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Kyrgyzstan 2014: The painful march towards the Eurasian Union as the lesser evil?

  1. Introduction

Since his victorious presidential campaign back in 2011, Almazbek Sharshenovich Atambayev had pledged that Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy would be markedly pro-Russian, heralding a break with the small Central Asian republic’s post-independence multi-vector foreign policy.

While this policy tous azimuts has eventually tired all foreign partners because of Bishkek’s unrelenting efforts at securing greater revenues in exchange for its support, the final closure of the Transit Center at Manas (as the US air base in the capital airport was formally called) in June 2014 and the concomitant negotiations for accession to the Russia-sponsored and led Customs Union (since 1 January 2015 the Eurasian Economic Union[1], or EEU) was none the less stunning, if – after all – expected.

The chapter explores the intertwined nature of foreign policy pressures and domestic political processes, paying special attention to the effects of Russian leverage on Kyrgyzstani politics. Together, external and domestic factors have given rise to an increasingly unstable and crisis-prone Central Asian state, one where, as Blank notes, ‘its long-standing domestic weaknesses are compounded by its external crises’[2]. The paper is structured around the year’s main story, namely that of Bishkek’s long and tortuous path towards accession to the Customs Union (CU), the organisation comprising Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and, since 1 January 2015, Armenia. Corollary to this are two distinct but equally significant events that have also shaped the domestic political discourse in favour of closer ties with Russia. The first one is the crisis in Ukraine, which has had reverberations across the whole Central Asian region. The second is the fallout of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has – once again – raised the spectre of a revival of Islamic radicalism, be it in the forms of a revamped Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or greater vulnerability to the recruitment of young Kyrgyz by radical organisations. This, of course, relates to the rise of the Islamic State in 2014 whose successes – understood in terms of the unravelling of both Syria and Iraq and the parallel set up of a new state, or caliphate – has attracted a growing number of fighters from Central Asia, especially Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan’s relations with Moscow have translated into a more repressive domestic environment, with the introduction of a law on ‘foreign agents’ and an increasingly anti-gay rhetoric (both policies reminiscent of Putin’s in Russia). Last, but not least, are the deteriorating relations with neighbouring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Border disputes and clashes are now routine. This bodes ill not only for the countries in question, but also for Russia which might find itself enmeshed in regional inter-state disputes[3]. Although Kyrgyzstan might have stepped back from the brink of state collapse, this has come at a worrying price: dependence and entrapment.

  1. The main narrative: accession to the Eurasian Union

On 1 January 2015 the Eurasian Economic Union emerged from a five-year incubation known as the Customs Union. Sponsored heavily by Russia, seen in some Western chancelleries as Moscow’s attempt to ‘re-Sovietise’ the neighbourhood, the organisation now counts four members: Armenia (who joined in 2015) and the three founding members, namely Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

President Atambayev first announced that the country would join the Russia-led Customs Union in 2011[4]. Delays have followed, partly caused by Kyrgyzstan’s initial refusal to agree on the roadmap to accession. This was followed by attempts to secure concessions and financial compensation to offset the expected costs of membership and the requirement to align local legislation to the CU regulations, adjusting tariffs accordingly. After much wrangling there has finally been a breakthrough in the negotiations in the summer, prompted by Bishkek’s awareness that it was running out of options. Moscow has also been keen on adding another (small yet symbolic) member to the much-trumpeted project of Eurasian economic integration. The path to actual membership, finally formalised in late December 2014[5], was far from a smooth journey[6].

One of the strong arguments put forward in favour of Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Customs Union is the long-term economic benefits deriving from the integration of the small Central Asian economy in a 170m-strong market across Eurasia. In fact, securing membership in the Customs Union is no small matter for Kyrgyzstan. Exports to CU countries fell 18.6% in 2011, although rebounded to 9.2% and 10.1% in 2012 and 2013 respectively. In a country where most politicians are pro-Russian, many of the media are Russian-owned and the local population has traditionally felt close to Russia (partly also because of the fact that over a million Kyrgyz, out of a total population of five million, work in Russia as migrants[7]), it would have been reasonable to expect a rather uneventful process. Instead, after giving the impression ‒ for years ‒ of heading resolutely towards joining the Customs Union, Kyrgyzstan’s roadmap to accession has faced strong headwinds from Fall 2013 onwards, throughout the whole 2014[8]. In November 2013 Kyrgyzstan’s authorities rejected the roadmap for accession to the Customs Union proposed by the Eurasian Economic Commission on the grounds that it had not been consulted and it had not agreed to the terms of accession.

2.1. After muted years, doubts over membership arise (too late?)

There was never any doubt that should Kyrgyzstan eventually join the CU/EEU, this would be the result of a decision which would take into account the political advantages of such a step. Economically, in fact, there are quite a few costs attached to the CU/EEU membership. For a start this will significantly led to a spike in Bishkek’s tariffs as per CU regulations, raising the question of how it will manage to continue to meet its WTO obligations (which entail significantly lower customs tariffs). Raising the tariffs would risk jeopardising the current benefits as the main entry and re-export point for Chinese goods in Central Asia.

Membership would help diversify the small and weak Kyrgyz economy away from being the point of entry and export of Chinese goods towards production. In the short term, however, these positive future results are bound to be counterbalanced by loss in revenues, higher unemployment and, possibly, rising social tensions. Customs duties will have to be increased to be brought in line with those of the Customs Union. Before this even happens, in the year under review consumers behaviour was already responding to expected price hikes in 2015. Purchase of cars, for example, has increased in 2014 in the expectation that import tariffs would rise by 30% in 2015, over 250% (compared to current prices) in 2016 and a whopping 1000% by 2019.

Overall, what is unclear at present is how the country, should it become part of both WTO and CU, will handle the tariff differences. At present Bishkek’s politicians maintain that Kyrgyzstan will negotiate exemptions on an individual basis (per country, per product), which does not seem feasible, showing political naivety at best, bad faith or incompetence at worst. At the same time, Russia’s adhesion to the WTO in 2012 and Kazakhstan’s expected entry next year raise the same questions of harmonisation of tariffs. How to protect a Eurasian economic market while not defaulting on international obligations is now a challenge for Russia and Kazakhstan as well, not just Kyrgyzstan any longer. The local business community forecasts a difficult adjustment period[9]: revenues from re-exported goods generate about 15% of the country’s GDP; 85% of the goods on sale in Kyrgyzstan are later re-exported. Sale of goods officially ‘Made in Kyrgyzstan’ but actually ‘Made in China’, represents 7% of overall tax revenues. 15% of Bishkek’s one-million population is employed in the market. The concerns of the business community aside, outright opposition to joining the Customs Union in the country has traditionally been small, yet vocal: A lively internet-based movement called ‘Kyrgyzstan against the Customs Union’ has become especially vocal against official Bishkek’s position, attracting hundreds of supporters on its Facebook page. The small Reform party has also voiced discontent with the country’s official position. The Central Asian Institute of Free Market has published a rather critical report highlighting the risks stemming from joining the CU. Sporadic protests have erupted in the capital, where opposition to the CU is voiced.

2.2. Cushioning the costs: Bishkek’s attempt to strike a separate deal

President Atambayev has repeatedly stated that joining the CU/EEU is a necessary step for the country[10], while at the same time asking for concessionary loans and financial compensation to offset the cost of losing Kyrgyzstan’s competitive edge vis-à-vis Chinese goods. Failing to agree on the terms is what stalled the process so far. Bishkek asked for ways to cushion the fallout, including a grace period for the three main markets of Dordoi and Madina in Bishkek and Kara-suu in the southern part of the country, which would be granted free-zone status; the costs of re-profiling such markets thereafter; concessions over a range of 1,000 products, many of which are Chinese goods (especially textiles); the creation of a US$1bn Development Fund (US$200m over a period of five years) to smoothen the adjustment process and an additional US$215m to strengthen border infrastructure and bring it in line with Customs Union standards. One of the main opponents to such a separate deal has been Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who objected to the prospect of a ‘one-legged’ membership, explicitly opposing extending a special free-zone status to the main bazaars in the neighbouring republic. Kazakhstan’s position is far from inconsequential, since economic ties between Bishkek and Astana are close and profound. Between 2008 and 2013 bilateral trade has increased 72%; it was at US$1.5bn in 2012, up 41% from the previous year; turnover exceeded US$1bn in 2013. Moreover Kazakhstan’s is the largest source of FDI in the country, operating joint ventures in the construction, energy and banking sectors; 70% of the goods sold at the Dordoi and Madina markets in Bishkek are bought by Kazakh customers. The two countries have agreed on a number of concessions that allow either tariff-free or concessionary deals to Kyrgyz exports to Kazakhstan (and vice versa). In addition a new pipeline supplying Kazakhstani oil is currently under discussion and Kazakhstan has begun supplying 30,000 cubic meters of gas to Kyrgyzstan, reducing its dependence on neighbouring Uzbekistan. Finally, Kazakhstan remains the second destination for Kyrgyz labour migrants.

In short, Kyrgyzstan cannot afford losing ties with its wealthier and larger northern neighbour, especially since Bishkek’s exports to Uzbekistan, Russia and Ukraine have shrunk in the first half of 2014 by 33%, 20% and 50% respectively.

2.3. A breakthrough at last

Formally, the Eurasian Economic Union was established, with much fanfare, in Astana on 29 May[11], on the basis of the Customs Union. This was contingent on local legislation being brought in line with the regulations of the CU and the terms of Kyrgyzstan’s membership being agreed upon by both the members and the prospective country itself. The Customs Union’s international treaty framework currently consists of 110 international treaties. The 182-point Roadmap outlines the legislative changes that need to be enacted to align national legislation to the CU regulations and treaty framework. Over the summer Russia and Kyrgyzstan agreed that the former will establish a US$500m fund to ease Bishkek’s accession to the Customs Union. However, at present, the details of such a plan remain unspecified. On 26 September the Russian Duma ratified the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union. At the margins of the meeting in Moscow, Kyrgyzstan’s President Atambayev confirmed that the country will join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and the common economic space in January 2015. That was followed in November by the ratification by the Russian parliament of an agreement governing economic cooperation with Kyrgyzstan, paving the way for the country’s integration in the Eurasian Union[12]. Prior to that, in August, the Kyrgyz Cabinet of Ministers had approved a package of bills paving the way for accession by beginning to bring the local legislation into compliance with that of the Customs Union. Finally, on 23 December Kyrgyzstan signed an accession agreement to join the EEU[13]. The agreement came into effect on 1 January 2015. On that occasion President Atambayev announced that he hoped the country would become a full member by May[14]. The rush to make a formal statement by the end of the year, immediately followed by the announcement of a delay, left many observers perplexed.

  1. Russia’s leverage

It is difficult to underestimate the extent of Kyrgyzstan’s dependence on Russia. Links (social, economic, cultural, military) are many-fold and profound. Leverage, understood in terms of Bishkek’s vulnerability to Moscow’s pressure, is also considerable. The Russia-Ukraine crisis of 2014[15] illustrates this well.

The diffusion of Russian media can easily construct a Russia-friendly narrative of events. Local media would not have the resource to withstand in an information war. Apart from having a significant military presence throughout Kyrgyzstan, the US$1bn deal to develop the country’s military signed in 2013 reinforced Bishkek’s security dependence on Moscow. In August 2012, Kyrgyzstan agreed to a 15-year extension of the lease to Russia of the base in Kant, a military air base east of Bishkek. The agreement will enter into force when the current deal expires in 2017. In an informal summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, held in Bishkek on 28 May, Russia and the attending Central Asian partners discussed ways to strengthen the military component of the organisation, focussing on the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF). The charter of the organisation has been broadened to allow it to mediate conflicts between members or send units in cases of domestic upheavals[16]. Russian companies own or have large stakes in local companies. Important investment projects like the Kambarata-1 hydropower plant can come to completion only if Russian capital is retained.

3.1. The closure of the Manas Air Base and the decline of Western influence

The consolidation of Russian influence and presence comes at a time of steady US (and Western more broadly) decline in the region[17]. The waning of US presence was captured symbolically as well as practically by the closure of the US air base, vacated in June 2014. The Manas base opened in December 2001, and was home to approximately 1,000 US military personnel and various tanker planes at the time of its closure in mid-2014. In almost thirteen years over a million (US and/or NATO) troops passed through the hub on the way to or from Afghanistan. From the start, however, the base has been subject to the attempts by local officials to extract rents, political controversies and scandals[18]. The base has also become one of the main sources of revenues for Kyrgyzstan, contributing up to 3% of the national budget. Rents from the base have enriched the country’s leaders, their families and associates. Contracts for supplying the base, such as the fuel contracts, have been particularly lucrative, amounting to a billion US dollars over the past six years. The agreement of the use of the base at Manas has been subject to multiple renegotiations in recent years. The ousting of Kyrgyzstan’s former president Askar Akayev and the FBI investigation that followed exposed corruption surrounding Manas-related contracts. The lease of the base was re-negotiated a first time in 2006. In February 2009, then-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced that the base would close shortly as Kyrgyzstani authorities handed Washington a 180 days’ notice. Around the same time, Kyrgyzstan signed a comprehensive deal with Russia. Many saw the two events as connected. In June 2009, a new contract raised rent payments from 17 million dollars to 60 million dollars a year, with an additional 117 million dollar one-off sum. In 2010, the agreement was extended for a year and, subsequently, for another three years until July 2014. Financial considerations aside, the need to secure a logistical hub in Central Asia has made the United States vulnerable to Kyrgyzstan’s domestic unrest and the local political shenanigan, tarnishing Washington’s image in the country[19].

  1. Worrying trends in global politics

The yet-to-be-understood implications of US withdrawal from Afghanistan aside[20], it was the Russia-Ukraine crisis and the rise of the Islamic State that captured the attention of Bishkek’s ruling circles during the year.

4.1. The Ukraine crisis

On 21 February Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted after months of protests (known as the ‘Euro-Maidan’, or just ‘Maidan’[21]) sparked by Yanukovych’s sudden political turnaround in November 2013, when he walked out of the imminent closure of an Association Agreement with the European Union and moved instead towards closer economic ties with Russia, a move that could have possibly led to Kiev’s integration in the Customs Union.

The power vacuum at the centre, grievances in the eastern regions of the country, un-addressed issues of autonomy across the country and, not least, Russia’s wrath at what the Kremlin perceived as a western-orchestrated coup brought a sudden unravelling of the Ukrainian state. First, in a swift turn of events Crimea[22] first voted in a disputed referendum for secession on 16 March, proclaimed independence on 17 and was subsequently annexed by Russia on 18 March. Soon thereafter, in early April, the ‘war in the Donbass’ started between Russia-backed rebel groups in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and Kiev’s troops.

Ukraine is not a major economic partner for Kyrgyzstan; accordingly, the direct fallout – missed delivery of goods aside – was not considerable. At the same time two important lessons were drawn from a closely observing Bishkek. The good news for Bishkek was that a Ukraine-style scenario appeared unlikely: whereas in Ukraine foreign policy choices are open and, therefore, can become the subject of domestic (political and now military) confrontation, Kyrgyzstan has no real alternative to the Customs Union membership, nor has the country ever seriously contemplated exiting Russia’s orbit. In addition, neither the elites nor the public are as split as in Ukraine. Russia remains popular among the populace, but the lack of a transparent debate about the costs and the benefits of membership are causing disgruntlement. The second was that, if provoked, Russia has both the ability and the will to react strongly in no time. In light of the afore-mentioned links between Kyrgyzstan and Russia, Moscow could sanction Bishkek quickly and effectively.

Similarly to the other Central Asian republics[23], Kyrgyzstan’s initial reaction was muted, reflecting genuine concerns and dilemmas[24]. On the one hand the élites were uneasy with openly embracing a position that de facto would justify Russia’s intervention in the domestic affairs of a fellow post-Soviet republic, therefore setting a dangerous precedent. On the other hand, there was the need not to anger such an important political, security and economic partner. In the end Bishkek gave in and expressed support for Russia’s position[25].

The sanctions that the West imposed on Russia throughout 2014 did not affect the Russian economy only[26]. As Moscow’s economy headed towards recession and the Russian ruble plummeted in November and December, Central Asian migrants were confronted with the consequences. Apart from the loss of jobs, even the remittances that they sent home suffered because of the need to convert rubles into dollars; in fact, the devaluation of the Russian currency made the Central Asian Kyrgyz migrants’ earning almost worthless. In addition, Russia slowed down on the investment it had previously pledged to ease Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Customs Union.

4.2. The rise of Islamic State

The second event that found echoes in Kyrgyzstan was the rise of the Islamic State (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). In fact, the impact of the internationalisation of the Syrian war was also being felt in the country[27]. Following reports that the presence of young fighters from Kyrgyzstan had been reported in Syria in the territory ruled by the Islamic State earlier in the year, the Kyrgyz authorities unleashed a more hands-on, and heavy-handed, approach to the matter, with periodic arrests of suspects across the country.

The growing appeal of the Islamic State came at a terrible time for Kyrgyzstan. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan, coupled with the closure of the Manas base, left Kyrgyzstan increasingly exposed to the threat posed by Islamic militants based in northern Afghanistan. In addition, the country’s own official Islamic institutions have been mired in scandals for years, leaving the authorities with no local source of authority or legitimacy to counter religious radicalism.

Although evidence of the widespread nature of radicalism in the Central Asian region is scant[28], the fear of such a scenario has been used by the local elites to justify repressive measures (see below) and for Russia to press for even closer security cooperation[29].

  1. A more repressive domestic environment

Politically the country remains fairly open in the region. At the same time, closer ties with Russia have led to a more repressive turn in local politics, with the introduction of two pieces of legislation that are closely reminiscent of similar bills adopted in Russia. The consolidation of an anti-gay discourse, matched by the introduction of an openly anti-gay bill[30] in October, well sits with an analogous Moscow-sponsored ‘fight against gay-propaganda’. The second is a law that requires NGOs receiving funding from abroad to register (re-register, that is) as ‘foreign agents’, a term which underlines their equivocal, ambiguous status in the country. In addition, the authorities have increased restrictions of protests and inspections at opposition media have also intensified[31].

Other issues also reveal worrisome trends in local politics. This is the case with regard to inter-ethnic relations and specifically the situation of the Uzbek minority in the country[32]. Four years have passed since the June 2010 clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the south of the country that caused over 400 deaths and hundreds of thousands of refugees[33]. Although the wounds have begun to heal[34], the price for this has been the fading of the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-cultural identity. Some sort of stability has returned to the south, but signs of Uzbek culture, until recently omnipresent, are more and more difficult to note. Uzbek-language schools are closing and those that are still open lose students to those where tuition is delivered in Kyrgyz[35]. Young Uzbeks tend to change their passport entry (the one referring to ethnic identity) to that of the dominant group (Kyrgyz) to ensure that they will not be penalised in their career paths[36].

  1. Tensions between neighbours

If domestic problems compounded by great power manoeuvring were not serious enough, the regional security environment also deteriorated in 2014. While the fact that relations with Tashkent are tense should no longer surprise anyone, what has changed over the past twelve months is that ties with Tajikistan have also worsened, marking a dramatic change for the worse, compared to the post-independence period when relations between Dushanbe and Bishkek (Central Asia’s two weakest states) were cooperative.

Over two decades relations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been relatively smooth, despite micro-level conflicts over access to water and land in border regions in the early 1990s, and fears that waves of migrants from Tajikistan would be illegally taking over land in the southern province of Batken, adjacent to Tajikistan’s Sughd province. Relations with Uzbekistan have been traditionally poor, and have worsened in recent years[37]. Trouble has not stemmed from the presence of ethnic minorities on either side of the border, but from territorial disputes and accusations from Tashkent that Kyrgyzstan may be unable to curb the activities and incursions of Islamic militants in the Ferghana Valley. Disputes over gas supplies (from Uzbekistan) and water access (from Kyrgyzstan) have traditionally soured bilateral relations[38]. Shootings at the border have increased in number and intensity[39].

In the case of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border most disputes are local and are unlikely to be internationalised[40]. At the same time, their increasing frequency is causing significant disruption to local livelihood and economic exchange (trade and smuggling). What has thus far prevented an escalation of the conflicts (apart from their local character, as noted) is the fact that both countries can ill afford another tense border situation since both Bishkek and Dushanbe’s economies suffer from constant blockades from neighbouring Uzbekistan. However, shootings along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border have increased over the past year[41]. 46% of the border is still un-demarcated and the two states have been unable to set up mutually agreed border posts in disputed areas. Kyrgyzstan is also planning to build a road to bypass the Tajik enclave of Vorukh, which would leave the latter totally isolated from mainland Tajikistan and surrounded by Kyrgyz territory. At the same time Tajikistan’s relations with Moscow are also cozy and Dushanbe might also join the Customs Union in the coming year.

Kyrgyzstan’s ever growing closeness to Russia risks further poisoning relations with Tashkent and Dushanbe[42]. Promises of Russian investment in local infrastructure and hydropower projects are seen in Bishkek as a way to reduce energy dependence on an unreliable supplier, Uzbekistan. That may well be the case, but the move would come at a price, namely that of increasing Bishkek’s already considerable economic dependence on Moscow (complemented with an additional poisoning of relations with Tashkent). Even the attempt to secure gas supplies from Turkmenistan rests upon the good will of Tashkent, since Turkmen gas would need to be delivered – on Uzbek territory – via Uzbektransgaz, the state gas company of Uzbekistan, in charge to deliver gas supplies for domestic consumption and export. Although Tajikistan is also likely to join the Custom Union eventually, the stepping up of border controls and tariffs will surely hamper cross-border trade, upon which the livelihood of border communities so critically depends.

  1. Conclusion

Bishkek’s elites have evidently run out of options and made the final push towards the Eurasian Union. In a sign of less-than-overwhelming enthusiasm, the authorities, including President Almazbek Atambayev, have referred to the choice as ‘the lesser of two evils’ – namely ‘the rise in inflation and prices’ on one side and the ‘biggest social and economic problems’ on the other – in a situation in which there is ‘no other option’.[43] Admittedly, these declarations are not the most exciting way to welcome this important endeavour.

In reality Kyrgyzstan has no credible alternative to joining the Customs Union. While domestic crises of various natures continue to plague Kyrgyzstan’s politics and the economy, in a situation in which the EU is unable to provide security, the US is withdrawing from Manas and China appears unwilling to provide security, Russia remains the only reliable partner. Many in the country fear that the ever more extensive practice of debt-for-assets swaps and the integration into the Eurasian Union will slowly but inexorably result into greater dependence upon Russia, in the long term possibly resulting in a loss of sovereignty for Bishkek. Whether this will be the case remains to be seen. Margins of manoeuvre are narrowing further, though, and maintaining too close a relationship with a single power risks resulting in the country’s entrapment in such an alliance.

Fin dalla campagna elettorale del 2011, il Presidente Almazbek Atambayev aveva promesso che, nel caso di una sua elezione, la politica estera del Kirghizistan sarebbe stata più decisamente filo-russa. Ciò è puntualmente successo ed ha portato ad una cesura tra i due decenni precedenti di politica estera multi-vettoriale da parte di Bishkek e la fase attuale di cooperazione stretta con Mosca. Questo capitolo esamina il nesso tra pressioni esterne e processi politici interni, dedicando una attenzione particolare all’influenza russa sulla politica kirghisa.

Il contributo è focalizzato sul principale sviluppo del 2014, ossia la via tortuosa della repubblica centroasiatica verso l’Unione Economica Eurasiatica, che comprende Russia, Bielorussia, Kazakistan e Armenia. Vengono considerati anche due altri eventi che hanno avuto conseguenze per la regione centroasiatica: la guerra in Ucraina ed il ritiro degli Stati Uniti dall’Afghanistan. I rapporti più stretti tra Kirghizistan e Russia hanno portato ad un sistema politico più repressivo. I rapporti tra Bishkek ed i paesi confinanti (Uzbekistan e Tagikistan) sono peggiorati vistosamente.

Il Kirghizistan può anche aver compiuto passi indietro dal baratro del fallimento dello stato, in cui sembrava sul punto di precipitare nel 2010-2011, ma la sopravvivenza è stata mantenuta a caro prezzo: la dipendenza da un altro stato.


[1] Although formally distinct organisations, the Customs Union and the Eurasian Union are used interchangeably in this chapter as they both refer to the Russia-sponsored process of Eurasian integration (within the post-Soviet space).

[2] Stephen Blank, ‘Kyrgyzstan’s interactive crises and their broader implications’, Central Asia and the Caucasus Analyst, 11 November 2014 (

[3] Both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (Uzbekistan is also a member of the latter group). Tajikistan also plans to join the Eurasian Union.

[4] The 2010 constitution significantly reduced the powers of the president, although this retains some influence in foreign policy matters, as also clarified in subsequent legislation (Matteo Fumagalli, ‘Semi-presidentialism in Kyrgyzstan: the 2010 constitution, the switch to premier-presidentialism and the potential for a democratic breakthrough’, Elgie Robert and Moestrup Sophia (Eds.), Semi-presidentialism in Central Asia and the Caucasus, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2015 [forthcoming]).

[5] ‘Kyrgyzstan signs EEU deal as divisions emerge in the new alliance’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 5 January 2015.

[6] ‘Kyrgyzstan: Customs Union entry will cause problems’, Oxford Analytica, 9 October 2014.

[7] World Bank, Remittances from migrants accounted for 31.5% of the country’s GDP in 2013(Personal Remittances Received, % of GDP, (

[8] ‘Customs Union negotiations test flexibility’, Oxford Analytica, 11 June 2014.

[9] ‘Customs Union negotiations’, Oxford Analytica.

[10] ‘Kyrgyz president says Customs Union membership necessary’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 27 October 2014; ‘Kyrgyzstan has «no alternative to closer Russia ties – prime minister»’, Eurasianet, 17 November.

[11] ‘Customs Union entry’, Oxford Analytica.

[12] ‘Russian Duma paves way for Kyrgyzstan’s Eurasian integration’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 21 November 2014.

[13] ‘Kyrgyzstan signs EEU deal’, Radio Free Europe.

[14] ‘Kyrgyzstan signs up for Eurasian Union, with another delay’, Eurasianet, 23 December 2014.

[15] See more on this in the next section below.

[16] On the effects of Russian leverage on Kyrgyzstan’s domestic security environment see Matteo Fumagalli, ‘Stateness, contested nationhood, and imperiled sovereignty: the effects of (non-Western) leverage and linkage on Kyrgyzstan’s conflicts’, East European Politics, 31, 2015 (forthcoming).

[17] Emil Joroev, Roger Kangas, Erica Marat, ‘US policy toward Kyrgyzstan and the closing of Manas Transit Center’, Central Asia Policy Brief, Central Asia Program, George Washington University, 19, December, 2014.

[18] Alexander Cooley, Great Games, Local Rules. The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

[19] Cooley, Great Games, Local Rules.

[20] For an analysis on the topic see ‘Post-2014 Central Asia and Afghanistan’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 19 May.

[21] Maidan means ‘square’ in Ukrainian.

[22] Technically the units in question are two: the Crimean autonomous republic (with Simferopol as its capital) and Sevastopol, home to an important Russian naval base, located in the south-western part of the Crimean Peninsula but constituting a separate administrative unit.

[23] Slavomir Horak, ‘Russia’s intervention in Ukraine reverberates in Central Asia’, Central Asia and the Caucasus Analyst, 16, 6, 2014 (

[24] Joanna Lillis and David Trilling, ‘Russia-Ukraine crisis alarms Central Asian strongmen’, Eurasianet , 4 March 2014.

[25] ‘Kyrgyzstan says Crimea Referendum «legitimate»’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 20 March 2014.

[26] ‘Central Asia hurting as Russia’s ruble sinks’, Eurasianet, 21 October 2014.

[27] ‘In Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, rumors of instability abound as fears of IS grow’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 21 October 2014.

[28] John Heathershaw, David W. Montgomery, The myth of post-Soviet Muslim radicalization in the Central Asian republics, London: Chatham House, Research Paper November, 2014.

[29] Edward Lemon, ‘Russia sees IS as reason to boost control in Central Asia’, Eurasianet, 11 November 2014.

[30] ‘Kyrgyzstan’s anti-gay bill: just following in Russia’s footsteps?’, Eurasianet, 30 October 2014.

[31] ‘Opposition newspaper’s office ransacked in Bishkek’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 6 November 2014.

[32] Marlene Laruelle, ‘The paradigm of nationalism in Kyrgyzstan. Evolving narrative, the sovereignty issue, and political agenda’, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 45, pp. 39-49; Reuel Hanks, ‘Crisis in Kyrgyzstan: conundrums of ethnic conflict, national identity, and state cohesion’, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 13, 2, pp. 177-187; Andrew R. Bond, Natalie R. Koch, ‘Interethnic tensions in Kyrgyzstan: a political geographic perspective’, Eurasian Geography and Economics, 51, 4, pp. 531-562.

[33] For some background on the events, the causes and the implications see Nick Megoran, ‘Averting violence in Kyrgyzstan: understanding and responding to nationalism’, Programme Paper, London: Chatham House, 1 December 2012.

[34] ‘Four years after ethnic violence, a glimmer of hope in Kyrgyzstan’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 16 June.

[35] ‘Kyrgyzstan: Uzbeks dropping out of school at alarming rate’, Eurasianet, 2 January 2014.

[36] ‘Kyrgyzstan: Uzbeks shedding ethnic identity’, Eurasianet, 8 December 2014.

[37] Umida Hashimova, ‘Growing uncertainty in relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan’, Eurasia Daily Brief, Jamestown Foundation, 11, 174, 2 October 2014. ‘New tensions between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan’, Central Asia and the Caucasus Analyst, 2 July 2014.

[38] ‘Kyrgyz premier concerned Uzbekistan will not deliver gas’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 23 July 2014.

[39] ‘Uzbek border guards shoot Kyrgyz national dead’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 13 November 2014; ‘Uzbekistan a hurdle to Kyrgyz electricity imports’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 11 November 2014; ‘Kyrgyz man shot, wounded by Uzbek border guards’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 11 November 2014.

[40] Madeleine Reeves, ’Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan’s roads of separation’, Eurasianet, 23 January 2014.

[41] ‘Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan: what’s next after border shootout?’, Eurasianet, 13 January 2014; ‘Central Asia turning to civilian military to shore up border security’, Eurasianet, 15 October 2014; ‘Shootout at the Kyrgyz-Tajik border’, Central Asia and the Caucasus Analyst, 5 August 2014; ‘Border dispute at the center of Tajik-Kyrgyz meeting’, Central Asia and the Caucasus Analyst, 3 September; ‘Border disputes in the Ferghana Valley threatens to undermine regional trade and stability’, Eurasia Daily Brief, Jamestown Foundation, 1 August 2014; ‘Border clashes with Kyrgyzstan threaten Tajikistan’s regional integration’, Eurasia Daily Brief, Jamestown Foundation, 20 May 2014; ‘Four wounded in Tajik-Kyrgyz border shooting incident’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 25 August 2014; ‘Kyrgyzstan: time needed to resolve borders with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 21 July 2014; ‘Small exclave spells big problems for Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan’, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 16 January 2014.

[42] Igor Rotar, ‘Conflicts between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan potentially undermine CSTO and Custom Union in Central Asia’, Eurasia Daily Brief, Jamestown Foundation, 11 February 2014.

[43] ‘No option for Kyrgyzstan but to join Customs Union – Kyrgyzstan president’, Tass, 27 October 2014; ‘Kyrgyzstan: a reluctant accession to the EEU’, The Diplomat, 21 November 2014.


Giorgio Borsa

The Founder of Asia Maior

Università di Pavia

The "Cesare Bonacossa" Centre for the Study of Extra-European Peoples


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