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Kyrgyz President Bakiyev Makes First State Visit to Russia


Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev is on his first state visit to Russia - a visit expected to be dominated by economic and security concerns. Mr. Bakiyev kicked off two days of talks by meeting President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.

Kyrgyz officials say Mr. Bakiyev's trip to Moscow this week is proof of the priority Bishkek places on its relationship with Russia, especially regarding foreign policy. But most veteran analysts believe the talks will focus on efforts to broaden trade and economic ties between Bishkek and Moscow.

Kumar Bekbalatov, who heads up the Bishkek office of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), says Bakiyev's visit presents lucrative opportunities for Russia.

"In Russia, the desire [is] to get into the energy sector in Kyrgyzstan. And we see Russian giant Gazprom entering the Kyrgyz economy, at least the first statement [is] an agreement has been reached," he said. "Also, there have been talks of building an aluminum plant in southern Kyrgyzstan, as well as modernizing the electric energy sector. I think the expectation is that the visit will solidify all these agreements."

Bekbalatov tells VOA that military cooperation could also figure large in this week's talks, especially given President Bakiyev's warning to the United States last week. In it, he said that his government could expel one-thousand U.S. troops from a Kyrgyz base (Manas) used to support anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, if the United States does not agree to pay more by June 1st.

Bekbalatov says, in his view, the threat is more about trying to score political favor with Russia than anything else.

"This statement was made precisely because of the need of President Bakiyev to show some type of at least political loyalty, and to appease some of the [regional] concerns related to the airbase," added Bekbalatov.

Moscow initially signed off on the increased U.S. military presence in Central Asia, but in recent months has shown signs of withdrawing its support. Russia also has an airbase in Kyrgyzstan. And following his talks with Mr. Bakiyev, President Putin made clear Russia plans to expand its military resources in Kyrgyzstan, an area that was once in the zone of Soviet influence.

Putin says he looks forward to continued military-technical cooperation with Bishkek on this issue.

Mr. Bakiyev was later scheduled to discuss cultural and educational projects, as well as efforts to guarantee the rights of Russian citizens in Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyz citizens in Russia.

The Bakiyev visit to Moscow comes against a backdrop of growing unrest back home. In the 10 months that followed his rise to power, following last year's political revolution, there has been a series of high-profile killings of lawmakers, prison riots, and highly divisive battles between competing clans for control of big business.

Some analysts suggest Kyrgyzstan risks civil war, if President Bakiyev does not get control of the corrupt clans, some of whose members have made their way into the current parliament, enjoying parliamentary immunity from criminal prosecution.

Meanwhile, opposition parties and civic organizations have vowed to stage a mass rally in the Kyrgyz capital this week to pressure President Bakiyev to step up the fight against organized crime and to move forward with long-promised democratic reforms.

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