Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are nearing definitive agreement over how to share a disputed reservoir near the border in another sign of warming relations between the countries.
Kasan-sai reservoir was the focus of tense standoff in 2016 that culminated in state-sanctioned kidnappings and armed confrontations.
Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan on December 13 voted unanimously in a first reading to ratify a bilateral agreement granting Bishkek control over the reservoir. Agriculture Minister Nurbek Murashev has said that although Kyrgyzstan will retain control over the facility, both countries will retain access to the water contained within. Kyrgyz farmers will use 8 percent of the water for irrigation of 1,500 hectares of land. The remaining 92 percent will be used by Uzbekistan for an area of 28,000 hectares.
The agreement also covers the issue of expenditure for maintenance of the reservoir. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will divide the $230-290 million costs in proportion to the amount of water they use.
Kasan-sai has been one of the longest-standing bones of contention between the countries. The reservoir, which is also known by the older designation Orto-Tokoy, was built in Soviet times out of Tashkent’s budget to service the needs of farmers downstream in the Uzbek SSR. But the basin itself lies well within the boundaries of recognized Kyrgyz territory.
Uzbekistan has long protected the reservoir with armed troops and flatly rejected Kyrgyz appeals for pay lease fees.
Matters came to a head in 2016 in a sequence of events that each side tells differently. By some accounts, the situation escalated in August that year, when Kyrgyz special forces tried to force their way into the Kasan-sai reservoir in a confrontation that ended with one Uzbek policeman being detained. Less than 10 days later, an Uzbek helicopter loaded with policeman landed on the nearby Ungar-Too mountain, where Kyrgyzstan maintains a valuable telecommunications tower, and detained four specialists working there. The situation dragged on for several weeks before either country stepped down.
The breakthrough in border issues appears in large part to be a consequence of the death of Uzbek president Islam Karimov last year. Karimov adopted hardline positions in disputes with neighbors, but his successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has adopted a far more conciliatory approach. In an emblematic confirmation of that course, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have to date agreed on the delimitation of around 85 percent of their shared border.
In a separate gesture of compromise, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sapar Isakov on December 13 approved a decree to return four holiday resort complexes on the Issyk-Kul Lake to Uzbekistan. The resorts were expropriated by Kyrgyzstan last year in connection to a dispute over unpaid debts.
In return for receiving the resorts back, Uzbekistan has committed to carry out renovations and to ensure at least 80 percent of the employees there are Kyrgyz nationals.