Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Kyrgyzstan on April 4-5 to get relations between Moscow and Bishkek back on track. Normally good ties between the two countries were damaged earlier this year during the visit of Kyrgyzstan's president to Moscow and due to recent nationalist comments from Kyrgyz officials.
Lavrov met with his Kyrgyz counterpart Ruslan Kazakbaev on April 5 and comments from Kazakbaev after the meeting showed a softening of Kyrgyzstan's position. Kazakbaev said Russia was a "reliable partner and ally" and the Kyrgyz foreign minister said his country was "counting on Russian investors" to help solve Kyrgyzstan's chronic problem with energy shortages.
Officials from Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Energy and representatives of Inter RAO EES and RusGidro were also meeting to discuss Russian participation in hydropower projects in Kyrgyzstan and officials from Kyrgyzgaz and Russia's Gazprom also met to discuss cooperation. The parties appear to have made progress on completing Kyrgyzstan's Kambar-Ata-1 hydropower plant and vowed to have a plan for the project by the end of April. Gazprom and Kyrgyzgaz also said the principles for the privatization of Kyrgyzgaz, which Gazprom had said it would take a 75-percent plus one share of, would be ready as early as April 10.
The two foreign ministers addressed some of the issues that have created a rift in Russian-Kyrgyz ties recently. Lavrov said the Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan, at Kant, "meets the interests of Kyrgyzstan."
During President Atambaev's February visit to Russia he said Moscow had neglected to pay rent for use of the Kant base for some four years and Russia owed Kyrgyzstan some $15 million. Atambaev even threatened to close Kant saying the Russian base "is not fulfilling its obligations" and asking "do we need such a base?" Russian President Dmitri Medvedev ordered Russia's Defense Ministry to pay the rent within 10 days (which it did) but Atambaev's comment ignited criticism in the Russian media, which reminded the Kyrgyz president “the question of the repayment of Kyrgyzstan’s public debt to the Russian Federation, amounting to almost half a billion dollars ($493 million), is more complicated.”
Atambaev has repeatedly vowed not extend the lease of the Manas base used by U.S. troops when the current agreement expires in 2014. But shortly after that, when U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited in March, Kyrgyz officials seemed to hedge and leave the possibility open that Kyrgyzstan and the U.S. could work out some arrangement for the U.S. to continue to use the base, for the last few years formally called a "transit center," to support operations in Afghanistan after 2014.
Lavrov mentioned that a "transshipment center" Russia and NATO have agreed to establish in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk for the withdrawal of NATO forces and equipment from Afghanistan. Lavrov said "there will be no military of civilian NATO personnel there." The Russian foreign minister also said Moscow respects Kyrgyzstan's decision to close the U.S. base at Manas.
Foreign Minister Kazakbaev also noted the importance of Russian language for his country and expressed regret that "lately in Kyrgyzstan the status of Russian language has been under discussion." Kazakbaev said there would be no change to Russian language's status as an official language in Kyrgyzstan. Some members of parliament had recently been calling for cancelling legislation from the mid-1990s that gave Russian language official status. Granting Russian such a status was intended to slow the departure of Russian-speakers, among who were the most skilled-laborers in Kyrgyzstan.
Also, the Kyrgyz president's office announced on April 5 the ambassador to Russia would be changed.
With ITAR-TASS, Interfax, AKIpress, 24.kg and KyrTAg reporting