Poles of attraction

[b]Despite pessimistic forecasts, ties between former Soviet republics remain two decades on, even strengthening between Belarus and Kyrgyzstan [/b] Minsk and Bishkek are situated far apart, yet have always had much in common; today, even more parallels are obvious, as we share serious economic interests, common foreign political priorities and warm and friendly relations. We have strong foundations for relationships, unbreakable by disputes. The current Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kyrgyz Republic to Belarus, H.E. Mr. Erik Asanaliev, has been in Minsk for less than a year. He notes that 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the USSR, with one sixth of the former USSR territory now split off as sovereign states. Of course, geopolitical ties remain, although each country now has its own national interests. Sometimes these coincide and sometimes they don’t but former Soviet republics retain a special relationship.
Despite pessimistic forecasts, ties between former Soviet republics remain two decades on, even strengthening between Belarus and Kyrgyzstan

Minsk and Bishkek are situated far apart, yet have always had much in common; today, even more parallels are obvious, as we share serious economic interests, common foreign political priorities and warm and friendly relations. We have strong foundations for relationships, unbreakable by disputes.
The current Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kyrgyz Republic to Belarus, H.E. Mr. Erik Asanaliev, has been in Minsk for less than a year. He notes that 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the USSR, with one sixth of the former USSR territory now split off as sovereign states. Of course, geopolitical ties remain, although each country now has its own national interests. Sometimes these coincide and sometimes they don’t but former Soviet republics retain a special relationship. In the case of Belarus and Kyrgyzstan, these ties have even intensified. Moreover, Minsk and Bishkek seem to be the most interested in integration within the CIS, taking part in almost every integration process, being at the hub of the Commonwealth.

Now is the time to sum up results and achievements. Soviet republics, including your country, are celebrating jubilees of independence. What are the major achievements of Kyrgyzstan?
In my opinion, the most vital is the nation’s awareness that Kyrgyzstan can live independently while being able to build a sovereign democratic state. A definite change has occurred in how we view ourselves. When the Soviet Union was collapsing, many were afraid that we, as a subsidised republic, wouldn’t manage without central subsidies. The whole industrial cycle which existed inside the Union was broken, so we had to begin from scratch. Our leaders were one of the first to introduce a national currency — the Som. Kyrgyzstan’s joining of the WTO ahead of other CIS states indicated our independent economic policy. These moments were vital achievements politically, although other states’
achievements may seem greater.
Our economic opportunities are restricted and our communications are complex, since we are land-locked, with no close sea access. We understand that we must do everything ourselves, as nobody will act for us. Our politicians have outlined our political, economic and social strategies, with guidelines on how to build relationships with neighbouring states, the wider world, and within regional and international organisations.

In late October, elections are scheduled for Kyrgyzstan, which has a world record for its number of candidates: around 80. Additionally, your country has hosted two revolutions led by the people in the past few years. Do you think political change will be gradual or should we expect more dramatic upheaval?
It’s surprising that there are 80 candidates. As far as revolutions are concerned, they happen when certain conditions arise and when the political structure, economic order or consciousness is ready for change. These are objective reasons. The fact that we’ve had two in Kyrgyzstan shows our society’s desire to self-determine its future. It also shows that something wasn’t in order.
We’ve guided our own development and now have a new constitution — as a result of a referendum. We’ve given devolved power to President Roza Otunbaeva for the transitional period; she’s pledged to form a parliament and government and conduct court reform. The country is prepared for its next stage of development, so I’d rather not contradistinguish a revolution and evolution.

Have you been ‘vaccinated’ against more revolutions?
I can’t say but there’s a public awareness that other paths of political development are possible. Presidential powers in our country have now been limited, transferred to parliament, so a balance of power is more evident. It’s vital that we see debate in the political arena. I believe that disequilibrium led to those bleak events we witnessed in the past.
How would you characterise today’s bilateral relationships? Recently, Minsk was visited by the Kyrgyz Prime Minister and, as we see from TV broadcasts from the CSTO and EurAsEC summits, our presidents often share their thoughts. What would you say to critics who see the situation with Kurmanbek Bakiyev as an obstacle to developing relations?
Kyrgyzstan and Belarus have never disagreed on any issue — either during the Soviet or post-Soviet times. Our bilateral relations have always been based on trust and we’ve always supported each other within international organisations. Nothing has changed in this respect.
As far as economic relations are concerned, events over the past year speak for themselves. It has been a very difficult time, with our republic feeling isolated. We had problems with supplies and, even, humanitarian cargoes, medicines, fuel and food. However, trade between Belarus and Kyrgyzstan did not fall.
The residency of the former Kyrgyz president in Belarus is an issue for debate, since Kyrgyzstan and Belarus are yet to agree on the matter. However, a compromise will surely be found. In my view, it’s only a matter of time.
We sometimes hide behind political announcements, when they are really just declarative; pragmatism leads us to concentrate on developing trade.

Belarus and Kyrgyzstan are jointly taking part in all integration associations within the CIS. You represent your country at such meetings, so you know the situation. Dushanbe has also hosted a jubilee summit of the CIS. What do you think of ill-wishers who say it’s run its course?
Sociologists, politicians and experts talk of a ‘civilised divorce’ and a ‘club of interests’ — perhaps because they don’t understand the real correlation of forces. To be clear, after the USSR collapsed, some CIS states faced a bleak situation, although they avoided the war seen in Yugoslavia. There were conflicts, which are now frozen. There has been a desire to settle problems peacefully, although the results are still unfolding.
We believe that the CIS has helped us preserve ties in various spheres, especially regarding humanitarian, scientific and military security. Some announcements and documents adopted by the CIS have remained declarative only — as there has been no opportunity to implement them. Meanwhile, the European Union has adopted various decisions, realising them over the course of several years…

Did you attend the Dushanbe meeting with definite initiatives?
It was a scheduled session. 2011 is a jubilee year for the CIS, so there are many cultural and humanitarian events planned. It’s vital to demonstrate our achievements of the past two decades and it’s useful to analyse our strengths and weaknesses.

Belarus and Kyrgyzstan are together in everything except the Customs Union, although the press have speculated that Bishkek has sent signals of its desire to join the ‘trio’. How does Kyrgyzstan view our union and does it really need the Customs Union, taking into account that it long ago joined the WTO?
Joining the WTO was a far-reaching step for Kyrgyzstan while the Customs Union offers further development. We’ve preserved industrial co-operation with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as joint communications. Our economies complement each other. Our legislation has already been adapted for the WTO, while your ‘trio’ is still bringing its legislation in line with that of this world organisation.
For us, the Customs Union offers access to the external world. We still find it difficult to compete on European markets, so we’re very interested in the Customs Union. Of course, all aspects will be taken into account before the final decision is made. The Customs Union is also a political union, which is attractive to Kyrgyzstan. We’re a good corridor to China for the Customs Union, so we can offer great opportunities in return. I believe we can be useful.
Ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan have made the CSTO think about reform. Belarus is currently chairing this organisation and, at the recent informal summit, Alexander Lukashenko spoke to Roza Otunbaeva, as we saw on TV. What were they discussing?
I wouldn’t say that CSTO reform is high on the agenda. I believe it’s more about the organisation’s adaptation to the changing situation — since it’s a military-political union. It’s still a young organisation, with experience yet being amassed. Moreover, members’ legislation is still being unified — for instance, in the sphere of peace-support operations.
At present, I see three major evils within the CSTO’s zone of responsibility: drugs, terrorism and separatism. We should pursue a trustworthy policy on these issues while making some agreed decisions.
When bleak events took place in the south of Kyrgyzstan in 2010, we were presented with a fait accompli, showing that this military-political organisation isn’t fully capable. Our legislation was inadequate. There was definite mutual political understanding but nobody knew how to act within the organisation, engaging existing instruments practically.
We understood that our organisation was lacking. Alongside our allies, we believe that Belarus’ presidency of the CSTO has been pro-active. Necessary decisions are being made and we’re seeing gradual change. Of course, Ms. Otunbaeva supports Mr. Lukashenko’s initiatives. We need a capable organisation.
Less than a year has passed since you arrived in Belarus, so your impressions of our country are still fresh. What has most surprised you? I’m interested in your point of view as an ordinary person and as a diplomat, who has set up relations between countries and has brought businessmen closer…
I’d never been to Belarus before but the Internet is always at hand, offering so much information. Primarily, it contains materials which reflect the EU’s perception of the situation in Belarus. I admit that I was influenced by this information and imagined some serious confrontation.
On arriving, I was greatly surprised to meet such calm, tolerant and benevolent people. As far as I see, your socially oriented policy allows a comfortable life for Belarusians and guests. Others share my opinion I think; I recently met Lithuanian businessmen and wondered how they build relations with Belarusian partners in view of EU sanctions. They say that it’s a political decision and, as far as business contacts are concerned, they don’t have any problems. I’m confident that the political side will be settled sooner or later.

By Igor Svetlov
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