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Atambaev Lashes Out At Kazakh Leader, Urges Shift Of Trade To Other Neighbors

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbaev.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbaev.

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has leveled indirect but harsh criticism against his Kazakh counterpart, the latest salvo in a dispute between the two Central Asian countries.

Atambaev said on October 27 that a persistent bottleneck at the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border showed that Bishkek's hopes for the Eurasian Economic Union (EES), a trade alliance linking several former Soviet republics, "were too high."

"A union that depends on the whims of one person, no matter how great that person is, cannot be solid," Atambaev said in an apparent reference to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev -- who founded the EES with the presidents of Russia and Belarus.

Kyrgyzstan has blamed Kazakhstan for long lines and slow movement of travelers, cars, and truck across the border, delays that began when Kazakh authorities stepped up checks at the frontier on October 10.

Astana Denies Political Motives

The bottlenecks began after Atambaev accused Kazakhstan of meddling in the campaign for Kyrgyzstan's October 15 presidential election and criticized the authoritarian Nazarbaev over his long rule. Kazakh officials have denied any political motive for procedures at the border.

In his latest remarks, Atambaev said that due to problems faced by Kyrgyz exporters on the border with Kazakhstan -- which lies between Kyrgyzstan and Russia -- he plans to order the government to swiftly outline routes for exporting agricultural output to Uzbekistan and China.

The EES is dominated by Russia and Kazakhstan, the energy-producing countries that have its biggest economies, but Atambaev made clear he was not criticizing Moscow. He said that "brotherly Russia has been and will be Kyrgyzstan's reliable partner."

"I recommend that business people and the government from now on export industrial output to Russia by railway in sealed train cars. Because that is what we agreed on with the Russian president, the respected Vladimir Putin," he said.

Aid Agreement Denounced

Also on October 27, Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Aiymkan Kulukeeva said Kazakhstan's move to tighten control for individuals and trucks crossing the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border goes against the EES's goals.

On October 24, Kyrgyzstan officially informed Kazakhstan about denouncing an agreement under which it would have received some $100 million in aid from Kazakhstan to bring its infrastructure up to the standards of the EES.

Kyrgyzstan joined the trade bloc, which also includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia, in August 2015. In December 2016, Kazakhstan agreed to grant $100 million in aid to Kyrgyzstan.

On October 7, Atambaev accused Kazakh authorities were "meddling in Kyrgyzstan's domestic affairs" and throwing their support behind Omurbek Babanov, the chief rival of Atambaev's favored successor Sooronbai Jeenbekov, in the election. The accusations came after Nazarbaev met with Babanov last month.

Jeenbekov won the election and is scheduled to take office on December 1.

Atambaev was limited by the constitution to a single presidential term.