Kyrgyzstan: President Pushes Back on US Accusations of Sanctions-Busting Behavior

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Kyrgyzstan is responding with what might be described as defiant compliance to a request by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the Central Asian nation to curb allegedly illicit trade with Russia.

Watchdogs contend that Central Asian states act as a back door for Russia, helping the Kremlin get around Western sanctions to procure goods to keep the country’s economy afloat and its war effort in Ukraine going. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have received the most attention for possible sanctions-busting trade. But in early August it was Kyrgyzstan’s turn.

In an August 8 letter sent under the aegis of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and the committee’s chairman, called on Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov to address allegations of sanctions-busting activity that assists “Russia, or its proxies.” Menendez also called out Japarov’s administration over authoritarian practices. 

“Since the onset of the [Russia-Ukraine] war, Kyrgyzstan has dramatically expanded its import-export business with Russia. At the same time, your government’s lack of enforcement or worse – complicit facilitation of trade with Russia in products that implicate sanctions, such as drones, aircraft parts, weapon accessories, and circuitry – is reportedly enabling Russia to evade international sanctions,” Menendez wrote to Japarov.

“I fear that Kyrgyzstan’s failure to uphold international sanctions on Russia is simply a symptom of its continued democratic backsliding and widespread human rights violations,” Menendez continued. “A once shining beacon of democracy in Central Asia, the Kyrgyz Republic is headed down a dangerous path toward autocracy.”

A catalyst for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s letter was a July report published by the Washington Post detailing an incident in which Chinese-made drones being shipped by a Kyrgyz company bound for Russia were intercepted by Kazakh customs officials. According to the Post’s report, Kyrgyz exports to Russia in 2022 rose by roughly 250 percent compared to the previous year’s level. A significant share of trade in 2022 comprised specialty items, including rifle scopes, specialized semiconductors, and voltage amplifiers. Publicly accessible documents reviewed by the Post indicated that Kyrgyz exporters engaged in what the newspaper described as a “high level of coordination with Moscow’s procurement efforts.”

In closing his letter to Japarov, Menendez wrote that the Foreign Relations Committee expected a “prompt response.”

Japarov obliged indirectly, releasing a statement to the Kabar news agency disavowing any official role in facilitating trade with Russia that violated sanctions. He claimed Russia did not need Kyrgyzstan to act as a middleman for Chinese trade. Citing the fact that Russia and China share thousands of miles of common frontier, Japarov said that “if Russia wants, she can import any goods she desires by rail or via barges.”

Japarov acknowledged Kyrgyz involvement in the attempted effort to supply Chinese drones to a Russian company, but he stuck to the official line that the exports were intended for civilian use. At the same time, he tacitly expressed willingness to act on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s request to exert more control over Russia-bound exports.

“The [Kyrgyz] company explained that these drones were intended for agricultural purposes. But despite this, we now prohibit the export of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles,” Japarov said in his statement. “We adhere to a neutral position [in the Russia-Ukraine war]. We will adhere to this position in the future.”

Responding to the criticism of his leadership style, Japarov was dismissive. “I regard this [the letter] as a typical case of exerting pressure on Kyrgyzstan to pull us over to their position,” Japarov stated. “But we will not allow this.”

Source : Eurasianet