Southern Kyrgyzstan Tinderbox Awaits Next Spark

A recent International Crisis Group (ICG) report on tensions in Kyrgyzstan’s south has raised pointed questions about the country’s underlying stability. The ICG report, “Kyrgyzstan: Widening Ethnic Divisions in the South,” calls the current peace in Osh “superficial,” noting that “neither the Kyrgyz nor Uzbek community feels it can hold.” The ICG describes the central government as unwilling or unable to remove nationalist Osh Mayor Melis Myrzakmatov and engage in the long-term effort that would be required to mitigate mistrust and dislocation between the two communities.

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US Secretary of Defense Seeks to Shore Up Manas Air Base

Secretary Panetta visited Kyrgyzstan on March 13 to solidify that Bishkek honors its commitment to the agreement to host the U.S. military’s Transit Center at Manas International Airport outside Bishkek. The agreement lasts through mid-2014, though U.S. forces will need the base at least through the end of that year. Previous negotiations have been volatile, though each has ended in the U.S. paying a significantly higher price in exchange for business continuing as usual. Yet, given Moscow’s interest in avoiding a haphazard U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan, there is reason to believe that agreements over the Manas base will be extended as long as needed.

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Azerbaijan Planning Oil Refinery in Kyrgyzstan

Azerbaijan’s state oil company, SOCAR, is negotiating with authorities in Kyrgyzstan to set up a refinery in the country. While the project may help the Kyrgyz economy, it remains unclear whether it will help wean Bishkek off Russian energy supplies or force Kyrgyzstan simply to swap its dependence on Russian refined fuel for a dependence on Russian crude oil.

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China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway Brings Political Risks

The below article originally appeared in the March 7, 2012 edition of the Central Asia and Caucasus Analyst, a bi-weekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center.

The signature infrastructure project of Kyrgyzstan’s new leadership is a 268 kilometer railroad line that would link China with Kyrgyzstan’s southern provinces and Uzbekistan. President Atambayev insists that Kyrgyzstan would profit greatly from inter-regional transit trade if the US$ 2 billion-plus line were built. Restrictions on Kyrgyzstan’s once lucrative practice of re-exporting Chinese goods to Russia and Kazakhstan have been increasingly curtailed by new Customs Union rules, leaving Bishkek searching for new sources of national income and employment. While the railroad would lower the costs for traders, its price tag in both monetary and political terms will not be insignificant.

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Gambling in Kyrgyzstan: The Thirty-Day Itch

Officials in Kyrgyzstan appear to be of two minds about the country’s gambling industry.

Until a ban came into force on January 1, the sector was booming, relatively speaking. The injunction, drawn up under former Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev (now president) and his deputy prime minister, Omurbek Babanov (now prime minister), was, they said until a few weeks ago, necessary to crack down on organized crime. Now the Atambayev-Babanov tandem seems to think allowing some gambling could burnish their pro-business credentials.

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Monitoring Kyrgyzstan’s Presidential Election

For the 2011 Kyrgyzstan Presidential election, I was an accredited international election observer for the National Democratic Institute, funded by USAID. I observed voting in a dozen precincts in the Jalalabad region, southern Kyrgyzstan, and home of some of its more volatile political and criminal figures. There were over a dozen candidates, though only three were of any consequence.

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