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Visit to Kyrgyzstan

September 20, 2012, Bishkek

In Bishkek, Vladimir Putin held talks with President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev.

A number of bilateral documents have been signed following the Russian-Kyrgyzstani talks, including an intergovernmental agreement on the settlement of Kyrgyzstan’s debt to Russia. Another agreement defines the status and operation conditions of the Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan. In addition, the parties signed a protocol on defence cooperation in the period preceding the entry into force of the agreement on the Russian military base. Two documents concern the construction and operation of the Upper Naryn hydropower cascade and Kambarata-1 HPP. In addition, a joint statement has been adopted on the outcome of the visit.

Later, Vladimir Putin and Almazbek Atambayev laid flowers at the memorial in honour of the assistance Kyrgyz people provided to the people of Leningrad evacuated to the Kyrgyz Republic from the besieged city during the  Great Patriotic War. The two leaders also talked with the head of Kyrgyz Society of Leningrad Siege Survivors Anna Kutanova.

The Russian President arrived in Kyrgyzstan last night from Kazakhstan, where he took part in the IX Russia-Kazakhstan Interregional Cooperation Forum.

* * *

Press statements and answers to journalists' questions following Russian-Kyrgyzstani talks

President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev: Mr President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to begin by congratulating Mr Belyaninov [head of the Federal Customs Service of Russia] on receiving a state decoration of Kyrgyzstan. For those of you who do not know about it, I want to say that if it were not for Mr Belyaninov, we may not have been able to erect a monument to Manas on Ala-Too Square in time for the Independence Day festivities last year.

It is also unlikely that we would have built a monument to Manas in Moscow, as we had not been able to do it for the past 10 years. It is a merit of Mr Belyaninov, who is a great friend of Kyrgyzstan, both in his official function and unofficially, a sort of our man in Moscow.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Yes, your very own.

Almazbek Atambayev: The Order of Daanaker is named after a person who unites people and brings integrity and friendship. We had different problems in the past but Mr Belyaninov always did everything in his power to revitalise the relations between Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Mr Belyaninov, the first award I conferred was for you. I think you truly deserve it and I congratulate you once again.

Mr President, I want to thank you again for accepting our invitation to make an official visit. We have finally signed many agreements that have been in the making for years, or even decades in some cases.

I want to note that the breakthrough was made during the visit of Mr Shuvalov [First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia]. I think that was when we made a real step forward. Today we have consolidated this progress and all the agreements have been signed.

I want to make it clear that Russia is our main strategic partner: we have a shared history and a common destiny with Russia. I am certain that we cannot have a future that doesn’t include Russia. Our future lies in a union and a strategic partnership with the great Russia.

Once again I want to thank all the experts present, all of those who worked on the documents, and President Putin, of course, for his political will. I think many people did not believe these documents would ever be signed and many still view Kyrgyzstan with suspicion.

Thank you, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Mr President, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

We are very satisfied with the work that has been done in recent months and the signing of key documents. First of all, they concern the financial settlements from the previous years between the Russian Federation and Kyrgyzstan. This creates a good basis for the expansion of trade and economic relations, and they are developing very positively.

Last year, we posted an increase of 5%, with growth exceeding 30% in the first six months of 2012. I have already talked about this at our expanded meeting. Russia remains Kyrgyzstan’s main trade partner. New fundamental conditions for our cooperation have been created with the signing of the documents, not only those focused on financial relations, but also energy cooperation agreements.

As you know, we have signed the agreements for the construction of Kambarata-1 HPP and the Upper Naryn cascade HPP. These are major, serious multi-billion projects, and I want to stress that they will contribute to Kyrgyzstan’s economic growth, create jobs and increase prosperity.

We have also reached agreement on the operation of a joint military base in Kyrgyzstan. I think many people here in Kyrgyzstan remember how it was established. It was set up when terrorist gangs entered the territory of Kyrgyzstan.

The Government of Kyrgyzstan turned to Russia to establish a military outpost here that would serve as a barrier against drug trafficking, drugs and extremism trying to enter Kyrgyzstan. We established the base and now we have agreed with the leadership of Kyrgyzstan to continue its operation. Certainly, this is a very important element that strengthens the trust between our two countries.

I am sure many people know about our humanitarian cooperation. Kyrgyzstan and Russia worked and lived as part of a single state for many years, even centuries. We are aware of Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to preserve the Russian language in the country. About 13,000 students are currently enrolled at Russian universities, 10,000 of them are studying free of charge, which is funded out of Russia’s federal budget. We are ready to talk about expanding our humanitarian cooperation.

Last year Kyrgyzstan successfully held the Days of Russian Culture, and now the Days of Kyrgyz Culture are about to open in Moscow. All of this will certainly contribute to the development of long-term allied relations.

We are aware of our partners’ intentions and their aspiration to deepen cooperation with such integration associations in the post-Soviet space as the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space. The President of Kyrgyzstan and I discussed this in detail today and yesterday evening in an informal setting.

We will support Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to join these integration associations. It is not a simple matter, but given Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation and the fact that our integration associations – the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space – comply with WTO rules and regulations, I think it creates additional, good prerequisites for the entry of the Kyrgyz Republic in these associations.

I want to thank President Atambayev, all of our Kyrgyz partners and friends for their hospitality and for their fruitful and very effective work in the recent period.

Thank you for your attention.

Question: A question for President Atambayev. You mentioned the signing of breakthrough bilateral agreements, one of which no doubt was on the terms of the Russian military base’s stay in Kyrgyzstan.

Could you please say if the issue of the US base in Kyrgyzstan was raised during the talks, and in what context and how this discussion took place? Could you explain what status [the Transit Centre at] Manas will have, since this topic has been on the agenda for a long time?

Mr Putin, you have just talked about the history of the Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan. What would you say are the strategic objectives of our base in Kyrgyzstan?

Almazbek Atambayev: The US base was not discussed in our talks because it is a US base. But I will say this: since 2010, first as First Deputy Prime Minister of the interim Government, then as Prime Minister in 2011 and as President, I have always said that the Manas civilian airport should be a civilian airport.

It is a civilian airport, and we will reformat it into a normal civilian airport – a cargo/passenger hub. But it is not an air base of any country; it is a civilian airport and it will be a civilian airport from 2014. I have never concealed this, I discussed this openly with everyone, including representatives of the US Government.

Vladimir Putin: I would like to confirm that in the past two days we did not discuss or even mention the US military base or the US military presence here in Kyrgyzstan. It was not a subject of discussion; we did not talk about or even mention it.

We talked about the Russian military base and the conditions under which it can and should operate. As for foreign military presence in Kyrgyzstan (be it Russian, American or otherwise), it is entirely the prerogative and the sovereign right of Kyrgyzstan.

Should the US military leave Manas, Kyrgyzstan will naturally be interested in the airport’s continued operation, its economic benefits and profitability. In this case, we will be ready to get involved in the efforts to revitalise its economic performance.

As for Russia’s military base and our military presence. Our military presence began — I want to remind you once again — on Kyrgyzstan’s request to establish a base here that would be an important stability factor in the region, in the republic, and would send a signal to all those who want to destabilise the situation in the country or the region that there is sufficient force here that could be deployed in the fight against extremism, drug trafficking and terrorism. We proceed from this in our actions.

We are aware of the situation in Afghanistan, for example, and considering the situation with the international coalition forces in the near future, in 2014 the situation there is not likely to change for the better. The presence of Russia’s military component in the region, as in Tajikistan and here, in Kyrgyzstan, is an important stability factor.

Question: Mr Putin, could you please say whether the Russian-Kyrgyz relations have reached a qualitatively new level of effective cooperation?

Vladimir Putin: This is how we see it. Nearly 700,000 nationals of Kyrgyzstan live and work in Russia; in just the first six months of 2012 around one billion US Dollars was transferred to Kyrgyzstan, which is about 16% of GDP – a huge figure, but it is not the quality of cooperation that we need.

What we need is equal cooperation, beneficial for both sides and fostering economic growth both in Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

We have already said and I stated that Russia remains Kyrgyzstan's biggest trade partner, but the exchange of goods is not enough; we need large projects. Kyrgyzstan has a natural competitive advantage in the hydropower industry. A cascade of hydropower stations was built here in the past. There are also significant additional capabilities. This will not only expand cooperation in the region but we hope that it will have a positive impact on the region’s economic development, strengthen Kyrgyzstan’s role as an important element in energy supply of the entire Pacific region, bearing in mind that some of the energy can be sold, for example, to the neighbouring China.

These are all very positive factors, and we are pleased that the agreements were signed today.

Question: This is a question for both presidents. Our joint plans in the energy sector have caused some concern in neighbouring Uzbekistan. The concern is that Uzbekistan will receive less water as a result of construction. How do you plan to interact with Uzbekistan on this issue?

Vladimir Putin: We have to address the concerns of all countries in the region, to bear this in mind and to act to resolve any doubts, to make sure that all concerns disappear. 

Is that possible? Yes, it is. Under what conditions? Subject to mutual understanding and increased trust, and provided that any projects that are carried out in the region benefit all countries and all the people who live in these areas.

Can we achieve this? Yes, we can. How? By inviting all the parties concerned to take part in the work. I believe that in order to make those concerns disappear, all the countries in the region should get directly involved in the implementation of these projects.

We support the idea of inviting Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to join the projects. The President of Kyrgyzstan and I discussed this today and yesterday, and the Kyrgyzstani side supports this approach. We invite our partners to participate in the collaboration. This will include participation in the management of future hydropower enterprises that we are talking about today and whose operation may cause concern.

President Atambayev and I have talked about it today and he said that these projects date back to the Soviet times. No one had any concerns then, bearing in mind that the projects were to be realised in a single state and there was no doubt that the state would never do anything to the detriment of some Soviet republics. What does this tell us? It tells us that if we establish the same rules for interaction and cooperation in the region, then there can be no threat from the realisation of such a project.

Almazbek Atambayev: I would like to add a few technical details. Kambarata-1 was conceived as a water reservoir that would supply water in the summertime to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, because Kambarata-1 is supported by several existing hydropower stations: Shamaldy-Say, Uch-Kurgan and the famous Toktogul HPP.

What happens now is that when we need electricity in the winter, we drain the reservoir, and in the summer we cannot supply water to our neighbours. If we build Kambarata-1, we will be able to drain the water in the winter, and keep it in Toktogul until the spring so that we can then supply it to our neighbours. That was how it was designed to work. The Kambarata-1 HPP was conceived to address the irrigation problems in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. And if someone says something different, they just don’t know what they are talking about.

In fact, as President Putin said, it was designed in the Soviet Union in order to solve the irrigation problems in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. And I am confident we can sit down with the neighbours and discuss all the issues.

It is our neighbours that need Kambarata-1 first and foremost. However, we understand their concerns and we are ready to work with them. We must live in peace and be friends with our neighbours.

Vladimir Putin: In any case, I want to reiterate that we will pay attention to the concerns of all countries, including Uzbekistan, and remove all the issues that cause these concerns together with them. We can do it.

Question: This is a question for the Russian President. Mr Putin, can you name a specific start date for the construction of the power stations? Are there concerns that Kambarata will be a replay of the Rogun HPP?

Vladimir Putin: No one can give you a specific date but I can tell you about the stages of the project, which are as follows.

First, we must do a feasibility study. The Russian partners will be responsible for most of this stage bearing in mind our financial capabilities and experience, but we will do it together with Kyrgyzstan.

After that we will need to get an idea of the sales volume and the potential customers, we need to understand the market and to make calculations. It would be best if we conclude contracts for the supply of electricity. After that, the practical work on the site can begin.

September 20, 2012, Bishkek