Is Kyrgyzstan moving to the West?
    Expert Opinions on Caliber.Az

    INTERVIEWS  07 June 2023 - 18:02

    Samir Ibrahimov

    Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov has declared his willingness to cooperate with the European Union, thereby distancing himself from Russian policies, which recently had a significant influence on this former Soviet republic in Central Asia. This is how The Guardian and Arabnews, among others, view the situation.

    On June 3, Japarov said he was ready to cooperate, after meeting with European Council President Charles Michel.

    The Kyrgyz president hosted his European counterpart in Cholpon-Ata, a resort town on the northern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul.

    "Kyrgyzstan is ready to work hand in hand with the European Union to solve common problems, promote dialogue and find lasting solutions," the leader said after the meeting.

    In a joint press statement on the same day, Japarov and Michel reaffirmed their commitment to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries.

    Besides, the Kyrgyz leader openly called for an end to the war in Ukraine, a rare statement as Kyrgyzstan tries not to criticise Moscow, on which it remains economically and militarily dependent.

    The Russian invasion of Ukraine has given new impetus to relations between Central Asia and the EU, which wants to establish itself as an important player in a region where Russian influence is increasingly denied.

    The bilateral meeting took place the day after the second European Union-Central Asia summit, attended by Michel and the leaders of the region's five republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

    Michel said that the EU offers the region's five former Soviet republics a "sincere partnership”.

    As you know, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov was one of several leaders who accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin's invitation to the May 9 Victory Day parade.

    At the same time, China is trying to weaken Russia's influence in Central Asia and has already agreed with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to build a railroad bypassing Russia.

    In addition, the Kyrgyz parliament has proposed converting the national alphabet from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. Russia responded by banning imports of dairy products from the country.

    So, are we really seeing a new vector of movement in Kyrgyzstan's foreign policy? Is the country trying to leave Moscow's zone of influence? Will it be easy for Bishkek to do so? Whose support, apart from the EU, can it count on in this case?

    Kyrgyz experts expressed their thoughts on this issue in a conversation with Caliber.Az.

    Analyst and international lawyer Japar Usenov believes that Kyrgyzstan has a multi-vector foreign policy.

    "Regarding the statement on cooperation with the EU, I think there is nothing surprising here, our country receives grants and loans from international organisations. Now the authorities of the country, as well as the leaders of other Central Asian states [CA], are trying to cooperate with all partners, so there are EU + CA, China + CA formats, and there has been the United States + CA format for a long time," the expert noted.

    According to him, no one is pushing Russia out of Kyrgyzstan.

    "I think it would be correct to say that Russia itself does everything to be shunned because its companion for many years will be sanctions and reputational risks. The format of multilateral cooperation in the line of Turkic-speaking states becomes very important for the authorities of our country, which cannot but rejoice," the analyst stressed.

    Cooperation and development do not tolerate emptiness, so the vacuum, which was formed due to the distraction of Russia to the war with Ukraine, will be filled by Türkiye and China, he believes.

    "At the same time, you have to understand that we have a long-standing neighbourly relationship with Russia, a recent history, our economy depends on trade with Russia, as well as more than half a million migrants working in this country - from Kyrgyzstan.

    I don't see any abrupt steps on the part of the Kyrgyz authorities that could be interpreted as a demarche or a withdrawal from Russia's zone of influence. We drift without a specific plan, although it may be the best strategy at the moment," Usenov said.

    In turn, political scientist and expert on regional security Mars Sariev said that, in his opinion, the participation of Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian states in cooperation formats with the European Union doesn't mean that the foreign policy orientation of Bishkek is changing.

    "This does not indicate that we are moving away from Russia and are in solidarity with Brussels. Before Charles Michel, US State Secretary Blinken also paid a visit, there was Sullivan, Rosenberg, and Donald Lu. Quite an intense series of visits from the West, never seen before. Only recently the British deputy foreign minister left [the country], which was followed by a summit with the EU head.

    But this does not mean that Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries are distancing themselves from Russia. This is a question of geography. We are located between Russia and China, so neither the European Union nor the United States will be able to compensate us for the economic and political losses we would incur if we suddenly start distancing ourselves from our large neighbours. And they won't be silent either, quietly observing it. With such a development of events, we should expect destabilisation in the Central Asian republics," Sariev said.

    He added that the West is trying to act in this direction by soft methods now because strong pressure, as it was during the visit of Blinken, and Rosenberg, may push Bishkek to an even closer alliance with Russia and China.

    "China is definitely strengthening its position in Kyrgyzstan, but this is coordinated with Russia, and one should not think that Beijing is completely pushing Moscow out of here. Yes, economically China now dominates in Central Asia, and now its military and political positions are also growing, because, after the 5+1 meeting in Xi'an, China intends to invest billions of dollars in our countries. But Beijing is now a strategic ally of Moscow, and therefore I do not think that the latter is worried about Central Asia now. Besides, Russia needs to solve its problems in Ukraine,” he stressed.

    To summarise, Sariev stated that the fact is that under such conditions Moscow's position in the CA is weakening and China's position is strengthening, but this does not mean that they will enter a confrontation mode because of this.


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