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Kyrgyzstan and the Customs Union: the political dimension
Material posted: -Publication date: 28-05-2013

Of course, multilateral and bilateral relations of the Customs Union States and Kyrgyzstan, as well as statements of guidance at a high level are characterized by their focus on the integration course, as well as supporting General initiatives.

Besides, as events have shown, today, 2011, there was a kind of understanding of the subtleties of the existence of a common economic space. The transformation of the outer perimeter of the countries participating in the only protected, numerous claims transit of Chinese goods and Russian oil products via Belarus, appeared to the dissatisfaction of Astana and Minsk against Russian producers and the possible monopolization of the Customs Union explicitly encourage potential participants to start thinking. Integration of Kyrgyzstan with the countries with high economic development is one of priorities of foreign policy. The specificity of modern conditions in the country and in Central Asia as a whole, leads to the emergence of entirely different pictures, different from the utopian perception of integration within the Customs Union.

Today, there are several factors that have to some extent impact on the decision-making process in Kyrgyzstan.

First, this plexus geopolitical games in the region, and set priorities of the Central Asian countries in their foreign policy orientation courses. As you know, the idea of creating the Customs Union was met by the US as Russia's attempt to recreate the old Soviet Union. In this connection, the struggle for Central Asia between the countries began to acquire new traits. Given the fact that the main economic centers of the region such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan quickly found their protectors, the Russian-American antagonism was the basis of the struggle for small countries. Kyrgyzstan due to its location and potential, is largely a matter of close attention and interests of world powers. This explains the presence of foreign military bases in the country, and fighting for them with the purpose of chasing "the opponent" from strategically important areas.

But despite the painful issue of military bases, Russia puts the focus on the development of the hydropower potential of Kyrgyzstan, hoping to translate the promises of the Kyrgyz leadership in life. Accordingly, the most promising sector of Kyrgyzstan, which is not able to be supported internally in view of the systemic crisis in the country is nothing else but a lure to joining the Customs Union. I.e. based on past experience, the Kremlin apparently intends to play the hydropower map, giving the appearance of a basic agreement and the readiness of allocating large investments for the construction of a number of HPPs in Kyrgyzstan. On this basis, without clear results of Kyrgyzstan's joining the Customs Union, Russia will leave the final decision on the construction of large hydropower plants.

Further, taking into account the negative dynamics of the exchange of services and goods in the territory of the Customs Union, the involvement of Kyrgyzstan in the project, in fact, must be accompanied by multimillion-dollar grants from the customs Union. The strengthening of borders in this case is a paramount condition for the provision of guarantees Moscow, Astana and Minsk against smuggling of goods, reducing the flow of drugs, etc. However, in the presence of the "Ghost" of the border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan (total length is 1378 km of which still require the determination of approximately 350 km – 50 controversial areas, including enclaves), as well as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (total length of 971 km, redelineation about 470 km.) border issue, apparently, is a long-term perspective. Besides, Uzbekistan unequivocally shows the behavior that is in no hurry to address this issue, leaving a field for manoeuvre in the event of the actual start of construction of HPPs in Kyrgyzstan and the reduction of water discharge in the Syrdarya river. Border conflicts, which periodically flare up between residents of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, can fill bilateral water stress aggravated the issue of relations between the two countries and provide an opportunity for the Tashkent for alternative solutions to existing problems in the future.

Secondly, taking into consideration the economic factor, the Kyrgyz Republic, with the lack of money in the state budget will insist on funding all the activities in the Customs Union by current members. And this is well understood both in the country and abroad. However, the analysis shows that the involvement of Kyrgyzstan in the Customs Union (and the whole project), in its essence, defines economic factors the role of the second, and even third plan, putting at the forefront of political Affairs strategic partnership. However, as far as the political factor interaction, underpinned by weak economic cooperation (or rather one-way flow of funds), will be the dominant factor in the relations of the Customs Union and Kyrgyzstan remains a big question. According to a private source in the Kyrgyz government, the Kyrgyz Republic, taking into account economic and political risks for the country, the presence of the geopolitical hub in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan in particular), and weak efficiency of the state apparatus will not rush to join the Customs Union, applying a maximum of efforts for increase of time for preparation.

Kazakhstan in the issues of joining of Kyrgyzstan to the Customs Union has a special role. On the one hand, as a neighboring country, Kazakhstan stands as a well-wisher, trying not to indulge, but at least to meet the basic requests from the Kyrgyz leadership. So, about a month ago, the bilateral Commission studied the situation on the border between the countries to optimize the movement of people and goods. KYRGYZ President Almazbek Atambayev, who committed in April on a working visit to Astana, has made significant logistical support from Kazakhstan. It is noteworthy to mention that at the end of may it is expected a similar visit, the purpose of which is synchronization of watches on the agreements reached between the two countries. On this basis, Kazakhstan has formed a favorable image of a reliable partner and States calling for a common cause.

A different perspective on the situation allows you to add a bit of sobriety in the overall situation. The position of Kazakhstan in Kyrgyzstan at the present stage radically different from that which could be observed 10 years ago. Re-profile the Kyrgyz economy leads to the fact that Kazakhstan is today the main country, through which goes the flow of goods from Kyrgyzstan, which automatically transforms it into the main source of income for Kyrgyz entrepreneurs. Awareness of this factor the Kazakh authorities, together with its obligations under the Customs Union has a certain effect on the behavior of Kazakhstan in relation to its neighbor. Total control on the border, the tightening of the permit regime, the unilateral reduction of transport connections and creation of obstacles for vehicles from Kyrgyzstan to combine to create various levels the circumstances and prerequisites that may affect relations between countries.

According to private sources, involved at the border, the local level is caused by the increase of smuggling of goods, the share of which reaches an estimated 50%-90% of total monthly turnover. Moreover, such a shadow character can not go unnoticed by Moscow, against the background of the already existing grievances against Astana, may lead to even stricter measures at the border. Shuttle trade, which in fact, is one of the main ways of income of the Kyrgyz economy is exposed to strong pressure from the Customs Union and the solo role of Kazakhstan in this process. In this regard, the tightening of the Astana border regime is seen as creating compulsory conditions for Kyrgyzstan, which, according to the Kazakh authorities, will contribute to accelerate the integration. On the other hand, similar behavior of Kazakhstan causes a wave of discontent among migrant workers and entrepreneurs from Kyrgyzstan, which periodically go on the official level. And, today, Kazakhstan, in their actions and ongoing information policy goes to the level close to Russia increased social intolerance and lack of intercultural tolerance towards visitors. This is the social level, which is in its kind one of the goals of integration, becomes an indicator of what to Kyrgyzstan can be observed from the customs Union in case of membership of the Union in Bishkek.

The weakness of Kyrgyzstan at the present stage, due to a systemic crisis, we must recognize, is not only for geopolitical centres, but also regional neighbors as a kind of bait for the strengthening of its economic positions and to establish the influence on the authorities. And with this in mind, I would like to note that Kyrgyzstan in its choice of foreign policy and "strategic partnership" must proceed from our own interests and needs based on a thorough analysis of possible risks, despite the rosy prospects outlined by regional partners.


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