COOPERATION BETWEEN RUSSIA, THE U.S. AND KYRGYZSTAN IN NEW GEOPOLITICAL CONTEXT
Kaana Aidarkul, D.Sc. (Hist.), professor, head of the department of sociopolitical sciences, Academy of the Interior Ministry of Kyrgyzstan (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)
Mels Omarov, Ph.D. (Hist.), chief expert, International Institute of Strategic Research at the President of Kyrgyzstan (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)
The multipolar world and the mushrooming transnational and transborder threats created a fundamentally new security system in Eurasia. The old relationships based on military components have been replaced with a more flexible and dynamic world with many centers of power. This forced the new independent Central Asian states to identify their foreign policy priorities and the most suitable partners in an effort to ensure regional stability.
In the final analysis this created what can be called “intersecting” systems in the global security landscape an involvement in which gives the regional countries additional security guarantees. Today, there are structures of varied sizes and changing compositions that when superimposed create a more flexible international security model. It allows the involved states to find adequate responses to the fast changing situation. This is why it can be called an “associative” model—its main element is involvement of countries in many associations, some of them with widely different interests obvious at various levels and with qualitative different contributions.1
At the same time, multilateral relations between the Central Asian countries and America and Russia rest on a firm foundation of their bilateral contacts that make it possible to deal with a wide range of issues.
Our country regards stronger and developing multilateral relations with Russia as one of its key and long-tern foreign policy priorities. Such relationships are of special importance for Kyrgyzstan for historical and cultural reasons, because of traditional friendship between the two nations and shared interests in the political, economic, scientific and technical, humanitarian, cultural and other spheres. Relationships between Kyrgyzstan and Russia received a new foundation when the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Today they are developing in full conformity with the Declaration of Eternal Friendship, Alliance and Partnership signed by presidents Akaev and Putin on 27 July, 2000.
It is very important that we cooperate closely in the foreign policy sphere and coordination of practical measures at the global and regional level, in collective security, defense and guarding our borders, peacekeeping actions in the CIS conflict zones, migration policies, illicit trade in arms and drugs.
We have achieved the best results in our concerted antiterrorist efforts: we have already created Collective Forces of Rapid Deployment with the headquarters in Bishkek along with a branch of the CIS Antiterrorist Center in the Kyrgyz capital. There are plans to set up an Antiterrorist SCO Center based in our capital.
A working meeting between presidents Akaev and Putin that took place in May 2002 within the frameworks of the jubilee events marking another anniversary of the CIS Collective Security Treaty was of signal importance. The Russian side treated with understanding the position of Kyrgyzstan that wanted more active bilateral trade and economic contacts, military-technical cooperation, and resolution of certain financial problems. President Putin supported the initiative of our republic to give the new lease of life to the relationships among the defense ministries; he also instructed the RF Defense Ministry to organize steady supplies of military hardware and other equipment to Kyrgyzstan on easy terms and to charge domestic rates for repairing helicopters used by the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan.
The agreements were sealed with bilateral documents related to military cooperation signed in June 2002.
In fact, the Republic of Kyrgyzstan regards its trade and economic ties with Russia as one of its priorities: its communications and the rest of infrastructure are oriented toward Russia and the closest neighbors. Russia and Kyrgyzstan adopted an Economic Cooperation Program for 2000-2009 that is expected to improve their trade and economic cooperation.
In 1999 an Intergovernmental Commission for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science, and Technology designed to raise the trade and economic relations to the level of political cooperation between the two countries started functioning. Its first sitting took place in April 1999 in Bishkek; the commission held its second sitting in November 1999 in Moscow. Later it met in September 2001 at Lake Issyk-Kul and then in April 2002 in Moscow.
Today, foreign trade between Russia and Kyrgyzstan rests on certain bilateral and multilateral agreements: Kyrgyzstan signed all multilateral interstate and intergovernmental agreements offered for signing within the CIS. The republic found mutually advantageous clearing barter parity supplies to be of special importance.
The trade regime was established by the intergovernmental Free Trade Agreement of 8 October, 1992. There are annual agreements on priority supplies of key products such as energy resources, timber, non-ferrous metals, antimony, tobacco, textiles, etc. as well as mutual supplies of major products on parity basis. In future old specialization patterns of production and processing of agricultural produce can be restored.
We have already pointed out with regret that economic cooperation is lagging behind political relationships between the two countries: in 2001 trade turnover between them amounted to $149.6m that was $48.2m, or 16 percent less than in 2000.
Contacts in culture and the humanitarian sphere are designed to preserve and develop the common cultural, information, scientific, and educational expanse. On 24 December, 2001 President Akaev made a great step in this direction by signing an amendment to the republic’s Constitution that made the Russian language an official language of Kyrgyzstan, thus registering de jure its de facto status. This was widely approved in Russia. On 14-19 May, 2002 Kyrgyzstan hosted Days of Russian Culture, a vivid event in the cultural life of our republic.
Subjects of the Russian Federation are demonstrating their interest in cooperation with Kyrgyzstan. Today, our republic has trade, economic, scientific, technical, and cultural ties with the Republic of Tatarstan, the Chuvash Republic, the Sverdlovsk Region, the Sakha Republic (Iakutia), and the Iamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area based on corresponding agreements. They envisage, among other things, joint ventures, supplies of industrial products, cultural contacts, etc. Out of 21 bilateral agreements signed by the government of Kyrgyzstan 15 were signed with subjects of the Russian Federation.
The closet contacts exist between Kyrgyzstan and the Sverdlovsk Region. During his official visit to Russia in July 2000 President Akaev went to Ekaterinburg to discuss further extension of contacts with the region. It was decided to open a Kyrgyz consulate there and to draw up a program of trade, economic, cultural, and humanitarian cooperation between the Republic of Kyrgyzstan and the Sverdlovsk Region for three years. The same was discussed during the official visit of the region’s delegation to Kyrgyzstan in September 2000.
On 2-3 May, 2001 the prime minister of Kyrgyzstan received a delegation of the Sverdlovsk Region headed by Governor Eduard Rossel to discuss the future of the already reached agreements. The program on trade, economic, scientific, technological, and cultural cooperation for 2001-2004 mentioned above was signed during the visit.
This shows that the relations between the two countries are developing and have good prospects.
Kyrgyzstan-the United States
Cooperation with the United States, the largest world power, is of no less importance for our country. The United States was one of the first countries that recognized our independence. Diplomatic relations between them were established on 27 December, 1991. In February 1992 the United States opened its embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan opened its embassy in Washington in the same year.
Their bilateral relations rest on over 20 agreements negotiated during visits on various levels, the most important of them being an Agreement on Stimulating Investments signed in Washington on 8 May, 1992 and an Agreement on Encouraging Capital Investments and on Their Mutual Protection signed in Washington on 19 January, 1993. The bilateral relations rest on the Memorandum on Mutual Assistance between the Government of the KR and the U.S. Government signed on 26 August, 1992.
To correctly assess political relationships between the two capitals one should bear in mind the following: the U.S. Administration regards Kyrgyzstan as a state that has traveled far along the road of economic and political reforms. Their bilateral cooperation is designed, in particular, to consolidate democratic developments in our republic.
Kyrgyzstan received technical aid through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID): in 1994-1999 its volume exceeded $170m. There are 38 American organizations and companies working in Kyrgyzstan within this program. They closely cooperate with the U.S. embassy in Bishkek. In 2000 the USAID-related programs were designed to reform economy, develop democracy, the social sector, and special initiatives. The bulk of the allocated sums was used to further democratic and market changes.
Since 1992 Kyrgyzstan has been on the list of countries receiving humanitarian aid within the Food for Progress program carried out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Between 1992 and 1998 the republic had received foodstuffs to the total sum of about $210m; in 1999 alone it got 70 thou tons of grain worth $18m. In 2000 grain supplies dropped to 60 thou tons (worth $10m).
Today, trade between the countries is unfolding: in 1999 the U.S. exported to Kyrgyzstan slightly over $11m-worth products and imported from it about $55m-worth products of non-organic chemistry, non-precious and rare earth metals, non-ferrous metals, mercury, rugs, cotton, and cotton fabrics. Kyrgyzstan imports from the United States grain, foodstuffs, medicine, electrical equipment and machines.
There are efforts to extend the Eximbank of the U.S. program to Kyrgyzstan that is expected to improve trade and economic relations between the two countries. It is expected that the same effect will be produced by the fact that in 2000 U.S. Congress lifted the Jackson-Vanick amendment to the Trade Act of 1974, thus creating the most favored nation regime. It should be noted that the United States actively helped Kyrgyzstan join the WTO.
Humanitarian contacts are showing good prospects: thousands of Kyrgyz citizens visited the United States to be trained and participate in exchange programs. Tens of them got American university diplomas. On 12 November, 1997 an American University, the first in the CIS, was opened in Bishkek. It has been working successfully since that time.
It should be said that despite active and varied cooperation with the United States direct investments in Kyrgyzstan are still its weakest point. By the middle of 2001 they barely reached $10m. There are over 50 American companies and firms registered in the republic, the majority of them being distributing, intermediary or consulting organizations.
Military bilateral cooperation and cooperation within the Partnership for Peace program is another important sphere that envisages joint training exercises of the Central Asian Battalion along with peacekeeping forces of the United States and other countries, exchange of military delegations, and organization of all sorts of courses and on-the-job training. In 1996 the National Guard of Kyrgyzstan established partner relationships with the similar structures in Montana.
Both countries are working toward regional security and both agree that they should continue working in this sphere.
Kyrgyzstan has found the Military Actions in Mountainous Areas Program launched in 1999 realized together with the American Mountain Warfare School in Alaska to be very useful. There is also a program for special forces; defense ministries of both countries are establishing closer cooperation. In 2000 the Defense Ministry of Kyrgyzstan received from the United States over $3m to fight international terrorists. The money was mainly spent on radio stations, night-vision devices and ammunition.
The events of 11 September opened a new page in the relations between Kyrgyzstan and the United States. The counter-terrorist Operation Enduring Freedom brought Americans to Central Asia. In November-December 2001 American units were deployed in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in full conformity with the special agreements between these republics and the U.S.
There are several agreements on mutually advantageous partnership between the United States and Kyrgyzstan that can serve as an example of closer cooperation between them. Under an agreement signed during a visit of a governmental delegation of Kyrgyzstan to the United States in February 2002 Bishkek was to receive $49.9m to carry on democratic, market, and humanitarian reforms. There is a decision on allocating $42m more to Kyrgyzstan to help it realize a number of security-related projects.
President Akaev’s visit to the U.S. late in September 2002 played a special role in promoting bilateral relations. On 23 September he met the president of the United States. This was a key event that produced a joint statement designed to help them reach common goals: security and stability in the region, continued democratic developments in Kyrgyzstan and the United States’ support of its economic advance. The main result of the meeting was consolidating the new format of bilateral relations that had taken shape after 11 September, 2001. This means that in the past years Kyrgyzstan covered a difficult stretch of the road leading to new relations with the United States that made it one of Washington’s main regional partners.2
Prospects of U.S.-Russia Cooperation in Central Asia
Cooperation with the United States plays an important role in the regional countries’ national security. An active phase of this cooperation began in the latter half of the 1990s. The Bush Administration is developing what the Clinton Administration did earlier. During a visit of a U.S. governmental delegation to Tajikistan in May 2001 State Department’s special envoy John Barely pointed out that the region had good potentials for stability and prosperity.3 More active American involvement in Central Asia, “the traditional zone of Russia’s interests,” received much attention. Mr. Barely described the position of the U.S. leaders on this issue in the following way: “The new administration values highly everything that has been achieved in the last eight or nine years. We are prepared to increase and extend our efforts in this sphere. The idea that our interests in the area are being consolidated in the region to the detriment of Russia or are spearheaded against it is wrong. It belongs to the 20th or even to the 19th century that has nothing in common with the global world in which we are living today… I think that these efforts help us get rid of the feeling that America and Russia have contradictions in different regions of the former Soviet Union.”4
This cooperation became even more active in the latter half of 2001 and early in 2002. On 16 January, 2002, during her Central Asian visit Assistant State Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Elizabeth Jones said in an interview to CNN that the region was of huge geostrategic importance for the United States and other countries, including China, Russia, and European countries.
The above testifies that the relations between Moscow and Washington are gradually moving away from confrontation to cooperation that will take into account their mutual interests in the region. This has become possible due to a combination of several factors, the following being the main ones.
First of all, Russia’s policy in the last decade was far from consistent while its priorities were unclear. At first, it had moved away from the policy of domination. By the late 1990s Russia changed its mind—the move that disoriented the local political elite. What was important was the fact that Russia’s policies in Central Asia in the latter half of the 1990s designed to restore its status were economically unsubstantiated. This explains why military-political interests prevailed over the economic ones that negatively affected Russia’s efforts to promote its interests in the new independent Central Asian states. Russia’s economic weakness and its relative dependence on the West (the U.S. included) had a great role to play in this.
It is obviously important that cooperation between Russia and the United States is caused by the need to fight international terrorism, organized crime, and drug trafficking that are gaining momentum in Central Asia. The past demonstrated that the local countries could not rebuff the threats to their own, and on a wider scale global, security single-handedly. It is in the long-term interests of both Moscow and Washington to shoulder the greater share of the burden. This explains, to a great extent, a fairly balanced response from the Kremlin to the deployment of the forces of the international counter-terrorist coalition in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan late in 2001.
In their turn, the regional countries expressed their opinion in a fairly balanced interview President of Kyrgyzstan Akaev gave to Nezavisimaia gazeta: “In the international sphere we attach primary importance to stronger ties with our CIS partners, the leading place among which undoubtedly belongs to Russia… All decisions about American military-political presence in Central Asia during the counter-terrorist operation in Afghanistan were taken and are taken on a basis Russia and the regional countries agreed upon. I have no reasons to expect any negative repercussions there.”5
Later, early in May 2002 speaking before the republican parliament President Akaev confirmed his devotion to the foreign policy principles of sovereign Kyrgyzstan and pointed out the main directions of diplomatic efforts: opposition to global threats, international terrorism in the first place, stronger partner relations with the regional neighbors and with the world leading powers and international organizations. The president of Kyrgyzstan has pointed out that the republic should concentrate on its consistent political and economic integration in the world community. It should learn how to realize its long-term national interests and to oppose global challenges that spread from continent to continent and do no observe national borders. In view of the fact that this century will be an age of globalization the republic should become involved in international cooperation on a wider scale. This is a demand of the times and is a powerful factor that will help it address its own tasks of sustainable, stable, and secure development of the state and public institutions. This also holds true for the other Central Asian countries.
Today, the fact that international terrorism and more active radical Islamic movements are present in Central Asia causes concern of the leaders of Russia and the United States and of their Central Asian partners. The region rich in mineral and energy resources that is gradually turning into a crossroads of the largest transport communications is acquiring strategic importance in the eyes of the world leaders. If the center of international terrorism moves from Afghanistan to Central Asia this will endanger the American and Russian long-term plans.6
For this reason the unfolding cooperation between the United States and Russia is gaining more and more importance for Central Asia. It is in the interests of all Central Asian states that this cooperation develops into stronger partnership in the energy sphere and diversification of world energy supplies. It should help the Central Asian countries integrate into world economy, support their democratic institutions as the keystone of their long-term stability, extend support to border guards and increased defense potential, widen cooperation in opposing international terrorism up to and including uprooting its political and social causes.
This approach alone that recognizes the equality of partners and their need for each other will allow them to realize the national interests of the Central Asian countries and Eurasia as a whole.
1 See: N. Omarov, Na puti k global’noi bezopasnosti: Tsentral’naia Azia posle 11 sentiabria 2001 goda, OSCE Center in Bishkek, Bishkek, 2002, p. 32.
2 See: K. Aidarkul, Mezhdunarodnye otnoshenia kyrgyzov i Kyrgyzstana: istoria i sovremennost, Bishkek, 2002, p. 301.
3 See: Briefing of the U.S. State Department’s special envoy Barely in Tajikistan. The U.S.A. and the CIS, 4 May, 2001 [usinfo.state.gove].
5 N. Vavilov, “Askar Akaev: ‘Pered litsom ugroz Sodruzhestvo ukrepliaet pozitsii.’ Prezident Kirgizii ubezhden, chto rasshirenie amerikanskogo prisutstvia v Tsentral’noi Azii ne ushchemliaet interesov Rossii v regione,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 10 November, 2001.
6 See: N. Omarov, op. cit., p. 43.