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28 May 2023

Kyrgyzstan to reinforce borders with Russian aid

By Reuters

Kyrgyzstan received military trucks and communications equipment from Russia on Wednesday, the first part of an aid package to reinforce its fragile borders ahead of the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from nearby Afghanistan. 

Russia is supplying the equipment to the impoverished republic to increase security on the southern flanks of the former Soviet Central Asian region it still considers its sphere of influence. 

The aid package, worth about $16 million, reinforces ties between Russia and Kyrgyzstan, whose newly elected president pleased the Kremlin by stating his opposition to renewing the lease on a U.S. military air base in the country beyond 2014. 

"We have a shared past and, I'm sure, a shared future," President Almazbek Atambayev said at a ceremony attended by Kyrgyz border troops and the head of Russia's border service, Vladimir Pronichev. 

"We know our history. We know our fathers and grandfathers fought for our shared motherland, the Soviet Union. I myself am the son of a front-line soldier who protected the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War (World War Two)," Atambayev said. 

Mainly Muslim Kyrgyzstan lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan. Like Russia, it is also concerned about a possible spillover of Islamist militancy as NATO-led troops prepare to leave Afghanistan by 2014. 

Nikolai Bordyuzha, secretary-general of Russia-led regional security body the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, said last March that the withdrwal of NATO troops would create a threat to the entire Central Asian region.  

The same month, Russia pledged technical and financial aid to Kyrgyzstan as part of a three-year programme to fight the trafficking of drugs from Afghanistan.  

Kyrgyzstan does not share a common border with Afghanistan but Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, to its south and west respectively, do. China also has a long border with Kyrgyzstan. 

Previous president Roza Otunbayeva, who did not contest the October election won by former prime minister Atambayev, also asked NATO to provide border support after saying last May that the "technical standard" of border posts was insufficient. 

Russia, like the United States, operates a military air base in Kyrgyzstan. Both countries have been in talks about the construction of separate training centres in the south of the country to counter the threat of crime and Islamist militancy. 

"Cross-border crime wants to stir up this region to create the conditions favourable for its needs," Pronichev, head of the Russian Federal Security Service's border unit, said after delivering the first batch of equipment to Bishkek. 

"We are putting into action the decision of our presidents to reinforce the Kyrgyz Republic's border troops with modern technology."