By Arslan Sabyrbekov (05/07/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On April 29, Kyrgyzstan’s newly nominated Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev paid his first official visit to Moscow. During his two days in the Russian capital, Otorbaev met with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, and held talks with Gazprom’s Chief Executive Officer Alexey Miller and the new deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. After his official meetings, Otorbaev held a press conference with representatives of Russian media and met with Russian Central Asia experts to discuss the state of bilateral relations.
Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Russia-led Customs Union was the main subject discussed between the Prime Ministers. In his meeting with Medvedev, Otorbaev stressed that Russia is and will remain Kyrgyzstan's strategic partner and that joining the Customs Union is a right step that will help his country tackle a number of economic and social challenges. Talking to Russian journalists, Otorbaev stated that Kyrgyzstan’s products, except for its gold, are mainly being exported to the Customs Union member states, i.e. Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and that it would therefore be wrong to close the borders to those countries. In his turn, the Russian Prime Minister welcomed his Kyrgyz colleague and expressed Moscow’s readiness to be flexible and if necessary, further negotiate Kyrgyzstan’s terms of entry into the Union.
As part of his official visit, Otorbaev met with representatives of the Eurasian Economic Commission to finalize the “road map” for Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Customs Union. As a result of these talks, the new head of Kyrgyzstan’s government stated that the road map is practically completed and expressed his hope that it will be soon approved by the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission. Only afterwards will Bishkek take further actions to finalize the entry into the Union.
At this stage, no one questions Bishkek’s accession to the Russia led Customs Union. Agreements have been reached, the road map is being finalized and Bishkek's preferences are being met. But despite of all these developments, opposition politicians and experts continue to express their concern over Kyrgyzstan’s membership. For them, the Customs Union is primarily a political project and a part of Moscow’s continuous effort to strengthen its influence over the former Soviet Republics or in its zone of “privileged interest,” as Medvedev once described it.
During his Moscow visit, Otorbaev also met with key representatives of the Russian business community and held talks with Gazprom CEO Miller, whose company has recently purchased the KyrgyzGaz Natural Gas Corporation for US$ 1. Miller reconfirmed his Company's full responsibility for the timely supply of gas to Kyrgyzstan. Besides its business activities in the country, Gazprom intends to engage actively in supporting and implementing social programs in all the country’s regions. In turn, Otorbaev expressed his government’s full support for Gazprom and all other international companies willing to invest and do business in Kyrgyzstan.
It should also be mentioned that Russia’s state oil company Rosneft recently refused to purchase a majority stake in Manas International Airport. Shortly before this announcement, Kyrgyzstan’s United Opposition Movement held its first rally and heavily criticized the government's deals with foreign companies to sell the country’s strategically important assets.
In his address to the population, President Atambayev blamed the opposition for damaging Kyrgyzstan’s investment climate and stated that the country has no other choice. “Those screaming that no shares can be given to Rosneft, they in fact want to put an end to the future of Manas,” said Atambayev. Indeed, with the U.S. shortly leaving the Airbase, the Kyrgyz government is preoccupied with replacing the financial loss, which is according to all estimates a substantial share of the country’s budget. Otorbaev’s visit to Moscow is yet another effort to assure that Kyrgyzstan is a safe place for Russian investments.
Kyrgyz experts and analysts express varying opinions of selling the country’s strategic assets to companies owned by a foreign government in return for promises of investment, modernization, and development of natural resources. According to Bishkek-based political analyst Marat Kazakpaev, “to abstain from these developments Kyrgyzstan should improve its investment climate and attract private foreign investors. The fact that both Gazprom and Rosneft are state owned companies and are purchasing our country’s strategic assets gives a political connotation to the situation. This is not business, but politics,” stated Kazakpaev.