The global heat is significantly affecting former Soviet republics, which have gained independence since 1991 and have the unique opportunity to choose their own political and economic directions. However, Russia has been exerting its political shadow to control Western and European presence in the central Soviet-Asian region.
Russia has been uneasy with recent developments between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan has been diversifying its economy by adopting Western-oriented management and development models. Since the Russia-Ukraine crisis began, Central Asian republics have maintained a neutral position and pursued their own geopolitics without much ties to Moscow. Kazakhstan has welcomed tens of thousands of Russians fleeing from the military call-up since last year and has even vowed to comply with massive Western sanctions on Russia.
Central Asian countries, with numerous Russian citizens, have issued a warning to their citizens against participating in the conflict in Ukraine alongside Moscow’s forces. Russia has been making efforts to improve multifaceted relations with these Central Asian republics under the umbrella of the Eurasian Union. Russia and Kyrgyzstan share common aspirations and futures, but the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) still exists in theory due to political differences between the Soviet republics.
Russia is focusing on balancing its geopolitical interests and bilateral relations with Kyrgyzstan, particularly in terms of economic perspectives and long-term security. Putin visited Kyrgyzstan on October 12-13 to discuss strategic partnership development, including Kyrgyzstan’s chairmanship of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Russia’s chairmanship of the Eurasian Economic Union.
The CIS Heads of State Council reviewed the interaction within the organization in 2023, outlined future activity areas, and exchanged opinions on international and regional issues. Putin briefed his colleagues on Russia’s priorities for the CIS chairmanship in 2024. A package of documents aimed at further developing cooperation between CIS states in economic, cultural, humanitarian, and law enforcement areas was signed.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan skipped the summit due to conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Pashinyan criticized Moscow for not intervening in Azerbaijan’s successful offensive to take over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in September 2023, angering Moscow and potentially limiting Putin’s travel options. Kyrgyzstan ratified an agreement for a common air defense system with Russia, similar to similar deals with other allied countries.
Putin held bilateral meetings with Kyrgyz counterpart Sadyr Japarov, Belarus ally Alexander Lukashenko, and regional leaders, including President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. The main focus was on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and the structuring of bilateral cooperation. Both countries described the results as impressive in terms of trade, industrial cooperation, and transport sector cooperation, with many new projects involving regional and security issues.
The establishment of Russian air defense in Kyrgyzstan, which borders the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), is a significant achievement for Russia and Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz parliament has ratified an agreement with Russia on October 11 to establish a joint regional air defense system. The agreement will be valid for five years with further extension. The Russian side will coordinate the joint actions of air defence forces, while Kyrgyzstan will manage the joint actions of air defense system troops in the collective security area. A land plot of five hectares was provided for the air defense system near the Russian air base in Kant.
In terms of trade, Russia and Kyrgyzstan have targeted the current aspects of bilateral and multilateral cooperation, reaffirming their commitment to stimulating and expanding bilateral cooperation. They signed bilateral documents and formally agreed to take measures to increase mutual trade and strive for the ambitious target of US$5 billion. The 10th Kyrgyzstan-Russia Interregional Conference on Industrial Cooperation led to the signing of documents and contracts exceeding US$3.5 billion.
Russia is the largest investor in Kyrgyzstan, accounting for one-third of all direct foreign investment in the country. The Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, which has been a leader in higher education and science for 30 years, has produced many highly qualified specialists working in Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and other countries. The President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Sadyr Japarov, was presented with the Russian Federation’s Order of Honour, highlighting his commitment to advancing Eurasian integration and strengthening partnership, trust, and cooperation. Japarov expressed a desire to develop integration potential within the CIS, CSTO, and EAEU.
Despite the full-scale Ukraine offensive, Putin’s isolation has been evident, with the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruling closing the door to a large part of the globe for him. Putin visited all five regional countries in 2022, presenting them as Russia’s core allies, as the Rome Statute, a treaty requiring ICC rulings, has been ratified by 123 countries. However, since January 2023, he has only visited Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan, and plans to visit North Korea and China.