President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
We have finished Kyrgyzstani-Russian talks in the framework of an official visit by the President of Russia.
This is a landmark event, because this visit is being held ahead of the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. We will mark it on March 20.
Today we discussed nearly all issues of bilateral cooperation in the narrow and expanded formats. I will not speak in detail about these issues, but I would like to say that we have come to an agreement on nearly all issues. We discussed economic and security issues, military and technical cooperation and, of course, integration within the Eurasian Economic Union.
We also exchanged opinions on other issues, including international ones. I would like to say that our countries have similar or identical views on international issues.
We also discussed the implementation of our agreements, because we expect the Prime Minister of Russia to visit us in early March. We have outlined measures that will facilitate the further work of all the EAEU prime ministers and heads of government.
It should be said that I and all other members of the Kyrgyzstani delegation are satisfied with the results of these talks, and we are grateful for this to the Russian delegation and Mr Putin personally. We have signed a Joint Declaration following the talks, and I hope that a number of other important agreements will be signed in the future during my visit to Russia.
Mr Putin, in conclusion I would like to again express our gratitude to you for this visit and for your support to our country, and to give the floor to you.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
Mr Atambayev, ladies and gentlemen, friends,
Our talks with the President of Kyrgyzstan were held, as usual, in a business-like and constructive atmosphere. We talked in detail about all aspects of our cooperation and outlined practical plans for strengthening our interaction in the future.
I would like to stress that Kyrgyzstan is a strategic partner for Russia. We are united by friendship and truly allied relations that have passed the test of time. As Mr President has said, in March we will mark 25 years of our diplomatic relations.
Our countries are working to deepen their multifaceted and mutually beneficial cooperation. We are resolved to join hands to overcome current difficulties, including a decrease in trade, and to work out a practical set of measures to achieve this goal. We have agreed to make fuller use of the advantages of Kyrgyzstan’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union. By the way, Kyrgyzstan holds the rotating EAEU presidency this year, and Bishkek will soon host a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council.
The lifting of customs, sanitary and phytosanitary barriers will promote, and is already promoting the development of close integration ties in trade, industry and agriculture. I would like to say in this connection that Kyrgyzstan reported very good results last year, including thanks to the effective use of these advantages. Despite economic difficulties, Kyrgyzstan’s GDP has grown by over 3 percent and industrial production by over 4 percent.
Russia is actively helping Kyrgyzstan adjust to the EAEU requirements. We have earmarked $200 million for its projects, including modernisation of its customs infrastructure and the improvement of border checkpoints.
The work of the Russian-Kyrgyzstani Development Fund has been launched, and Mr Atambayev and I exchanged opinions on its operation. The Fund is a unique instrument that was established in 2014 with the starting capital of $500 million. At present, the Fund is co-financing projects worth over $200 million in Kyrgyzstan.
Russia’s assistance to Kyrgyzstan is designed to help it stabilise its budget. The aggregate volume of these grants has reached $225 million.
We are gradually writing off Kyrgyzstan’s national debt, which is reducing the financial burden on the country’s financial system, improving the balance and releasing funds for the country’s development programmes, including social ones.
Assistance is also provided to our Kyrgyzstani partners in the form of duty-free delivery of Russian petrochemicals. In 2016, we delivered over one million tonnes of petrochemicals to Kyrgyzstan under these schemes.
Russia’s Gazprom is implementing a large project to expand Kyrgyzstan’s gas supply network and connect more users to it by 2030. Total investment in the country’s gas transmission network will amount to 100 billion rubles and will increase the connection of users to the gas supply system from 22 percent to 60 percent.
Money transfers by Kyrgyz nationals working in Russia constitute a major contribution to the country’s economic development. The volume of such transfers has grown 18.5 percent since Kyrgyzstan joined the EAEU. In January through September 2016, these transfers amounted to $1.3 billion, or nearly 30 percent of the country’s GDP. And these were only wire transfers and postal orders. In fact, the volume is much bigger. Kyrgyz nationals have equal employment rights with the citizens of other EAEU countries in Russia.
Humanitarian contacts, cultural, scientific and educational exchanges are of particular importance for our cooperation. In 2016, Kyrgyzstan successfully hosted the Russian Culture Days and the Russian Film Week. Kyrgyzstan’s representatives have expressed readiness to reciprocate with the Kyrgyz Culture Days in Russia this year.
Russian universities are training more than 16,000 Kyrgyzstani students, including 5,000 whose tuition is sponsored by the Russian Government. This year, we admitted more than 420 Kyrgyzstani students at no charge.
Kyrgyzstan, in turn, pays a lot of attention to the study of the Russian language, for which we have to thank the President of Kyrgyzstan, and all our Kyrgyzstani partners and friends. The number of schools with tuition in Russian is growing; 200 of them offer tuition in Russian only, and 414, in the Russian and Kyrgyz languages. In September 2016, a new school opened in Bishkek, named after Anton Chekhov, with the support of the Russian Peace Foundation and of course, our Kyrgyzstani friends, first of all, the President of Kyrgyzstan.
During the talks, the participants noted the closeness of our countries’ positions on many important issues of the regional and global agenda. At the same time, we have paid special attention to our joint efforts to combat modern challenges and threats in Central Asia, the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, and transnational organised crime.
In this context, we agreed to actively strengthen bilateral military and military-technical cooperation. We reaffirmed a common understanding that the Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan is an important factor in ensuring stability and security in Central Asia.
In conclusion, I would like to once again express gratitude to the Kyrgyzstani leadership and President Almazbek Atambayev for their warm welcome and thorough discussion we had today. I am confident that this visit will undoubtedly further the progressive development of Russian-Kyrgyzstani relations for the benefit of the peoples of Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
Question: This is a question for both presidents on security cooperation. Was the idea of expanding Russia’s military presence at Kant Air Base raised during the talks?
Finally, did Russia get assurances that the transfer of power this fall in Kyrgyzstan will go smoothly? Thank you.
Almazbek Atambayev: We did not discuss the expansion of Kant Air Base. What we did mention during the talks was strengthening Kyrgyzstan’s army and armed forces, stepping up supplies of weapons, equipment. This is a whole different story. Russia wants to help us strengthen our own armed forces.
As for the transfer of power, Mr Putin did not even raise this issue. I can say that should anyone think about staging a revolution in Kyrgyzstan, just remember that it was Atambayev who was the leader of the past two revolutions. In 2005, I headed the procession that occupied the White House. In 2010, you may recall where people assembled to voice their protest. It was near my office. So, if a third revolution takes place, I will not be the one to stage it.
Let me put it this way, there will be no more revolutions in Kyrgyzstan. We cannot afford to have a situation described in a song: ‘Revolutions have a beginning with no end in sight.’ Mr Putin used to tease me with this song. We have to get down to work. From now on, Kyrgyzstan should be a rank-and-file developing country. The latest developments prove that we are on the right track. Those who want power do not need to stage revolutions or jump the fence at the White House. Go ahead and run in elections, be it parliamentary or presidential. That is why Mr Putin and I did not discuss these issues. We focused on the economy and development of bilateral relations.
Vladimir Putin: Regarding the Russian military presence in Kyrgyzstan, I would like to remind you or explain how the Russian base was established at Kant. It was established at the request of the Kyrgyzstani authorities in 1999–2000, when Kyrgyzstan had to fend off the attacks of terrorists who entered the country from Afghanistan. At that time, the then Kyrgyzstani authorities asked me personally to deploy a Russian military group, primarily aircraft, in order to effectively fight against the terrorist threat. As you remember, there were also tragedies, people were killed, and neighbouring countries sent in their aircraft. But the Kyrgyzstani authorities concluded that if a permanent group of forces were deployed in their country who would know the situation, hold military exercises and use the army and aviation if and when necessary, these should be highly professional forces that would act in strict coordination with the Kyrgyzstani partners. This is why our base was established here.
When Kyrgyzstan decides that it has strengthened its armed forces so that it no longer needs this base, we will pull out immediately. There is no need for us to have a military group here. It is here solely to protect the security of Kyrgyzstan. Now that we are developing our relations within the CSTO framework, we will continue to strengthen the armed forces of Kyrgyzstan, as Mr President has said. We talked about this today, and it was not the first time we did. We will work calmly and consistently on this at the CSTO expert group.
We did not discuss expanding the Russian military group here. If Kyrgyzstan decides that this is necessary, we will discuss this issue, but you should know that this will entail additional spending for us. We will discuss this within the CSTO and at the bilateral level, if necessary.
As for internal political processes, they are not our business and we never interfere in internal processes of other countries, let alone our allies. But I fully agree with what President Atambayev has said. We believe that we must treasure stability in the post-Soviet space and proceed from the assumption that any change of government must take place in the framework of the Constitution and the law.
Question: Mr Putin, the EAEU is one of the key issues on your visit’s agenda. Can you name the positive elements of this integration association? Did you discuss the possibility of further developing it or obstacles to this, in particular, in light of the recent moves taken by the Belarusian leadership?
Vladimir Putin: I will answer your question in parts, just as you have formulated it. I believe that the integration processes in the post-Soviet space are absolutely natural and will greatly benefit all parties. We discussed this and agreed on this many times. We have inherited from the previous generations very many valuable things that we did not value enough in the previous decades.
Take European integration. They need 28 interpreters to be able to talk with each other. We have the Russian language, which is the international language for us. This is not just a technical issue. It also has a major economic element, even though this may sound strange. We also have common infrastructure – transport infrastructure, roads, railways and energy infrastructure – and a very high level of cooperation we inherited from the Soviet period. It would be silly not to value all this, not to raise it to a qualitatively new level and not to make use of it in light of current global developments. I am referring to the active regional integration processes that are ongoing around the world.
What results have we achieved? Look, we have actually opened up our market to our partners’ commodities. We are interested in these goods. We have just returned from Tajikistan, and I believe that this pool of journalists was there too. We are interested in Tajikistan’s exports, primarily fruits and vegetables. We are likewise interested in Kyrgyzstan’s products. They are cheaper and even better than the products we imported from many other countries whose products we have restricted. These [post-Soviet] countries’ economies have grown visibly. Russia’s economic growth has been moderate, while Kyrgyzstan’s GDP has grown by 3.8 percent and industrial production by 4.1 percent. You have some obvious advantages, and these advantages are beneficial for us. Therefore, I believe that integration is an absolutely logical process and it would be silly of us not to use its advantages.
As for the disputes, they are also quite natural. Each party defends its own interests. I just cited some figures that show Russia’s support for the soft adaptation of the Kyrgyz economy to the requirements of the Eurasian Economic Union. But we have disputes with our Belarusian friends as well, and we are looking for solutions. I must say that in Belarus, we are providing far more assistance than in Kyrgyzstan. I just said we have helped Kyrgyzstan with its border infrastructure: we provided 225 million, 200 million as grant support, 500 million to the development fund, including more than 200 million already invested, overall, almost $1 billion, whereas loans issued to Belarus alone exceed $6 billion.
Our market is fully open to Belarusian goods; oil is supplied duty free to Belarusian refineries; refined oil products are further supplied from Belarus to other countries and the taxes go to the Belarusian budget.
If you look at the IMF statistics, you will see the impressive figures of hidden and direct support for the Belarusian economy. But we do not regret it, because it is being done for long-term goals, and the Russian economy benefits and will benefit from this collaboration, because it strengthens our synergies and enhances our joint competitiveness. Therefore, this money is not wasted, but is invested in meaningful actions aimed at future results.
There will always be disputes. I am sure that we will find a way out of any situation, even those that seem too difficult at first glance.
Question: My first question is for Mr Atambayev. Some forces are trying to present the criminal case against Mr Tekebayev as being politically motivated. How do you respond to these allegations? Is Tekebayev actually facing political reprisals? Could you comment on this, please?
Almazbek Atambayev: You know, I think I commented on this issue back in 2010, when people were dying on the Maidan (here in Bishkek). When people were dying in the south of the country in ethnic clashes, someone was embezzling millions up here. I talked about it in 2010. Afterwards, I said on a number of occasions that all this will resurface sooner or later. Yesterday I saw an interview with this Russian citizen on a Russian website. He was brave enough to testify. He was asked: “Why haven’t you come forward earlier?” What he answered was: “I was afraid and did not believe that the President would take up this case.”
It’s no secret that everyone thought that Atambayev, just like many others, was getting his cut. We all know that after the 2010 revolution in Kyrgyzstan, in Bishkek, there was pillage and racketeering, a lot of filth. This is a hard pill to swallow. Some people died, ordinary people, and those who came to power on their blood started to make money. The fact that not only Tekebayev, but also many others, how should I call them, activists who headed the interim government are shouting on every corner about it shows that they are afraid that their shady dealings will come to light.
Let me reiterate that a thief should be in jail, no matter who he or she is. If someone served on the interim government in 2010 or was a government official, this does not buy you forgiveness. This is the problem for any revolution. Ordinary people die, and someone benefits from it, makes a lot of money. For this reason this case has nothing to do with politics. The fact that many are now afraid that their dealings will come to light is a political issue. They will claim that they are facing repression, and so on. What repression are you talking about? This is just fraud and corruption. If there were only two Russians making such statements, it would make things much easier. First, there will be many more people, since there were a lot of witnesses. Second, for the last three years Omurbek Abdurakhmanov, a former parliament member from the same Ata-Meken Party, has been talking about it. All this will become known. I do not know whether the next President will have the moral courage to see it through to the end, but I will definitely do all I can. When I am no longer President, I will stay in politics.
Trust me, yesterday, when I met with parents of the young men who died, their children were there too, and all they asked for was that those who enriched themselves instead of working honestly pay the full price. I think that these demands are justified. This will teach everyone a lesson not to do such things in the future. Let me reiterate that we must teach a lesson to these marauders, those who covered up their actions, the raiders, corrupt officials, so that no one follows their example. Many people benefited from the hardships people faced.
In 2005 and in 2010 history repeated itself in that there was always someone who made money off it. Trust me, if many more people start offering such testimony tomorrow, arguing that Atambayev was also involved, it will not come as a surprise for me. But Atambayev has never been a thief. He worked hard to earn his money. When Atambayev did become a millionaire, many of today’s millionaires were only starting out. Salambekov was only starting out, and Babanov was a student at the Agriculture Academy in Moscow, but I was already a multimillionaire in dollars by then. I just wanted to make sure you remember that.
Maybe I am too emotional, but it is time to work, to stop these revolutions, because they do nothing but kill people.
What I want to say is that the country has changed, law enforcement agencies have changes, the government has changed and so did the President, who has the trust of the people. We will no longer tolerate any mess in the country. Any attempts to pressure the government by force will be suppressed swiftly. If someone wants power, go ahead, the new president of Kyrgyzstan will be elected on November 19.
Question: Mr Putin, you have covered the outcomes of your visit to Bishkek in detail, but you visited three Central Asian republics over the past few days. What’s your take on current relations with these republics, and what are the promising areas of cooperation with these countries?
And if I may, a somewhat off-topic question regarding the Syrian settlement. Mr President, what do you think about the current stage of efforts to reach a settlement in Syria? Do UN Security Council sanctions interfere with this process? What do you think about the role of other states in resolving the Syrian conflict? Thank you. Sorry for the long question.
Vladimir Putin: Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which I visited, are our strategic partners and allies. In all these countries, Russia ranks first in terms of bilateral trade and, despite current economic headwinds, Russia has retained this position. I've already mentioned the effectiveness of our institutions in the Eurasian Economic Union. The economic growth and increase in industrial output in these countries are the best evidence of this fact. These objective data speak for themselves.
What else is important for us in our collaboration? For example, Tajikistan is not a member of the Eurasian Union, but we have very good bilateral relations, and positive economic results. There are things that we need to adjust on a bilateral basis, such as establishing logistics centres in Tajikistan, which we agreed upon today, in order to ensure the speedy supply of inexpensive products to our market, especially in anticipation of the upcoming season. We agreed on creating logistics centres and continuing to provide reduced rail tariffs. In general, we are actively working on all issues across the board.
Providing security, fighting crime and terrorism are equally important, especially in this region, given that fairly complex if not grave processes, which are a source of shared concern for us, are unfolding in neighbouring Afghanistan. However, all these countries are members of the Collective Security Organisation. We will use this platform to further coordinate our actions and make the necessary efforts, and during the visit we covered this issue in great detail.
With regard to Syria, we cannot but be pleased that the Astana process was very positive through to the end. The consolidation of the ceasefire agreement and the establishment of a mechanism to monitor the ceasefire are its undisputed outcomes. Without this, it would be impossible to continue the Geneva talks. All is not as smooth as we would like, but we always have the Astana platform as a backup, so to speak. We are grateful to the leadership of Kazakhstan for the fact that the President himself was personally involved even in the negotiation process.
With regard to the sanctions, I think it is totally inappropriate in relation to the Syrian leadership because it would not help the negotiation process, and instead would damage or undermine trust during the negotiation process. Russia will not support any new sanctions on Syria.