Kyrgyzstan: Kulov Confederation Plan Slated

Idea of union with Russia attacked by establishment and opposition alike.

Kyrgyzstan: Kulov Confederation Plan Slated

Idea of union with Russia attacked by establishment and opposition alike.

Kyrgyz opposition leader Felix Kulov’s proposal to create a confederation between Kyrgyzstan, Russia and other former Soviet states has provoked widespread criticism from analysts and politicians across the political spectrum.

Kulov, a former prime minister of Kyrgyzstan and leader of the opposition United Front for a Worthy Future, mooted the idea of a political alliance with Russia on a television broadcast on May 30.

He then outlined the proposal in an interview in the opposition Agym newspaper on June 1, arguing that a confederation with Russia would help unite the country’s population - divided between the north and the poorer south - while boosting its flagging economy.

He is calling for a referendum to gauge support for the confederation, under which Kyrgyzstan would retain full sovereignty, and is in the process of collecting the 300,000 signatures necessary to hold one – an initiative launched at a supporters’ assembly on June 2.

If the referendum shows that the majority of Kyrgyz citizens approve of a union with Russia, the authorities would be obliged to take the proposal to the Moscow authorities. If the government fails to hold a referendum by June 20, then a petition will be gathered, calling for the dissolution of the present parliament, as well as new parliamentary and presidential elections.

While Kulov seems confident of popular support, his proposal has not gone down well with either the establishment or the opposition.

Many perceive a union with the larger country as a threat to Kyrgyz sovereignty – the country has been independent since 1991, following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Kulov’s detractors accuse him of appealing to nationalist sentiment to garner support and revive his career – which has been flagging since parliament refused to approve his candidacy as prime minister in January.

Kulov rejects the notion that a confederation between Kyrgyzstan, Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union poses any threat to Kyrgyz sovereignty, and instead sees the union as a means of strengthening law and order.

“If we create an international formation of this kind, then bandits will not be able to rule our country,” he told IWPR.

He also sees it as an opportunity to enhance defence and boost trade across borders.

“Kyrgyzstan will be able to solve issues of defence and border security together with other members of the confederation, to introduce common customs regulations, use a single currency and solve other issues that are important for Kyrgyzstan,” he added.

He said that history shows uniting with Russia has strengthened Kyrgyzstan and improved living conditions there, while allowing it to retain its own culture.

“As part of Tsarist Russia, and, subsequently, as part of the USSR, the Kyrgyz were able to preserve their unity and nationality. When Kyrgyzstan faces issues of water supply, electricity production, threats of drug trafficking and other problems, our country cannot get by without support from the outside,” he said.

There is already much cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the military sphere.

A Russian airbase was opened in the Kyrgyz town of Kant, 14 kilometres north of Bishkek, in October 2003. Kyrgyz military personnel are often trained in Russia and Moscow supplies Kyrgyz military forces with material and technical support.

Kyrgyz defence ministry official Ismail Isakov said in an interview with the Russian newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda on May 29 that Russian-Kyrgyz cooperation is “effective, friendly and mutually beneficial”.

The two countries also cooperate in economy and business, with Russia investing in Kyrgyz agriculture, energy, aluminium, and development of uranium, and, depending on how this is calculated, between 300,000 to 700,000 Kyrgyz nationals work in Russia.

“Kyrgyzstan is interested in Russian investment, and increasing this is a realistic possibility, “said Apas Jumagulov, the Kyrgyz ambassador to Russia.

According to government sources, there is 513 million US dollars of trade between Kyrgyzstan and Russia a year currently, and analysts say there is potential to double this.

But in spite of the obvious benefits closer cooperation could bring, Kulov’s proposal for a formal confederation between the countries has been slated by politicians.

Strongest censure came from leader of the Forum of Young Politicians Adil Turdukulov who characterised it as “a populist move by a politician who is swiftly losing his popularity and authority among the people”.

“It is the last attempt to win over at least the Russian-speaking section of society, the section that is nostalgic for the Soviet past. This is a reckless idea, and it will not gain support from the majority of the population, as it undermines sovereignty and threatens the integrity of the country,” he told IWPR.

Turdukulov can’t see the idea working and compares it the proposed confederation between Russia and Belarus, where talks between countries appear to have stalled due to disagreement over the terms of the union.

“This idea is risky and perilous for Kulov himself, because if the idea is a failure, then the subsequent ideas that he comes up with will not be accepted by society or even his supporters,” said Turdukulov.

Kyrgyz analyst Valentin Bogatyrev believes that this is a “foolish” idea that could even harm relations between the countries. He argues that having left behind the yoke of Soviet rule, the Kyrgyz population wants to hang on to self-determination.

“The majority of Kyrgyzstan citizens, after 15 years of independence, do not want to live under the rule of Moscow, under ‘big brother’, and they will oppose this idea, which will worsen relations with Russia,” Bogatyrev told IWPR.

“Russia itself is completely uninterested in this idea, and no one there is even discussing it.”

Bogatyrev suggests Kulov made this proposal out of powerlessness, helplessness and a lack of good political ideas.

“It is an unsuccessful attempt to play to the feelings of a certain section of the population,” he said.

Analyst Alexander Knyazev agrees that Kulov is trying to revive his popularity, which dipped after the failed opposition rallies in April this year.

“Felix Kulov’s rating fell after the April incidents, and at the same time there has been a considerable increase in pro-Russian feelings, and so he is trying to attract the interest of the electorate for whom cooperation with Russia would be beneficial - migrants, for example,” he said.

Knyazev can see no economic or political benefits for Russia in such a union.

“For Russia, Kyrgyzstan is of medium importance, as it does not bring economic benefits. Furthermore, this will create problems for Russia with western countries, and I don’t think that Kazakstan or Uzbekistan will be happy either,” said Knyazev.

Parliamentary deputy Akhmat Keldibekov said that Kulov got carried away when he came up with his proposal.

“We are a sovereign country, and we have our own attributes of a sovereign nation. Such things must not be announced on behalf of the entire nation. I categorically object to this, and I don’t think that Russia is prepared to meet us with open arms,” said Keldibekov.

While parliamentary speaker Marat Sultanov supports stronger Kyrgyz-Russian cooperation, he opposes the confederation, insisting that “a sovereign nation is a great asset for any people”.

Sultanov argues that there is already cooperation in existence between the countries, with citizens free to live in both.

“We must be guided by our own political considerations; if a person wants to live in the Russian state, then go ahead, the road is open, we have the institution of dual citizenship,” he said.

Even Kulov’s former supporters in the opposition have attacked the idea.

Kanybek Imanaliev, an opposition deputy, supports the idea of closer cooperation in a customs union with Russia, Kazakstan, Tajikistan and Belarus - “which may be turned into a Eurasian Union”.

These countries, he said, share “a common history, a common culture, and common social values”.

But he deems Kulov’s idea of a confederation as impractical.

“Firstly, the confederation goes against the principles of the constitution and national interests. Secondly, we do not have common borders with Russia,” he said.

While Temir Sariev, opposition deputy and one of the leaders at the April protests, believes the proposed confederation is unrealistic and ill-considered, and questions Kulov’s motives.

“Kulov wants to use this idea to halt the process of his departure from the political scene, but, unfortunately, he missed his chance when he was a real leader,” he said.

Taalaibek Amanov is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.
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