavily dependent on evaporating Soviet-era subsidies, Akayev strove to develop the Kyrgyz economy along free-market lines and sought investment from Western as well as Russian firms during the 1990s. Educational, cultural, and scientific ties remained strong during the 1990s and have only deepened since that time.While other Central Asian states turned away from Russia during the early years of Boris Yeltsin’s rule, Bishkek maintained close ties with Moscow, in part due to the country’s need for cheap energy and also as a bulwark against Uzbekistan, a country that possesses a large diaspora in south Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan and Russia are both founding members of the Shanghai Five; the two countries, in concert with the other members of the organization, work closely on combating terrorism and narcotics trafficking, and border security. In 2000, Russia and Kyrgyzstan signed the Declaration of Eternal Friendship and Partnership, further solidifying their political and economic bonds.In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Akayev agreed to host a United States military base at the Manas International Airport; the installation serves as the primary regional hub for coalition operations in Afghanistan. In response to the American presence in Central Asia, Moscow secured rights to base the Fifth Air Army’s 999th Air Base in Kant, only 30 kilometers from the American base. Vladimir Putin personally opened the base in October 2003, triggering talk of a new “Great Game” in Central Asia. On 24 December 2001, an amendment to the constitution gave the Russian language official status, a move welcomed by the country’s sizable ethnic Russian population and lauded by the Kremlin as a model for other CIS countries to follow. In the spring of 2005, protests in the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad followed by disputed parliamentary elections precipitated the “Tulip Revolution” in which marginalized elites (principally from the poorer south of the country) ousted Akayev and his allies from power.According to published reports, the United States actively aided the opposition forces, while Russia issued criticism of their actions, fearful of a loss of influence reminiscent of the pro-Western reorientation that occurred in the wake of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. In the midst of the uprising, Akayev fled to Kazakhstan and then to the Russian Federation, where he remains to this day. On 4 April 2005, he issued his resignation from the Kyrgyz embassy in Moscow. Hoping to improve relations with Russia, the leader of the opposition and new president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, made his first international visit to Moscow where he actively sought investment from Russian energy companies. He subsequently declared that the Russian presence is the “guarantor of the Kyrgyz Republic’s security,” ostensibly against irredentist threats from Uzbekistan or China (Kyrgyzstan lies within an area controlled by the Tang Dynasty during the 8th century; in 2002, Akayev made the controversial decision to cede 900 square kilometers of territory to his eastern neighbor).Bakiyev has developed strong ties with Yury Luzhkov, who is involved in expanding the country’s transportation and tourism infrastructures. In 2007, Russia announced plans to invest $2 billion in the economy and to boost its military presence in the country. Russia is Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest foreign trade partner, only narrowly outstripped by neighboring Kazakhstan. Remittances from economic migrants working in the Russian Federation are a key component of the national economy. The pro-Russian reorientation has been met with popularity: a 2008 poll showed strong support for further ties to Moscow, though a surge in nationalism and resentment at the dominance of the Russian language has also been evident in the country. Dmitry Medvyedev visited Bishkek in 2008 amid the crisis over South Ossetia; he and Bakiyev heralded new agreements on oil, natural gas, electricity, and the mining sector. In 2008, shortly after Barack Obama was inaugurated as U.S. president, Bakiyev announced while in Moscow that he planned to close the air base at Manas; the statement came during a meeting with Medvyedev on debt forgiveness and $2 billion in new loans. Bishkek ultimately relented on its demands for closure of the base and signed a more lucrative deal with Washington that would allow the U.S. presence to continue.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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