Kyrgyz President reviews his work in 2016 at a press conference

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BISHKEK (TCA) — On December 1, Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev held a traditional year-end press conference, which gathered over 140 journalists from 70 media outlets including international ones. The President preferred the question and answer format instead of a traditional statement.

Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy should ensure the interests of the country, Atambayev said. “We have to live very friendly with our neighbors and with respect to all countries of the world,” he said. Russia and China are the main partners of Kyrgyzstan, the President added.

Presidential election

In October 2017, the presidential election will be held, Atambayev said, adding that he has not prepared any successor.

“I am glad that many want to become President. I like politicians who work systemically and there are some in the country. There are also worthy candidates in the [pro-presidential] Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan,” Atambayev said. He said he would not be surprised if Omurbek Babanov or Bakyt Torobaev will be elected President. Both are leaders of the opposition parties, Respublika – Ata-Jurt and Onuguu-Progress.

Atambayev is pleased with the fact that there are decent politicians from both the opposition and SDPK. No matter who will win the elections, the main thing is that the future president work well, he said.

Atambayev said he intends to take a leave to develop Kyrgyzstan’s development strategy until 2040. In December 2012, he initiated the National Sustainable Development Strategy until 2017. Despite the criticism of opponents, the program is already producing results, he said.

Kyrgyzstan in the EEU

Atambayev commented on the current situation in the Eurasian Economic Union. He admitted that Kyrgyzstan faces obstacles. People complain about the problems after joining the EEU. “There is a tacit blockade from our fraternal and friendly neighbors,” he said. Despite the decisions made, their phytosanitary barriers to Kyrgyz food exports continues, and it looks ugly, he said.

“If we want to have a great future in the Union, let us be equal partners, otherwise it reminds me of the Orwell’s Animal Farm  where ‘all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’… We say that the EEU was created as per sample of the European Union, but the EU supports and respects weak and small states,” Atambayev added.

If Kyrgyzstan had not joined the EEU, the situation would be much worse. Besides the economic blockade, Kyrgyz labor migrants would face difficulties, the President said.

External debt

Kyrgyzstan should not be afraid of taking more loans, Atambayev said. Last week, ex-chairperson of the Accounting Chamber Elmira Ibraimova said at a roundtable that the country would face a default because its external debt has exceeded 60% of GDP.

If she (Ibraimova) continues working in the Accounting Chamber, she would have made another statement, Atambayev said. As soon as people lose their posts they immediately join to the opposition, he added.

The President believes that a $3.7 billion debt is insignificant for the country with a six million population. Many countries have even more loans. Kyrgyzstan needs loans to develop its economy, build roads and improve power grids and irrigation.

The President said he often hears accusations that the country is borrowing too much from China. He explained that no other country but China has given Kyrgyzstan such preferential loans at 2% for 30 years. Besides, Kyrgyzstan often receives grant support from China. Recently, China has allocated a one billion yuan grant for construction of roads.

Kumtor

The new leadership of Canada-based Centerra Gold Inc. is now ready for negotiations on an equal footing and to find the solution to the situation over the Kumtor gold project in Kyrgyzstan, Atambayev said. If Kyrgyzstanis support amendments to the Kyrgyz Constitution in a referendum on December 11, the limitation period for the consideration of Kyrgyzstan’s claim concerning Kumtor will be canceled and some progress would take place next year. Centerra and the Kyrgyz Government may reach an agreement, he said.

Atambayev recalled that officials who drafted the agreement on Kumtor under Presidents Akayev and Bakiyev are now on the run. A good bill has currently been drafted to deal with the investigation. If those who signed the agreement know they will be forgiven, they would cooperate with the authorities and many issues would be cleared up, the President said.

Russian airbase

The Russian military will leave Kyrgyzstan after the related agreement expires, Atambayev said. The air base is located in Kant, 20 kilometers from Bishkek. It has been operating since October 2003.

Kyrgyzstan has reduced the presence of the Russian airbase from 49 to 15 years (until 2031). The decision found understanding from the Russian side, Atambayev said.

“Russia will always remain our strategic partner but Kyrgyzstan has to build its own armed forces and rely on them, but not on the base of Russia, USA or any other country,” Atambayev said.

In July 2014, the U.S. withdrew its airbase located in the Manas International Airport in Bishkek due to the termination of the agreement by the Kyrgyz side. The airbase was set up in December 2001 to support the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and provided refueling and transfer of cargo and military.

Kambarata-1

Kyrgyzstan intends to suggest Uzbekistan to take part in building the Kambarata-1 hydropower plant, said Atambayev. Uzbekistan should be among the project’s founders together with Kyrgyzstan, he believes.

“We can work together to implement the project. There will be enough water for both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan [located downstream]. Kazakhstan is ready to join the project, and it will be easier to repay loans by the three states.” Atambayev hopes Shavkat Mirziyaev will be elected President of Uzbekistan and then there will be no misunderstandings in Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations. “We have good, friendly relations with him,” Atambayev said.

Future plans

Atambayev confirmed he is going to leave office in 2017.

At the press conference, Atambayev said that Presidents Putin and Nazarbayev had asked him to stay as President, but he decided to leave office.

According to experts, he may remain in politics as a Parliament member from his party, SDPK.