The gridlock on Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan’s border has reportedly been loosened following the signing of a document that could begin to thaw the diplomatic frost between the two nations.
A roadmap setting the terms for border inspections was signed on December 2 by Kazakhstan’s deputy Prime Minister Askar Mamin and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Tolkunbek Abdygulov.
The effect was seemingly almost instantaneous at the border, where intensified inspections by Kazakh officials over the past weeks have caused kilometer-long lines of cargo trucks.
“Around 300 cargo vehicles were allowed through the Ak-Tilek motor crossing between 1800 on December 2 and 0800 on December 3. The Kazakh side has sped up the process of inspections of cargo and transport and is allowing through 20 vehicles every hour,” the Kyrgyz border was quoted as saying by Sputnik news agency.
Until now, the number of trucks passing through was around one per hour. Some cargo vehicles have been made to wait up to a week before crossing. Those carrying perishables, such as fruit and vegetables, have often seen much of their wares go to waste. The Kyrgyz government has valued the damage to its economy caused by the border troubles at around 1 billion som ($14.3 million).
The border inspection roadmap envisions three-way management of the border, involving officials from the two countries, as well as personnel from the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union trade bloc.
This compromise breakthrough appears to have been made possible by the encounter between the leaders of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan during a regional security summit in Minsk on November 30. Newly elected Kyrgyz leader Sooronbai Jeenbekov and President Nursultan Nazarbayev both made conciliatory remarks on the occasion, signaling a likely softening of the impasse.
The spat began in early October and was initially wholly political in nature. Kyrgyzstan’s hotheaded outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev angrily accused Astana of meddling in his country’s political affairs after Nazarbayev rolled out the red carpet for Omurbek Babanov, the main opposition candidate in last month’s elections in Kyrgyzstan. Atambayev had explicitly backed has his long-time ally Jeenbekov and described Babanov as a stooge for Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan responded to the barrage of insults lobbed in their direction by Atambayev with an intensified border regime. Their officials insisted, however, that the stepping up of inspections was actually justified by what it said was the vast amount of contraband flowing into Kyrgyzstan from China. Goods smuggled into Kyrgyzstan avoid the EEU import levies that are supposed to be pooled and then redistributed among bloc members at pre-agreed rates.
The involvement of EEU personnel on overseeing matters at the border appears integral to making this deadlock-breaking agreement work, but it is uncertain to what extent that solution can be applied across the board. As Kazakhstan sees it, the real problems lie with Kyrgyzstan’s crossings with China. Until they are definitively satisfied that there is a verifiable way of limiting the volume of contraband being funneled through those points, contention will persist.