Over the past 27 years of independence, two colour revolutions have taken place in Kyrgyzstan, which as such can hardly be called, because a revolution is determined by a change in the political system but not by the overthrow of some political leaders in order to be replaced by others. Accumulated unsolved problems and mistakes have been passing from one authority to another, where they also continued to accumulate. The problem is that a certain group of people have always benefited from these “mistakes”, and the consequences were felt by ordinary people. So it was with Almazbek Atambayev despite all the expectations and confidence of the people. He tirelessly repeated that he had accomplished his main “mission” for a peaceful and democratic transfer of power. But was this supposed to be his main concern? His “main mission” was fulfilled by ex-President Roza Otunbayeva. Thus, the question arises about the prioritization of A. Atambayev, if there were any besides consolidation of his power after resignation.
However, even here he failed, as his main successor, whom he literally sat on the chair of the presidency started getting rid of all the levers of influence of Atambayev. Almost everyone predicted that S. Zheenbekov would either continue the work of his predecessor his entire term or at least for the first few years until he would really feel power. No one expected such an early manifestation of his own independence. This started by abrupt personnel changes with deliverance from the people of Atambayev. At the moment, the political conflict between the two is obvious, but this is not so much a conflict as there are only one sided attempts to return at least some degree of power whereas even his own party is now de facto controlled by the brother of the current president
Now what can we expect from the “unpredictable” Zheenbekov? In fact, he is not as unpredictable as it turned out with Atambayev, it was more a personal conflict with him, and as rumours circulate, provoked by Atambayev because of his emotionality. Fundamental changes and reforms within the country, as well as in foreign policy should not be expected. However, compared with Atambayev, Zheenbekov has already established better relations with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkey.
It is necessary to highlight Russia’s position in relation to the new president, and how relations between countries will develop. Russia, although unofficially, supported Zheenbekov during the elections, since he still acted as a guarantor of the policies proposed by Atambayev, and Russia could have no doubts about Atambayev since he proved his loyalty. But after all the events, at this stage they are only analysing Zheenbekov and his actions. Their vector will still be aimed at strengthening ties with him, and Atambayev himself is no longer of their interest.
Zheenbekov, in turn, in addition to pointing to Russia and China during his inauguration as important strategic partners, allowed himself to be frank with his attitude towards Russia and V. Putin. For example, in an interview to “Russia 24”, to the question about EAEU, he said that “Russia is always at the head, it unites and resolves many issues,” and, “When we get together, we sometimes quarrel with each other, everyone roots for its own country, but we always find a common language. Of course, here is the arbitrator Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.”. This is the personification of respect and attitude as to the “elder brother”.
In general, relations with Russia, as well as with Kazakhstan, are developing at the multilateral level within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEU). But what is the EAEU for Kyrgyzstan?
Three years have passed since the accession of Kyrgyzstan to the EAEU, sufficient time for an objective analysis of the positive and negative changes that brought us an accession to the regional economic bloc. The accession was originally due to the political motives prevailing in 2015 for Russia and Kazakhstan, when there was a “parade of devaluations” and the starting point of the Western sanctions against Russia. Strengthening the integration process was dictated by the demand of that time in the vector of development of relations with strategic partners. For Kyrgyzstan, the next step could only be joining the EAEU.
After the collapse of the USSR, this was not the first attempt to strengthen integration within the framework of regional organisations. Many of them were not as successful as expected. The CIS, as an organization, has carried out its main mission of the “civilised divorce” of the post-Soviet space, and is now to a certain degree amorphous, because no large-scale projects have been implemented for a long time due to the difficulty of reaching consensus and a high level of bureaucracy.
The EAEU is another attempt to integrate the region, but here the situation has been a little different. Since 1995, the moment of initiation of plans for a single economic union by N. Nazarbayev, the history of integration has been taking place mainly in the unification of Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus, which indicates sufficient time to prepare for such a level of union. For Kyrgyzstan, the EAEU is not yet fully operational. Those positive changes, which manifest themselves with the entry into the EAEU, go in parallel with other negative indicators due to the same reason. What are the pros and cons from the EAEU for Kyrgyzstan?
The main advantage is the simplification of the location of our citizens in Russia; within the framework of the EAEU, our citizens have the same rights as citizens of the state of employment. This was one of the main reasons for entry, as there was a possibility that Moscow would ban visa-free entry for labour migrants, which would have had catastrophic damage for a country where 30% of GDP is derived from migrant remittances. In addition, was the creation of the Kyrgyz-Russian Fund, which has already implemented and is implementing 1,630 projects.
Among the disadvantages, one is its own isolation and distancing from the Euro-Atlantic unions. For Kyrgyzstan, it is important to be able to vary between geopolitical vectors and adapt to all changes. And there is a very twofold approach, on the one hand, we live in an era of a new stage of globalisation, where regional and trans-regional blocs are beginning to play an increasing role, and it is important for developing countries to integrate themselves into such kind of alliances as best they can. On the other hand, choosing only one side, we immerse ourselves in an even greater dependence, from which it may well be very difficult to get out of in the future.
Secondly, the main problem that the country will need to solve is the increase in duties in relation to third countries. Kyrgyzstan, in accordance with its obligations to the WTO, had very low customs duties – about 5.1%. Increasing duties may have a bad effect on our economy because of our dependence on re-exporting goods from China to Russia and Kazakhstan. It is true that we need to get rid of this kind of dependency, since for the most part it is speculative in nature and, moreover, quite a lot of corrupt ways are associated with this sector. For example, official statistics that expose China and Kyrgyzstan always differ significantly. The amount of China’s exports to Kyrgyzstan has a difference of almost $3 billion compared to the amount of Kyrgyzstan’s imports from China. This clearly indicates the scale of unregistered trade. However, the problem is that there are too many people involved in this sector (the markets “Dordoi” and “Kara-Suu”) and the profit from unregistered trade, according to various sources, is more than 10% of GDP. Kyrgyzstan has a transition period for adapting to single customs tariffs until 2020, with the possibility to apply its own tariffs. Until that time, while no steps were taken to solve this problem and what will happen after 2020 is still unknown.
Mutual trade between Member States is actively increasing, but this is only to a small extent related to Kyrgyzstan. For example, the country’s foreign trade with the countries of the EAEU from 2014 to 2017 decreased by more than 1.5 times, which for the most part applies to Kazakhstan where trade turnover decreased by exactly 2 times from 1.3 billion to $ 700 million, while with Russia there was a slight increase in exports, but the decline in imports. With other countries participating in the EAEU trade turnover is a tiny share, with Belarus 2.1% and with Armenia there are almost no trade relations, which, in addition, states dependence on trade with Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation.
The question that worried Kyrgyzstan before joining is whether the EAEU will be able to keep the framework of economic integration without excessively politicizing the union. Evidence of the opposite was the conflict that occurred between the presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which directly turned out into economic protectionism from Kazakhstan, when the borders for the importation of goods from our country were closed. As an excuse, there were references to non-observance of sanitary and veterinary norms, in the solution of which there were promises to help from their own side and still in force was the 2015 Council Decision on the abolition of sanitary and phytosanitary control at the Kyrgyz-Kazakh section of the state border. There was no other way than to apply to the WTO as the Eurasian Court was unable to solve this dispute. Only this multilateral platform has solved the issue and the President of Kazakhstan N.A. Nazarabayev said recently, that Kyrgyzstan complained to all international instances. Nevertheless, for some reasons, Kyrgyzstan did not continue to demand compensation for the damage caused to the Kyrgyz Republic, which was voiced by the IMF. Moreover, we should not forget that under our commitments before WTO we have to pay compensation of almost 250 mln.$ because of the accession to the regional bloc which common custom tariff has exceeded the allowed rate.
In general, it can be seen that joining the EAEU would be the right solution in the long term and would take time to prepare the domestic market and solve existing problems. The EAEU in its essence can be an effective driver for our economy, with its correct application and developed market environment of our country. In many ways, we are to blame for all the problems that are a barrier to an attractive investment climate, export of our products and increase of our competitiveness. Let’s say what kind of investment climate can we talk about when there is political instability, what could be a plan or strategy for the development of a country when the composition of the government changes once a year, and the leaders are more busy with political intrigues inside the country.
It is true that it would still be difficult for us to avoid joining the EAEU in the future. And to talk about the use of the principle of procrastination, as Tajikistan effectively has been doing, is too late. The past cannot be turned back, and the existing problems, if they are not timely solved, can lead to even greater consequences. In the current conditions – it is necessary to achieve equal conditions within the EAEU, taking into account economic interests, while not forgetting that the Kyrgyz Republic is primarily a sovereign state which is a full member of not only the EAEU, but also of the WTO
Consequently, the current president, Sooronbay Zheenbekov, has a huge burden in dealing with the problems that his predecessor left him. First of all, this concerns the position of Kyrgyzstan in the EAEU. With effective government control, the problems that the EAEU brought us can lead our market to adapt, and this can shake up our industries in improving quality and bringing it to conformity to international standards, which can also affect our exports to the EU in the framework of the GSP + from which we are not really getting benefits due to inconsistency of qualities.