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Kyrgyzstan elections: Unity top priority for Atambayev

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Russia and the US, both of which maintain military bases in Kyrgyzstan, are likely to welcome the result. Atambayev is a known quantity who appears likely to press for closer relations with Moscow, but also to carefully avoid offending Washington by threatening to close down the US military transit center at Manas, a vital link in the resupply chain for NATO forces in nearby Afghanistan, as some of his predecessors have done.

"Kyrgyzstan needs cooperation with Russia, while Russia is strongly interested in maintaining stability in that region," says Konstantin Zatulin, director of the Kremlin-funded Institute for the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow. "Atambayev has a lot of friends here in Moscow, he has declared that he's pro-Russian, but at the same time I think he'll seek to keep relations with other countries, including the US, on an even keel. Basically, he's a cautious, smart politician who will do what's in his country's best interests," he says.

Kyrgyzstan's rocky divide

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic of 5.5 million at Asia's heart, is divided by a high chain of snowcapped mountains between its relatively prosperous and ethnically homogeneous north and its impoverished and chronically unstable south. Under former President Askar Akayev, a Soviet-era physicist, the little country was widely praised for its stability, liberal institution-building, and openness to the world.

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