"Bishkek is interested in Baku as a powerful political and economic player"
    Caliber.Az talks to Kyrgyz expert Nargiza Murataliyeva

    INTERVIEWS  01 June 2023 - 13:08

    Vadim Mansurov

    Kyrgyzstan, due to the danger of secondary sanctions and the need to resolve issues of diversification of economic ties, found itself in a difficult situation. The country is linked to Russia through numerous logistical and trade-economic chains, some of which need to be revised by developing other alternative routes. At the end of April, Elizabeth Rosenberg, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Crimes, Matthew Axelrod, Deputy for Export Controls at the Bureau of Industry and Security at the US Department of Commerce, and David Reid, head of the UK Foreign and International Development Office Sanctions Directorate, visited Kyrgyzstan, and a visit by such personalities speaks for itself. At the same time, another unique situation arises. In view of the new realities, Kyrgyzstan now as never before is able to find new vectors of cooperation with Turkic brother states that can offer new ways for diversification and escape the grip of the current reality, in which Russia is not always the desired partner.

    How is Bishkek adopting this new environment, and which ways of cooperation does it intend to pursue more? Kyrgyz expert Nargiza Murataliyeva, Ph.D. in political sciences, took these and other questions of Caliber.Az.

    - How did the recent visit to Bishkek by the "sanctions brigade" from the EU and the US affect the decisions of the country's leadership? What was Kyrgyzstan's reaction?

    - Actually, one company from Kyrgyzstan has already been put on the recent sanctions lists of the US Ministry of Trade. We are not interested in getting hit by sanctions, and our official position on the war in Ukraine is neutral. Kyrgyzstan will continue to try to maneuver between geopolitical players, as it does not want to become a party to the conflict. The National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic recently advised other banks in the country not to allow transactions with goods and persons from the EU and US sanctions lists.

    So Bishkek will try to continue on the path of promoting a multi-vector foreign policy, as well as making efforts to diversify its economic cooperation. China is undoubtedly an attractive partner here, but Western countries are also of considerable interest to Bishkek. For instance, in terms of its cooperation with the EU, Kyrgyzstan is trying to make use of its Generalised System of Preferences+ status.

    Kyrgyzstan especially needs alternative transport and logistics projects in order to diversify its foreign policy. Therefore, the authorities are pinning great hopes on the implementation of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, which is included in the country's national development programmes. A feasibility study for the project has already been completed and a roadmap on the next steps in its implementation was signed at the last China-Central Asia summit in May. The new railway could also become part of the Middle Corridor, or the Trans-Caspian international transport route, which runs through China, Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea area, and Azerbaijan and would help boost trade. It will also promote shorter routes for cargo shipments - from China via Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to the Middle East and Europe, and in the future to South Asia. It is also important that the project will provide a cumulative effect on the development of our countries economies.

    Speaking of diversification, it is important to consider the list of Kyrgyzstan's trading partners: for 2022, in addition to traditional China, Russia and Kazakhstan, the top five include Türkiye and Uzbekistan.

    - So Türkiye is one of Kyrgyzstan's main future partners?

    - Exactly. In fact, Türkiye is already an important and special foreign policy partner for our country. Bilateral trade has been growing and there are plans to make joint efforts to bring it up to $2 billion as soon as possible, for which purpose the Kyrgyz-Turkish Development Fund is to be established. Ankara is also an important investor in Kyrgyzstan's education sector and has a very positive image among our population. In recent years, military-political cooperation between the two countries has strengthened.

    At the institutional level, Türkiye has helped transform CCTS (Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States) into the Organization of Turkic States whose existence contributes to the consolidation of the Turkic countries. Kyrgyzstan supports the initiative to establish the Investment Fund of Turkic States, which will give a new impetus to the development and strengthening of such cooperation. Close cultural and humanitarian ties between the two countries also contribute to strengthening bilateral relations.

    - In the last 5-6 years, intra-regional cooperation in Central Asia has been actively discussed. How will Kyrgyzstan fit into this process?

    - The resolution of border issues with Uzbekistan, as well as the improvement of the overall intra-regional environment, has contributed to the growing importance of Tashkent in Kyrgyzstan's foreign policy. Statistics confirm this: between 2016 and 2021, the volume of mutual trade between the two countries increased sixfold. In 2022, according to the Uzbek side, trade with Kyrgyzstan reached $1 billion. Kyrgyzstan, against the backdrop of the tense geopolitical situation, came to realise that sovereignty and sustainable development can be achieved by strengthening regional cooperation.

    An Uzbek-Kyrgyz development fund has been established with authorised capital of $50 million. There are also plans to launch a joint plant to assemble and produce cars in the Chui region of the Kyrgyz Republic. It was also announced that Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan have agreed to build HPP-1 jointly, but no details are available yet.

    At the 4th Consultative Meeting in Cholpon-Ata in 2022, Kyrgyzstan signed a treaty on friendship, good-neighbourliness, and cooperation for the development of Central Asia in the 21st century, which demonstrates Bishkek's interest in deepening interregional relations. Although the Central Asian foreign policy vector has not yet become dominant in the region, it is difficult not to notice an overall positive negotiating dynamic.

    - What are Kyrgyzstan's priorities for South Asia?

    - Among South Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan trades the most with India: $43.4 million for 2022. However, Kyrgyzstan still needs to increase its trade relations with this region, as well as to work on solving logistical problems. Therefore, a prerequisite for boosting trade and economic cooperation is addressing the connectivity problem.

    For Kyrgyzstan, South Asia, namely the growing global role of India, represents a promising area for a balanced foreign policy. India is emerging as one of the leading hubs of information technology. The country has become a leading supplier of cyber security solutions to several multinational corporations located around the world. And India's experience in digitalisation of healthcare is of particular interest to Kyrgyzstan.

    It is also pertinent to mention the CASA-1000 project, which aims to link the energy systems of Central Asia with South Asia: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan with Afghanistan and Pakistan and to develop mechanisms for electricity trade in accordance with international standards.

    - What plans do you have for building future trade and economic relations with Azerbaijan?

    - Azerbaijan is attractive for Kyrgyzstan from several perspectives: as an economic partner in terms of energy supplies, as a strong political player in the South Caucasus, and as a logistical direction. Moreover, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan share common Turkic roots, which strengthens the humanitarian links between the two countries. Thus, our states cooperate at a bilateral level as well as within the framework of OTS.

    Of course, the two sides have yet to work on mutual trade. Nevertheless, the year 2022 was fruitful for Kyrgyzstan when during Ilham Aliyev's visit to our country the parties agreed on the creation of a development fund with a $25 million capital headquartered in Bishkek. The residents of our capital also welcomed the opening of the Kyrgyz-Azerbaijani Friendship Park by the presidents of the two countries.

    In terms of transit and logistics Kyrgyzstan pins high hopes on Azerbaijan's involvement in the future China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, further to Azerbaijan and other markets via Turkmenistan. Also promising for Bishkek is the agreement between the governments of the member states of the Organisation of Turkic States on the creation of a simplified customs corridor, which was signed on November 11, 2022, in Samarkand.


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