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Sep 10, 2012 | 18:29 GMT

4 mins read

Kyrgyzstan's Place in Russia's Strategy (Dispatch)

Video Transcript:

Russia announced that it would write off Kyrgyzstan's debts for 2005 and 2009, equivalent to around $500 million. This comes after Kyrgyzstan ushered in a new government last week, following the collapse of its ruling coalition on Aug. 24. Kyrgyzstan has been one of the most loyal states to Russia in Central Asia, and the country will serve as a key lever for Moscow in the region in the coming months and years. However, Kyrgyzstan's own internal political instability has long posed a risk to Russia and could serve to hamper Moscow's regional strategy moving forward.

The announcement of Russia's write-down of Kyrgyzstan's debt is part of a broader deal reached between the two countries in August. In addition to the debt write-down, this deal included Russia's participation in the construction of a hydropower plant in Kyrgyzstan as well as the extension of the lease of Russia's military base in Kyrgyzstan by 15 years. 

These agreements are emblematic of the two country's mutually beneficial relationship. Kyrgyzstan, as a poor country with little in terms of natural resources, has long looked at Russia as a source of investment and financial assistance to support its struggling economy. Roughly 15 percent of Kyrgyzstan's GDP is made up of remittances of Kyrgyz workers in Russia. In exchange, Russia has looked at Kyrgyzstan as a way to establish a strategic foothold in the Central Asian region. This has included stationing Russian military in the Kant Air Base, as well as receiving Kyrgyzstan's support and membership in institutions like the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Both of these have served to pressure Uzbekistan, a country that is far less amenable to Russian interests in the region and has been increasingly standing up to Moscow. This has also served to keep the U.S., which also has a military base in Kyrgyzstan, in check.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev has also been aligned with Moscow on major political and economic issues, and the country has formally applied to join Russia's Customs Union. But Kyrgyzstan's utility for Russia is somewhat undermined by its own political fragility. The country has seen two revolutions in the past seven years, the last of which occurred in 2010 and eventually brought Atambayev to power. The country has since transitioned into a parliamentary system of government, but because the country is split internally, parliamentary coalitions have been difficult to sustain. And while this transition was meant to weaken the president and strengthen the parliament, it is unclear whether such a system can be sustained moving forward in a stable manner.

The type of government that Kyrgyzstan employs matters little to Russia, as long as whoever leads it is aligned with Moscow and doesn't compromise its interests in the country. This is especially the case as Russia has seen some setbacks in Central Asia, most notably in Uzbekistan, which has recently left the CSTO and could look to build security ties with outside powers like the U.S., China or the Europeans. Kyrgyzstan has had its own share of security problems, most notably in the country's southern regions where tensions are most rife between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks and regularly lead to violent incidents.

Therefore, while Kyrgyzstan has proven to be a loyal ally to Russia, its own internal problems could undermine Bishkek's role in Moscow's broader regional strategy. Russia is willing to do what is necessary to support the country economically and politically, but it is questionable whether debt write-downs are enough to ensure Kyrgyzstan's broader stability. And this question will be increasingly important as the wider region continues to see further political and security challenges that will test Russia's position and influence in Central Asia.

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