Monday, January 3, 2011

Kyrgyz PM Earns Russia’s Support

By Erica Marat

Newly elected Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev’s first trip abroad was to Russia. During his visit, Atambayev met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and achieved two crucial goals for his government. First, he secured a $200 million loan and second, ensured that the Russian energy giant Gazprom will lift extra export charges to Kyrgyzstan.

Atambayev has always been open about his appreciation of Russia’s support of Kyrgyzstan. “We need to drastically change our relations with Russia and place them on the level they need to be. I hope that meeting with the leadership of the Russian government will give us an impetus, will be a breakthrough,” Atambayev said shortly before heading to Moscow. Other politicians, including the head of the Ar-Namys party, Felix Kulov, tried to earn similar Russian support.

After the regime change in April 2010, Russia’s initial concern was that its influence over Kyrgyzstan might decline if a new parliamentary system was established, in which the Kremlin would need to jockey with a parliament made of competing political parties. Elections results, however, showed that mostly pro-Russian political parties succeeded, leaving Ata-Meken, a party with a somewhat pro-Western orientation, in the minority. Two out of three political parties included in the coalition – Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan and Respublika – favor greater integration with Russia.

Putin was among the first foreign officials to congratulate Atambayev for acquiring the position of prime minister.

Gazprom’s agreement to lift export tariffs indicates that the Kyrgyz government and the Russian firm have reached a deal on fuel supplies to the US Transit Center at Manas airport in Bishkek. On December 21, the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs released results of its eight month-long investigation into Mina’s work in Kyrgyzstan, as well as the DoD and State Department’s oversight of contracts with Manas.

According to the report, Gazprom increased export tariffs for Kyrgyzstan in April after discovering that its fuel was used for Manas. The Pentagon, State Department, and the U.S. embassy in Bishkek, in the meantime, were not ready to take responsibility and challenge contracts with Mina. In September President Roza Otunbayeva proposed to cut out the middleman, Mina Corp Inc, and create a joint venture between Gazprom and the Kyrgyz government. Through this method, $50 million would have been saved each year, according to Otunbayeva. The president also suggested the creation of a special overseeing state agency to monitor the contracts in order to prevent the illegal enrichment of state officials.

Otunbayeva’s government has repeatedly said that the United States will be able to rent Manas airport for the purposes of supplying the war in Afghanistan until 2014, at which time President Barack Obama plans to withdraw troops.

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