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Outside View: Russia Stages A Comeback

Moscow (SPX) Sep 12, 2005
The presidential administration and the government of Russia have drafted a plan to step up Russian influence in Kyrgyzstan. It covers all strategic directions of bilateral cooperation - from ties in the military and military-technical sphere to contacts in hydropower engineering and other budget-forming industries of Kyrgyzstan.

The plan provides for the construction of Kambarata-1 and Kambarata-2 hydroelectric cascades by Unified Energy Systems of Russia (UES), Russia's electricity giant, with the participation of Russian Aluminum (RUSAL) in the south of the republic.

RUSAL will build a major aluminum plant in the south of Kyrgyzstan that will use the energy from the Kambarata hydropower stations. The plan also envisages exploration and development of gas deposits and the construction of new gas pipelines by Gazprom, Russia's natural gas monopoly.

Moscow elaborated this plan in cooperation with Bishkek. The Russian leaders discussed it with President Bakiyev during his recent visit to Moscow. It is clear that Bishkek wants Russian corporations to invest virtually in the entire hydropower industry of this small republic. RUSAL will soon have de facto monopoly in its non-ferrous metallurgy, and Gazprom in its gas industry.

Plans in the military-technical sphere are not so impressive but tell-tale. The air defenses of Kyrgyzstan will be upgraded with Russian money, its armed forces will receive Russian weapons and combat hardware at plant wholesale prices, and the Russian air force base in Kant will be enlarged.

By and large, these projects are not new. They virtually give a new lease of life to Moscow's former plans, and turn them into a uniform and clear-cut strategy. But the deadlines are new: The projects should be implemented in 2005-2007.

For the current Kyrgyz administration these deadlines coincide with the same three years set by President Bakiyev for reviving the Kyrgyz economy, and bringing the living standards to a more or less acceptable level.

Moscow has decided to write off half of Kyrgyz debt to Russia, meeting halfway the current leaders of the republic. Bishkek has long hinted that it expects Russia to make this gesture of goodwill. Moscow also intends to simplify the procedures for employment and residence of Kyrgyz guest workers in Russia. This is a key problem for Kyrgyzstan.

In the estimate of Kyrgyz bankers, the contribution of guest workers to the republic's treasury exceeds by several times the U.S. payments (over $100 million a year) for the use of Manas airport as its air force base.

Needless to say, all these steps by Moscow call for Bishkek's reciprocity. In all probability, Moscow will sooner or later raise the issue of the U.S. Air Force base in Manas. While still being acting president of Kyrgyzstan, Bakiyev signed a declaration of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, urging the United States to determine the deadlines for the withdrawal of its bases from Central Asia.

True, during his latest urgent visit to Bishkek, U.S. Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld agreed with his Kyrgyz counterpart Ismail Isakov that the United States would keep its base in Manas until the situation in Afghanistan became stable.

Moscow cannot welcome such a vague definition of the deadlines since it plans to stage a comeback to Central Asia. This plan has good chances of success. By virtue of historical and geopolitical factors, Kyrgyzstan views Russia not just as a strategic partner but also as a guarantor of its security and territorial integrity (this is typical of other Central Asian republic to a bigger or lesser extent).

Indicatively, the same factors were at work during the presidency of Askar Akayev. But their influence was diminished by the mediocre economic and humanitarian policies conducted by Moscow in Kyrgyzstan in the last 15 years.

As Kyrgyz politicians and businessmen say, as a result Moscow has lost its political influence in Kyrgyzstan, while the US influence has considerably grown. For this reason Moscow can hardly expect the same hearty welcome as it enjoyed before. More likely, Russia will have to regain its lost influence, a fact that is acknowledged in Moscow.

Before the recent CIS summit a high-ranking source in the Kremlin said: "The Kremlin admits that Russia has made a serious mistake by not working on strengthening and consolidating the CIS way back in the early 1990s." Having admitted this mistake, Moscow is now eager to correct it.

(Pyotr Goncharov is a political commentator for the RIA Novosti news agency. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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Outside View: Russia's Future
St Petersburg, Russia (UPI) Sep 06, 2005
Today people over 65 in Russia are a lost generation, the old communist welfare state is gone, and besides living in poverty they are discredited as political mishaps from a bygone era.

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