Staunton, April 6 – Even though the percentage of ethnic Russians in Kyrgyzstan’s population has declined to six percent, Moscow continues to expand its influence and control in that Central Asian republic, with the Russian language retaining a disproportionate role and the FSB controlling the country’s security services, according to Askat Dukenbayev.
The former representative of Freedom House in Kyrgyzstan tells Radio Svoboda’s Kseniya Kirillova that almost as many Kyrgyz watch Russian television as watch their national television and that the latter in many cases follow the Russian lead, especially on international news (ru.krymr.com/a/29144695.html).
One consequence of this is that “more than 90 percent” of the Kyrgyz population views Russia as the chief friend and partner of their country – only 10 percent name the US as occupying that role – and have a more positive attitude toward Vladimir Putin than toward any of their domestic political figures.
Another, Dukenbayev says, is that Russian continues to be “a social marker of belonging to the elite,” dominates public discourse in the Kyrgyz capital, and is the language in which many government offices and agencies operate. In many cases, the government follows Moscow’s increasingly repressive line, but local civic activists resist sometimes successfully.
Beginning in 2014 after the Crimean Anschluss, Moscow-supported pressure on the opposition increased, and the Kremlin’s role as an advisor of the Kyrgyz leadership became ever more obvious even to the point of coordinating with the country’s president on who his successor would be.
Moreover, Dukenbayev continues, “citizens who expressed support for Ukraine and disagreement with the increased dependence of Kyrgyzstan on Putin’s Russia were the first to be subjected to repressions and persecutions,” with Bishkek opening criminal cases against opposition figures and closing down numerous civic organizations, including Freedom House.
Despite this, Dukenbayev says, “the new political forces have a chance to win the parliamentary elections in2020 because the electoral system is now more transparent and the level of falsification in Kyrgyzstan is not so high as to be in a position to influence the overall result.”
But Moscow has not limited its efforts to expand its influence in Kyrgyzstan to language and politics. Gazprom, which now controls 22 percent of the country’s gas infrastructure has plans to expand this to 69 percent. Moscow has opposed the development of a rail link to China and it has promised to give military contracts to Kyrgyz firms.
Russia has one military base in Kyrgyzstan and negotiations about opening a second are continuing. And Moscow has recovered its dominant position of control over Kyrgyz intelligence and security services: Now all officers recruited to serve in them are trained not domestically but in Moscow and the FSB has “a curator” in their offices.