Friendship with Putin and conditional neutrality
President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov is called the most pro-Russian leader of the post-Soviet state after Alexander Lukashenko. Japarov began to actively establish contacts with the Kremlin immediately after his election. He made his first foreign visit in February 2021 to Moscow. Since then, he has traveled to Russia five times.
At the last meeting in May 2023, Vladimir Putin accepted an invitation to visit Kyrgyzstan. He is expected to attend the Commonwealth Heads of State summit on October 12-13. On the eve of Putin's visit to the Kyrgyz Republic, an interregional Kyrgyz-Russian conference is planned in Jalal-Abad. It is also planned to build nine schools in Kyrgyzstan, where students will be able to receive two certificates - Russian and Kyrgyz.
Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine did not stop Zhaparov from making joint plans with Putin. From their conversation on February 26, 2022 , it became clear that official Bishkek took the side of the aggressor.
At the same time, the website of the President of Kyrgyzstan vaguely reported that “during the conversation, the leaders of the countries discussed topical issues on the current agenda of Kyrgyz-Russian cooperation, exchanged views on international and regional security issues, including the current situation around Ukraine.” Meanwhile, the Kremlin's website presented statements that left no room for maneuver for the Kyrgyz side:
“Sadyr Zhaparov, noting the responsibility of Kyiv for the failure of the Minsk agreements, expressed support for the decisive actions of the Russian side to protect the civilian population of Donbass. Vladimir Putin thanked the President of Kyrgyzstan for his principled stand of solidarity. We reaffirmed the mutual disposition for the comprehensive strengthening of Russian-Kyrgyz relations of strategic partnership and alliance.”
Zhaparov did not refute this information. True, speaking in the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan on March 9, 2022, the head of the Kyrgyz Republic was not so categorical and stated that the situation in Russia and Ukraine negatively affects all countries of the world:
“In short, the situation is difficult in the areas of trade, economy, security and cooperation at the global level. Everything escalates sharply. We are a small republic. We cannot influence to stop the war. Therefore, we must remain neutral."
Bypassing sanctions through Kyrgyzstan
The conditionality of the neutrality declared by Kyrgyzstan is evidenced by the active assistance of Russia in circumventing the sanctions. Economists note that the Kyrgyz Republic is turning into a kind of hub for the transit of dual-use goods that Russia uses in the war. Analyst Azamat Akeneev says that in 2022, the volume of imports to Kyrgyzstan amounted to $9.63 billion, which is 72% more than in 2021. The scheme is transparent: at the same time, imports from the EU increased by 182%, from South Korea - by 286%, from the USA - by 239%, from Japan - by 505%.
In addition, in 2022, according to the data of the National Statistical Committee, Kyrgyzstan began to export goods that were not quite familiar to Russia. For example, electric detonators, igniter cords, detonating cords, percussion caps (a device for igniting a powder charge in firearms), parts of aircraft, helicopters or unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as telescopic sights.
In addition, in 2022, Kyrgyzstan unexpectedly became a major exporter of wood to the EU (the volume of exports increased by about 18 thousand times). Naturally, such indicators drew attention in the West. David Reid of the British Foreign Office stated that "the kingdom is sympathetic to the cultural, humanitarian, economic ties between Kyrgyzstan and Russia and does not call for the country to isolate itself from the Russian Federation," but warned that this could negatively affect the image and investment attractiveness of Kyrgyzstan.
But it seems that the authorities of the Kyrgyz Republic do not care about such nuances as reputation and loss of face. In May, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan Jeenbek Kulubaev in the program “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin" on the TV channel "Russia-1" said that "Kyrgyzstan sees no obstacles to cooperation with Russia and is guided by its own interests." “Bishkek and Moscow are strategic partners. Well, the West tells us about possible sanctions. But we also follow our own rules, and I don’t see any problems,” the head of the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry stressed.
Kazakhstan, we note, in response to suspicions, introduced a system for tracking sanctioned goods, limiting their re-export through its territory.
Repressive laws word for word
The pro-Russian attitude of the Kyrgyz authorities is also confirmed by the active lobbying of the repressive bills “On Mass Media” and “On NGOs”, copied almost word for word from their Russian counterparts. The authors of the unpopular initiatives are officials of the presidential administration and deputy of the pro-government parliamentary faction Ata-Jurt Kyrgyzstan Nadira Narmatova.
The proposed documents are not limited to creating barriers to the development of the non-governmental sector. The country introduces de facto criminal liability for civic activism, as well as the concept of "foreign representative", by analogy with the Russian definition of "foreign agent".
On July 13, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the suppression of the media and freedom of speech in Kyrgyzstan. The European Parliament called on the country's authorities to withdraw 4 bills ("On the Media", "On NGOs", "Foreign Representatives" and "On Harmful Information") and drop charges against several journalists.
Experts and human rights activists believe that the authorities of the Kyrgyz Republic are trying to put pressure on freedom of speech, destroy civil society, stigmatizing its representatives. Since the bills “On Media” and “On NGOs” are completely copied from Russian ones, officials in Kyrgyzstan will apply them in the same way as their Russian counterparts, lawyer Iskender Kakeev warns, that is, any person can be recognized as a “foreign agent” for a civil position. One of the reasons for such an active promotion of laws, the expert called the meeting of the Speaker of the Parliament Nurlanbek Shakiev with Vyacheslav Volodin:
“The speaker of the State Duma urged to adopt the experience of Russia in countering foreign influence. The central role of "guides" of this very influence is given to NGOs and journalists of non-state media. Perhaps that is why the above documents have gained the right to life in Kyrgyzstan - and in a very short time, bypassing all the persistent recommendations and appeals of human rights activists, experts, lawyers and representatives of the media community.”
In addition, since the beginning of summer, a face recognition system has been launched in Kyrgyzstan to identify citizens wanted in the CIS. And at the end of June, Sadyr Zhaparov signed a law ratifying an agreement with Russia and Kazakhstan on the exchange of personal data of citizens. According to the document, the countries will exchange information on citizenship, residence permits, data on migration registration, visas, property of people, criminal record and prosecution, as well as identity documents.
Kakeyev notes the passivity of society: the bills “On the Media” and “On NGOs” did not become the subject of wide public discussion, partly due to the strengthening of authoritarian tendencies and the growing anti-Western trend.
All those who are against the war - out
The passivity of the Kyrgyz society is also evidenced by the sluggish reaction to the demonstrative expulsion from the country of Russian activists who oppose the war in Ukraine. The cancellation of the performance of rapper Morgenstern (recognized in Russia as a “foreign agent”), concerts of the groups “Pornofilmy” and “Bi-2” (included in the list of “undesirable” musicians in the Russian Federation) did not cause indignation.
The personnel purge of the teaching staff at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University (KRSU) also went unnoticed. The official reason for the dismissal of the rector of the university Vladimir Nifadiev, followed by the head of the department of international journalism Alexander Katsev and vice-rector Anes Zarifyan, was the age limit. Although there are no age restrictions for deans in the system of higher education in the Kyrgyz Republic, it exists only for vice-rectors.
At the same time, the dismissed state that the reason for the expulsion was their position in relation to the war in Ukraine. Katsev and Zarifyan criticized in social networks aggressive policy of the Russian Federation and spoke out against military operations. “There are those who like to promote this topic in this way, to make me an evil Russophobe and so on, who lived and fattened on Russia’s money of 30,000 soms ($300),” said Anes Zarifyan.
Alexander Katsev is sure that "some kind of special operation has been organized at the Slavonic University." “They write that the university has become a breeding ground for Russophobia, but, for example, I am a citizen of Kyrgyzstan and I am not obliged to support a “special military operation” in Ukraine,” he said .
Interestingly, even before the order from Moscow to dismiss Nifadyev, Zarifyan and Katsev from senior positions in KRSU , a campaign was launched to discredit professors. For example, articles were published under the headings: "KRSU: devastation both in the closets and in the heads", "Russophobes where they did not expect: a scandal in the KRSU." The authors of the materials emphasized the ethnicity of Anes Zarifyan and Alexander Katsev, highlighted their friendship with civil activists, anti-war statements in social networks, criticism of the aggressive policy of the Kremlin and sarcastic remarks about Putin and his press secretary Dmitry Peskov.
The trauma of history
The Ministry of Education and Science of Kyrgyzstan did not react to the dismissal of the rector and leading specialists with high-profile names in the academic environment. Political scientist Emil Juraev believes that this silence once again underlines the unconditional loyalty of official Bishkek to Moscow:
“Kyrgyzstan is very closely tied to the Russian Federation. This trend can be traced both among the bureaucratic level and at the grassroots level. There is a huge layer of those in the country who are fed by Russian propaganda and look at the world through the eyes of Skabeeva, Solovyov, Simonyan and Mikheev. The alternative point of view is not accepted and not assimilated beyond slogans and empty words. In addition, various Russian groups are very active in our country. And in all areas. The umbilical cord has not been cut off since Soviet times: neither in the economy, nor in politics, nor in the minds.
Juraev added that in Kyrgyzstan, the support of the Kremlin is traditionally regarded as an important component of the stability of the regime, and this is not even a matter of economic dependence on Moscow. It is generally accepted that the events of April 7, 2010, when Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown as a result of a coup d'état, became a "birth trauma" for the Kyrgyz political elite. Then the Russian special services taught the Kyrgyz politicians an object lesson - they demonstrated what could happen to their government if it was not obedient. Bakiyev did not want to comply with Moscow's conditions - to denounce the agreement with the United States on the deployment of an American military air base in the Kyrgyz Republic and to integrate the country into the Customs Union - for which he was punished. In one of his interviews with Zhany Ordo, the fugitive president confirms that Putin is behind his overthrow. When asked by a journalist whether he agrees with the statement of the Kyrgyz diplomat Bakyt Beshimov that "Bakiyev's power was overthrown by the common people and Vladimir Putin", the ex-head of state replied: "These words are close to the truth."
In Kyrgyzstan, Kremlin support is traditionally regarded as an important component of the stability of the regime
Since then, stable expressions have appeared in the Kyrgyz political lexicon: "The Kremlin will demolish", "The Kremlin made a bet", "The Kremlin supports", "Moscow's protege", the political scientist notes. According to him, most Kyrgyz politicians of the first composition, both pro-government and opposition, are trying to establish at least some contacts with Moscow or at least with Russian non-public “curators” of the republic who regularly visit Bishkek.
The final geopolitical landmarks of Kyrgyzstan were formed on April 12, 2011, when the country announced its readiness to begin the process of joining the Customs Union and the EAEU. In June 2013, then-president Almazbek Atambayev signed a law to denounce the agreement on the deployment of the Pentagon military base in the republic. Two years later, in July 2015, the cooperation agreement with the United States was denounced, and already in August, Kyrgyzstan became the fifth member of the Eurasian Economic Union.