Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan exchanged pointed accusations and diplomatic protests after Kazakhstan’s president met with a Kyrgyz presidential candidate, a meeting Bishkek said amounted to meddling in its internal politics.
The dispute between the two Central Asian neighbors deepened on September 20, a day after Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbaev held a meeting with Omurbek Babanov.
The meeting, which came just over three weeks before Kyrgyzstan holds an election to replace President Almazbek Atambaev, prompted an angry note from the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry.
"The Kyrgyz side considers the statements [made during the meeting] and the wide coverage of the meeting by the Kazakh side as an attempt to influence the choice of Kyrgyzstan's people and an interference into Kyrgyzstan's internal affairs," the ministry said.
Kazakhstan responded hours later with a similarly pointed message expressing “extreme surprise” at Bishkek’s statement.
“The meetings of the head of state with prominent politicians and leaders of political parties of different countries at their request take place on a regular basis and fully comply with international practice,” the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said.
Babanov, who served as prime minister in 2011-12, is a rival to the candidate that Atambaev has endorsed, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who himself stepped down as prime minister last month.
During the meeting in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, Nazarbaev, who has ruled since the Soviet era and is the singular politician in the country, "stressed the necessity to further strengthen ties between the two brotherly nations," according to the presidential office.
"During the years of Kyrgyzstan's independence, I have always tried to work fruitfully with all your presidents," he told Babanov. "We will be continuing to effectively cooperate with a new president the Kyrgyz nation will grant the trust."
Babanov was quoted as saying that when he was prime minister, Nazarbaev was "always providing us with all possible assistance."
"We accept with joy the successful achievement of brotherly Kazakhstan," he added.
Kyrgyzstan’s Central Election Commission told RFE/RL it will examine the meeting in Almaty for possible legal violations.
Meanwhile, Atambaev used his appearance before the United Nations General Assembly on September 20 to give veiled criticism of his Central Asian neighbors, as he extolled his country's political system.
"Peace, harmony, and stability -- these are our main achievements of the last years. The country is changing before our eyes. Today, the Kyrgyz Republic is the first and the only country in post-Soviet Central Asia with parliamentary democracy,” he said.
He also appeared to poke at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has pointed to two popular uprisings in Kyrgyzstan, and in other ex-Soviet republics, over the past 14 years, asserting they were fomented by the United States.
"I am proud of my freedom-loving people, who have staged two national revolutions against dictatorial regimes over the last 12 years and have proven that the people are the only possible source of power in the Kyrgyz Republic,” Atambaev said.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Kazakh and Kyrgyz services