In the latest fit of pique in a seemingly unending diplomatic row, Kyrgyzstan is going through the motions of formally rejecting a $100 million aid package offered to it by Kazakhstan.
Speaking to the parliament’s budget and finances committee, Kyrgyz deputy prime minister Duishenbek Zilaliyev said on October 23 that Kazakhstan had long delayed the promised payment and that the funds were no longer needed.
“We planned to build veterinary labs with this money. But we didn’t wait around and went ahead and built 18 laboratories with funds from our own budget,” Zilaliyev said, adding that further facilities would also be completed without Kazakhstan’s help. “Of course it will be hard, but if we don’t respect ourselves, then nobody will respect us, so we have decided to scrap the [aid] agreement.”
The intention to turn down the aid package was flagged up by outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev, who has for weeks been engaged in a war of words with Kazakhstani officials over claims that the government in Astana was backing a candidate opposed to his own preferred man in the October 15 presidential election.
“They are rebuking me about the fact that the Kazakhs are giving us $100 million. But this [aid] agreement was signed in 2007. And in 2014, I told [Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev]: ‘ You probably won’t give us this money, why don’t you give us equipment instead?’” Atambayev said last week. “And they went on for three years like this, until we ran into problems with them. To be honest, we can do without this kind of help.”
The budget and finances committee has backed the decision to annul the aid package, but definitive cancellation will require approval from parliament.
Speaking in June about the $100 million, Kazakhstan’s Finance Minister Bahyt Sultanov stated that the funds were intended to assist Kyrgyzstan integrate into the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union trade bloc. Sultanov said the money would go toward refurbishing border crossing facilities and developing laboratories to ensure that goods entering Kazakhstan meet EEU-required standards.
Kyrgyzstan may have been bristling at the delay in payment of these funds, but it was the recent verbal onslaught by Atambayev against Kazakhstan’s government that has really led to the chill in relations.
On October 10, following a fiery Atambayev speech attacking Astana, Kazakhstani border officials arbitrarily tightened security checks, bringing traffic to a virtual standstill. Massive lines of foot passenger, cars and trucks carrying goods quickly formed on both sides of the border. Many haulage companies have complained that the intensified security regime has caused them to miss multiple deliveries, while those carrying fresh produce have seen the goods they were transporting go to waste.
The situation on the border began slowly improving around October 18, following a visit to Kazakhstan by Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister, Sapar Isakov, although travelers say things are still far from normal.
Another encounter between Isakov and his Kazakhstani counterpart, Bakytzhan Sagintayev, is expected in the coming days, when the pair attend a EEU heads of government summit in the Armenian capital, Yerevan.