Kyrgyz post-Soviet foreign policy: a habit of dependency

Emilbek Dzhuraev, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek and a co-founder of Crossroads Central Asia.

The record of independent foreign policy of Kyrgyzstan may be described, in general, as state-building foreign policy [1]. Much of the country’s relations with the outside world were carried out from the perspective of a newly established and still ‘under-construction’ nation-state. While all of the former Soviet states are eligible for that categorization, Kyrgyzstan has arguably taken a longer time than its fellows in that status of a newcomer or newborn, allowed to err and in need of help.

It is that last point – in need of help – supplies one important way to describe the substance or the prevailing nature of Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy of the nearly thirty years of independence. Needing help – in any form and terms, from grants and aid to loans and deals – and seeking it, or dependency, in a word, has been a defining leitmotif of Bishkek foreign policy.

Dependency in foreign policy as proposed here is not the same as in dependency theory and not quite the same as in aid dependency. The former is a macro theory (or rather, a family of theories) of global political economy, mostly a critique of capitalism for its inherent reproduction of inequality, and here the concern is not with that, albeit the overarching conditions of Kyrgyzstan’s dependency may be traced to this theory’s arguments. The latter is more narrowly a description of a country’s actual dependency on foreign aid, such as, arguably, the state of the Afghan economy – a reference that neither fits the urgency of Kyrgyzstan’s dependency, nor the scope of what Kyrgyzstan depends on.

A possible way to distinguish Kyrgyzstan’s case is to think of it as dependency-as-supplicancy. This dependency is not only about aid but any other form of transfers, including repayable loans. It is also, strictly speaking, not accurate as a description in the sense that the country may not actually need all the sought and received external transfers. It is dependency foreign policy in that the country’s interactions with other countries and with donor institutions are systematically attuned to seeking any form of help and favour. It is not a foreign policy pursuing consistent political objectives, not one that systematically pursues investment opportunities for Kyrgyz business abroad or offers such opportunities for foreign business at home, not one that comes to its partners with proposals that may be of genuine economic attraction for the latter. Rather, dependency foreign policy is a modus operandi, much like when supplicating is the mode of worship of a church-goer.

[1] This paper was written and submitted shortly before the elections of October 4, 2020, which sent Kyrgyzstan’s politics tumbling once more. The events cut short the tenure of President Jeenbekov, but they did not immediately appear to be ushering in changed foreign policy. Please, see the note at the end of the paper for more.

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The policy paper is produced as part of a project “Debating International Relations in Central Asia: Regional Developments and Extra-Regional Actors”. The project is led by Shairbek Dzhuraev and Eric McGlinchey with support of the Hollings Center for International Dialogue. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Crossroads Central Asia and/or the Hollings Center for International Dialogue.

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