Kyrgyzstan to join the Eurasian Economic Union in May 2015
by Olivia Kroth
In May 2015, Kyrgyzstan wants to join the Eurasian Union as its fifth member state after the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia. Already in November 2014, the Russian State Duma had ratified an agreement with the Kyrgyz Government that Russia will allocate 1.2 billion dollars for Kyrgyz integration. The money is to be used for cooperation in the agro-industrial sector, textile industry, mining and metallurgical industries, housing and transport (TASS, 26.11.2014). The documents for Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Eurasian Union were signed on the 23rd of December 2014.
Kyrgyzstan’s President: Almazbek Sharshenovich Atambayev
The Eurasian Economic Union consists of Eastern European and Asian countries in the post-Soviet space. It facilitates commerce and trade between its member states, envisaging free transition of capital, goods, services, and work force. The Eurasian Economic Union has become operational on January 1, 2015.
Understandably, Kyrgyzstan wants to have a piece of the cake, as economic success always tastes sweet and will bring a multitude of benefits for the Kyrgyz citizens. Today, Kyrgyzstan is inhabited by 70 percent of Kyrgyz and 10 percent of Russians, followed by other minorities.
Osh Bazaar in Bishkek:
Kyrgyz-Russian relations are several hundred years old, they did not just start yesterday. The territory became part of the Russian Empire after 1876. In 1936, the Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan was established. Even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and declaration of Kyrgyzstan’s independence, in 1991, the close ties remained. In 1996, the new Kyrgyz republic declared Russian as its second official language.
Among the population of Kyrgyzstan, about six million citizens, Islam is the dominant religion. Eighty percent are Muslims and seventeen percent Russian Orthodox. Animistic traditions can also be found. The Kyrgyz religious and public holidays illustrate very well the mixture of Islam and Russian Orthodoxy, the pride about independence as well as the history as a former member of the Soviet Union.
Remembering Soviet times at the Historic State Museum in Bishkek:
The 1st of January is New Year’s Day, followed by the Russian Orthodox Christmas Day on the 7th of January. Muslim holidays are Orozo Ait and Kurman Ait. These dates are fixed according to the lunar calendar.
Soviet times are remembered on the 23rd of February, which is Fatherland Defenders’ Day, and on the 9th of May, when the entire Russian Federation and many former Soviet Republics celebrate Victory Day, the end of the Great Patriotic War. Later in the cycle, the Day of the Great October Socialist Revolution is remembered on the 7th of November.
In contrast, Kyrgyz independence is proudly highlighted by such public holidays as the 5thof May, Constitution Day, and the 31st of August, Independence Day.
Vladimir Lenin inside the Historic State Museum of Bishkek:
Kyrgyzstan is rich in mineral resources: antimony, coal, gold and uranium. The country exports metals, minerals, agricultural products and electric energy, mainly to Russia, China and Kazakhstan.
The Kyrgyz republic is mostly rural. About two thirds of its people live from agriculture, which constitutes an important sector of the nation’s economy. The irrigated Fergana Valley is very fertile and well-suited for growing fruits and vegetables. Traditionally, livestock is bred, especially horses, sheep and yaks. The Kyrgyz are historically semi-nomadic herders, living in round tents which they call yurts. The nomadic tradition is still alive in seasonal transhumance.
The Kyrgyz are excellent horse breeders. Their national sports evolve around horse riding. “At Chabysh” is a long-distance horse race, while in “Oodarysh” two contestants wrestle on horseback. In “Tyin Emmei”, riders try to pick up a coin from the ground in full gallop. “Ulak Tartysh” is a team game on horseback.
Kyrgyzstan’s capital city Bishkek was originally founded as a rest stop for caravans on the Silk Road from China to the Mediterranean Sea. In 1862, it became a Russian garrison. Russian farmers settled around Bishkek and started farms on the fertile soil. With the foundation of the Soviet Republic Kirgiz ASSR in 1926, the city was re-named Frunze, after Mikhail Frunze, a native of Bishkek and close friend of Vladimir Lenin. He took part in the revolutions of 1905 and 1917.
Bishkek is located near the Ala-Too mountain range. To the north, a wide steppe stretches until the neighbouring country Kazakhstan. Modern Bishkek with its one million inhabitants is a pleasant city, showing beautiful boulevards and public buildings, restaurants and cafés in the city centre.
Kyrgyz noodle soup:
Russia’s military base in Kyrgyzstan
In 2003, Russia leased the Kant Air Base, east of Bishkek, which became the first military base outside of Russia’s borders after 1991. Furthermore, Russia has a strategic base at the eastern end of Lake Issyk-Kul, where submarine and torpedo technology is tested, including the VA-111 Shkval torpedo, travelling at a speed of more than 200 knots.
Meanwhile, the lease of the base was prolonged. Russia will keep its military base in Kyrgyzstan until 2032, with an option to extend the contract by five years. This deal will come into effect at the end of January 2017, when the current lease expires. All Russian military facilities in Kyrgyzstan will be reorganized under one command. This includes the Kant airport, the testing site on the Kara Balun peninsula, the communication point in the village of Spartak and the seismic station in the town of Mayluu Suu.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbezk Atambayev
Almazbek Sharshenovich Atambayev, born on the 17th of September 1956, has been the President of Kyrgyzstan since December 2011. He studied at the Moscow Institute of Management, where he received his degree in economics. He is very interested in having close economic relations with the Russian Federation.
The Kyrgyz leadership’s flexibility is astounding, keeping a delicate balance between independence and alignment on the Russian Federation. In this context, a look at the symbolism of the Kyrgyz flag might be helpful.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Sharshenovich Atambayev:
Outlook for the future
The bright golden sun with its 40 rays, placed at the centre of the flag, represents the 40 warriors of the Kyrgyz national hero, Manas, after whom the Manas airfield has been named. The lines inside the sun symbolize the tündük (crown) of a yurt (tent), a popular motif in Kyrgyz art. The red part of the flag stands for two important facets of the Kyrgyz national character, willingness to keep peace and openness for new chances.
May the 40 mythical warriors of Manas keep Kyrgyzstan safe and well! May the bright, golden sun shine on the people of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Russian Federation! May peace and openness guide these two brotherly nations, as well as the other member states of the Eurasian Economic Union, in the 21st century!
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin:
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Moscow.