In 1998, the Treaty of Eternal Friendship and Cooperation was signed between the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. It would seem that this is logical for the two neighboring states that have very close ethnic, religious, economic and historical ties. In fact, the contract has become a mere formality. The desire to defend their national interests turned out to be stronger than the desire to fulfill obligations. For eight years it happened more than once that the relations of the neighbors could be qualified as confrontation. From time to time there were shootouts at the border, gas supplies from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan were stopped.
The official visit of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic Kurmanbek Bakiyev, which took place on October 3-4 this year at the invitation of his Uzbek colleague, was expected as a turning point in solving the accumulated burden of bilateral problems. But the optimistic forecasts of observers and the public were justified only to the smallest degree.
To date, there are a lot of unsolved problems between neighbors. First of all, this is still not a divided border. More than 70 sites in the Kadamjay, Batken, Kara-Suu and Aravan districts of the Osh region of Kyrgyzstan are controversial. According to Kyrgyz journalists, during the visit, Bakiyev did not even raise the issue of the border, so as not to touch the issue that was too acute for both sides.
Increasing ethnopolitical tensions in the Osh and Jalalabad regions of Kyrgyzstan aggravate the border problem. Uzbeks here make up 40% of the population. Moreover, when building a national state in Kyrgyzstan, the advantage in appointment to key posts in administrative structures, business, trade, agriculture is given to the titular nation. As a result, the Uzbek population was squeezed out of their usual activities for a long time. However, recently there are other schemes. In the two southern oblasts, Osh and Jalalabat, there is an unspoken rule when appointing citizens to high posts. The head, for example, is almost always occupied by citizens of Kyrgyzstan of Kyrgyz nationality, but in their deputies they are citizens of Kyrgyzstan of Uzbek nationality. Or, in Osh oblast, there is a principle that the head of the city or region is Kyrgyz, but the chairman of the city or regional Kenesh (an analogue of the local parliament) always elects a citizen of Kyrgyzstan of Uzbek ethnicity. In the Batken region, the situation is somewhat different, because the other nationalities, except for the Kyrgyz, are represented only in Kadamzhai and Kyzylkyi, because the region itself is more homogeneous in terms of its national composition than the other two.
It is also interesting that, according to Kyrgyz observers, the Uzbek diaspora is gaining strength in the south of the country. Uzbeks are more active in business, start publishing the press in the Uzbek language and raise the issue of giving official status to their language. That is why the uncertain status of the border, both today and in the future, will increase as a negative factor in bilateral relations.
Among the acute angles in the relations of neighbors remains water-energy. Uzbekistan does not want to recognize water as a product and share responsibility with Kyrgyzstan for the maintenance of water-technical facilities located in Kyrgyzstan. At the same time, the Uzbek side demands that there be enough water for agriculture of the republic. If Kyrgyzstan collects water in storage facilities in the summer in order to provide itself with electricity in winter, then the government of Uzbekistan uses its “gas lever” and completely stops supplying natural gas, or blackmails its poor neighbor with a price. According to preliminary data, the meeting with the Kyrgyz colleague did not affect the decision of Islam Karimov to raise the price of gas for Kyrgyzstan from January 1, 2007 from today's $ 55 to $ 100 per 1000 cubic meters. This means that the Kyrgyz side will be forced to significantly increase the discharge of water through its hydropower plants in order to prevent an energy crisis in the winter months. In addition, the Kyrgyz budget for 2007 laid the old price for gas, and such a sharp increase in prices will exacerbate the social situation in the republic.
Cross-border cooperation is also closely connected with the solution of territorial issues. From time to time, the leaders of both republics block the border, depriving their citizens of the opportunity to trade, which is one of the main sources of income. In addition, people often cannot communicate with relatives living in the neighboring republic. It was in this area that the meeting of Bakiyev and Karimov gave the result: an agreement was signed that citizens of both republics have the right to a 60-day visa-free visit to a neighboring state. The signing of this document was largely made possible by the intensification of joint work of law enforcement agencies in the fight against radical Islamic organizations, who skillfully use the contradictions of their neighbors to achieve their goals.
Is Uzbekistan ready for a dialogue with a neighbor?
The geopolitical turn of Uzbekistan towards Russia and neighboring countries, which followed the Andijan events, is already bearing fruit. Today, after a long break, the Republic of Uzbekistan once again became a member of the CSTO, EurAsEC, and therefore, expressed willingness to resolve intergovernmental issues within the legal framework, taking into account the interests of partners. In the light of such serious changes, many observers and experts have a hope that in the new realities Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan will be able to resolve at least part of interstate disputes. Moreover, much was expected of the first visit of the President of Kyrgyzstan Bakiyev to Uzbekistan in a new capacity. The heads of state talked a lot about the fight against terrorism and extremism, but the most important issues of bilateral relations in the supply of electricity and gas remained at the same level. Kyrgyzstan will pay for gas at twice the price than now. At the moment, one thousand cubic meters will cost Bishkek, as mentioned above, at $ 55. Thus, the results of the visit are only partially successful. It is positive that the dialogue between the republics at the highest level has begun. The first serious result has been achieved - an agreement on a visa-free 60-day border crossing regime by citizens of the two republics. But in conditions of unresolved a number of important problems, even in the short term, the deterioration of relations is possible. Most acutely this winter, an energy-input problem may arise.