New Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov made his first trip abroad this week, traveling to Moscow for a two-day working visit on February 24 that included meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia as a first destination for a Kyrgyz president is no surprise; it’s essentially tradition. Japarov’s predecessor, whom he all-but-ousted in October 2020, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, traveled to Russia for a state visit within a month of his election in 2017; Almazbek Atambayev made his first foreign visit as president to Russia in February 2012 (while he was elected in October 2011, he did not take office until December 1 that year.)
In his remark, Japarov said that his visit “proves the high level of bilateral relations between our countries” and expressed the Kyrgyz side’s desire to continue strengthening the strategic partnership between the two.
Japarov expressed gratitude for Russia’s support and “all-around assistance” in resolving Kyrgyzstan’s political crisis. This is, to be frank, diplomatic claptrap: While Kyrgyzstan was wracked with protests after the botched October 4, 2020 parliamentary elections, Russia suspended aid. Then in late October — notably after Japarov rose to the twin positions of prime minister and acting president — Putin quipped at the Valdai discussion club that “Every time they have an election, they practically have a coup… This is not funny.”
Russia did resume aid, and in late November announced it would provide $8 million in humanitarian assistance to Kyrgyzstan in conjunction with the United Nations’ World Food Program.
It’s no secret that Russia is not a big fan of protest-driven regime change. But across each of Kyrgyzstan’s presidential changeovers — whether via revolution, protest, or ballot box — Bishkek has remain a close ally for Moscow. Deep historical ties, geography, and economic necessities tie the two countries together in such a fashion that any Kyrgyz leader would be hard-pressed to avoid dealing with Russia.
In his remarks, Japarov also expressed thanks to Putin for Russia’s support during the pandemic and lauded the reported “high efficiency and safety” of the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V. Japarov stated his hopes to launch a vaccination campaign soon in Kyrgyzstan.
RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service noted access to the Russian vaccine, grant aid, and a $100 million soft loan as on the likely agenda for negotiations during the visit, in addition to discussion of gas tariffs and rail and flight frequency.
Accompanying Japarov on the working visit are the newly appointed Kyrgyz Ambassador to the Russian Federation Gulnara-Klara Samat, Foreign Minister Ruslan Kazakbayev ,the head of the Investment Promotion Agency Almambet Shykmamatov, the acting mayor of Bishkek, Baktybek Kudaibergenov, and a bevy of other ministers, including of defense, agriculture and energy. In addition to the meeting with Putin, the Kyrgyz delegation is supposed to meet with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and the speakers of the both chambers of parliament, Valentina Matviyenko and Vyacheslav Volodin.
It’s unlikely that any major deals will be struck on the brief visit. The aim is certainly for the Japarov government to communicate with the Russian side that it has control of the situation in Kyrgyzstan and that Japarov is the right partner to continue forward with. Japarov’s control of Kyrgyzstan, however, may be tenuous. Kyrgyzstan is set for local council elections on April 11, which will be paired with a second referendum on a new constitution that will, if adopted, see the return of a strong presidential system to Kyrgyzstan after a decade flirtation with parliamentarism.