By Arslan Sabyrbekov (06/18/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On June 2, upon the invitation of his Turkish counterpart, Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev paid a visit to Ankara to participate in a meeting of the Supreme Kyrgyz-Turkish Interstate Council. The Council was formed after the April 2010 events in Kyrgyzstan and determines the strategy of bilateral relations in a wide range of areas, including in the economic, agriculture and cultural spheres. As part of his Turkey visit, the Kyrgyz President also took part in the fourth meeting of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States along with the presidents of Turkey, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
Since its establishment in 2010, a number of meetings of the Supreme Kyrgyz-Turkish Interstate Council have taken place, where parties reached a joint agreement to increase the trade volume between their countries up to one billion dollars. To reach this goal, Turkey has continuously expressed its readiness to more actively engage its businesses in Kyrgyzstan and invest in the hydropower, tourism, transport and communication sectors. But despite these statements, the volume of bilateral trade remains low at slightly over a quarter billion US$. For comparison, trade between Turkey and Tajikistan has recently reached US$ 600 million, and with Kazakhstan the amount is close to US$ 4 billion.
Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Russia-led Customs Union was also discussed during the President Atambayev’s meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The head of the Turkish government described Kyrgyzstan’s intention to join the Union as “a positive step that opens up great opportunities for the Kyrgyz Republic.” Kyrgyzstan’s former Minister of Economy Akylbek Dzhaparov described Erdogan’s statement as a symbolic gesture of diplomacy and believes that Ankara is preoccupied with finding ways to maintain its influence in the region despite Russia’s intention to create a larger Eurasian Union. Regarding the volume of bilateral trade, an expert noted that it will decline after Bishkek enters the Customs Union. According to him “because of the law tariffs, goods from Turkey and China arrive first to Kyrgyzstan and are then exported to other countries. The Customs Union will lead to the same rates and therefore it is logical that the goods from these countries will be delivered directly to Russia through seaports.” To further discuss Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Union and escape the possible negative consequences for Kyrgyz-Turkish economic relations, the Turkish Minister of Economy will visit Bishkek on June 20.
Atambayev’s visit to Ankara immediately received various comments from local experts. According to political analyst Mars Sariev, Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Russia-led Customs Union will have a negative impact on Kyrgyz-Turkish relations and on the country’s foreign policymaking in general. In his words, “the Customs Union is foremost Moscow’s geopolitical project and smaller countries that are heavily dependent on Russia, such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, will feel pressured and will not be in a position to carry out a multi-vector foreign policy, unlike Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan. In that geopolitical situation, Kyrgyzstan will not have any other option but to cooperate and seek agreement on its foreign policy actions from Moscow.”
In Ankara, the fate of Manas International Airport was also discussed. Turkey once again expressed its plans to participate in the transformation of the airport into a civilian hub. In turn, President Atambayev stated that “American soldiers have almost left Manas and soon it will be a truly civilian airport. Which country will come to the airport, we do not know, but we would welcome the participation of investors from our partners and work out joint projects.” Russian media has also featured speculation that Turkey will purchase the Kyrgyz airport assets and then rent it to the United States. In light of those developments, the Russian state owned company Rosneft reached a preliminary agreement with the Kyrgyz authorities to purchase shares in the airport, but Kyrgyzstan has refused to continue the talks due to its internal political instability and demonstrations by the National Opposition Movement. Thus, the airport’s fate after the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops remains unclear.
During his visit to Turkey, along with his other counterparts, President Atambayev also participated in the fourth meeting of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States. As a result of the summit, the participating states adopted the “Bodrum Declaration,” calling for more cooperation in developing the tourism sector.
The author wrote this article in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the organization for which the author works.