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Former Kyrgyz President: Time To Mend Fences With Successor Passed

Almazbek Atambaev speaks to a crowd in Bishkek in July.
Almazbek Atambaev speaks to a crowd in Bishkek in July.

BISHKEK -- Former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev, who faces five counts of criminally abusing his office when he held power from 2011 to 2017, says the time to mend fences with his successor, incumbent Sooronbai Jeenbekov, "has passed."

Atambaev briefly spoke to journalists and supporters at a Russian air base in the town of Kant near Bishkek on July 25 after his arrival aboard a private jet from Moscow, where he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin a day earlier.

After the meeting, Putin called for the Kyrgyz people to unite around Jeenbekov for the sake of the country's development, to which Atambaev replied that Kyrgyzstan’s current authorities "do not care about the country's development, but only about their own interests and those of their relatives."

"Putin's call to unite was just a wish. It does not matter who says that we need to unite...Vladimir Putin or, for instance, [U.S. President Donald] Trump.... There must be an exact moment for that. I told Putin that such a moment is gone. I told him that we can try and the Kyrgyz people might unite if Jeenbekov makes steps toward that. But the truth is, as you see, Jeenbekov had to start uniting people from the very first days of his leadership."

When asked if his trip to Moscow was a sign of Russia's interference in Kyrgyzstan's internal affairs, Atambaev answered that it was not the case.

"Vladimir Putin is my close friend. He is very concerned about what is happening in our country. He invited me to Moscow two or three times before but I refused. In the end, I agreed to go. I did not initiate the trip," Atambaev said.

Answering a question about possible dissolution of the group of his supporters at his residential compound in Koi-Tash village near Bishkek, Atambaev said the group will grow and turn into a "larger force."

He also said that he was not going to obey an Interior Ministry subpoena calling him in for questioning.

"I just want to say it again: The government must first return to legal boundaries and then we can talk about it," Atambaev said, stressing that the parliamentary vote that stripped him of immunity from prosecution in June was illegal.

"I am ready for any developments," the former president said before getting in a car and leaving the air base.

Public Falling Out

Atambaev's trip to Moscow and talks with Putin came amid an ongoing open stand-off between Atambaev and his successor, who also met with Putin in Moscow on July 11 as he made his way back home after an official trip to Switzerland.

Limited to a single six-year term by the constitution, Atambaev tapped Jeenbekov, his former prime minister, as his favored candidate in the October 2017 presidential election.

But the two have had a public falling out and have criticized each other for more than a year.

Several associates of Atambaev have been arrested on corruption charges, and Atambaev himself faces five counts of criminal misconduct while in office -- including corruption, abuse of office, and illegally enriching himself.

Atambaev has rejected all of the charges saying they are politically motivated. He refused to obey Interior Ministry subpoenas in an unspecified criminal investigation three times earlier in July.

Under Kyrgyz law, a person who refuses to comply with two subpoenas can be forcibly detained for questioning. But authorities in Bishkek so far have not attempted to carry out such a move against the former president.

Atambaev's lawyer, Sergei Slesarev, has said that amendments made in May to Kyrgyzstan's law on the immunity of former presidents are unconstitutional.

Kyrgyz lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to remove Atambaev's immunity in a move that cleared the way for his prosecution.