Under Secretary Zeya: Um, in Bishkek…This is my first visit to the Kyrgyz Republic. Um, it has been an action-packed visit over three days. I’ve met the Foreign Minister, the Prosecutor General, the Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet, as well as a number of civil society, journalist and media leaders, as well as women leaders from across the political, private sector and non-governmental sectors. I would underscore that this visit really signifies the importance that the United States places on a stronger partnership with Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. We’re seeing U.S.-Kyrgyz relations already deepening in a number of areas and the discussions that we had during my time here will help further solidify and strengthen our cooperation.
We’re very proud that for over 30 years the United States has supported the territorial integrity, the independence and the sovereignty of all the Central Asian Republics, including the Kyrgyz Republic. But I want to be clear that advancing a nation’s full potential and lasting prosperity and stability requires more than defending its sovereignty and independence. It also means valuing human rights and respecting human rights and the ability of people to participate meaningfully in shaping their country’s future by exercising their civil and political rights. So, the United States remains committed to supporting Kyrgyz civil society organizations and Kyrgyz government actors who are working to build accountable democratic governance and institutions and strengthen the rule of law.
We think it’s critical to protect the gains and democratic governance made over the last three decades in the Kyrgyz Republic. So, we’re working with our Kyrgyz partners to expand press freedom, preserve and protect the space for civil society and their participation in democratic processes, protect the human rights of minority groups and vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities, fight corruption and strengthen judicial independence. We’re looking forward to continuing our close cooperation with the Kyrgyz Republic, including through the C5+1, uh, diplomatic platform to advance our shared goals of an independent, prosperous, free and secure Central Asia.
AKI Press: Okay, thank you. So, I start with questions.
Under Secretary Zeya: eh huh… Thank you.
Question: So, question number 1: So, how do you characterize our relations for…for the last several years? We witness some ehm…they were like say there was no progress, frankly speaking. So, how do you characterize now?
Under Secretary Zeya: Uh huh. Well, now I would say in the current context we value our partnership with the Kyrgyz Republic and its people and think this is reflected in the more than $2 billion in assistance that the United States has provided Kyrgyzstan since its independence. We are in a period of strengthening our relationship and partnership. And I would add on this point that the signing of a new bilateral cooperation agreement which we hope to see soon, will be a landmark occasion that I think will signal a commitment by both our governments to closer cooperation on shared priorities.
Question: Okay, so the…this bilateral agreement, so every time like it’s almost done… Almost, almost. What are the problems? What.. what… what we need to finish that to decide on to sign this agreement?
Under Secretary Zeya: Well, I wouldn’t say that there are remaining problems, I think, in…in any situation, Aslan, we, you know, these agreements require time and dialogue and discussions. So, and we’re hopeful that we’ll see this coming to the signature phase very soon.
Question: Okay, so, do your meetings here in Bishkek…you said, you mentioned the General Prosecutor, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, okay, the…and the Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet. What was the focus of your meetings? What was the focus of your topics? And did you disc…. have you discussed the topic of sanctions… of US sanctions towards Russia?
Under Secretary Zeya: Yes, we had a number of topics that we discussed and certainly our desire to support Kyrgyzstan’s democratic progress – that was a major topic, and this includes supporting freedom of expression, freedom of association and the fight against corruption. Of course, we discussed the crisis in Ukraine that is the result of Russia’s unprovoked, an unconscionable aggression against the Ukrainian people. And we are focused on upholding the sanctions that we have…we and over 30 allies and partners across the world have levied. These are the most wide-ranging economic restrictions in history that are intended to impose a cost on the Kremlin, on Putin and his enablers to bring this brutal war to an end. So, with respect to sanctions, Aslan, the administration’s focus is on preventing evasion. So, our message to all governments is the same: “Don’t help supply Putin’s war machine. Help us support an end to the war in Ukraine by helping the international community deny Putin the resources he needs to conduct and expand his unjust war.”
Question: Uh huh…And during the meetings have you raised eh…the problem of this, uh, say two laws on the fake news and on the financial of NGOs. And what was the answer?
Under Secretary Zeya: Well, we share concerns of local and international human rights and media advocacy organizations that these laws could be used to block or…or threaten independent news outlets or restrict the ability of non-governmental organizations to improve the lives of the Kyrgyzstani people and assist the government in responding to public needs. So, I prioritize these issues in my meetings because promoting human rights is a core aspect of U.S. foreign policy under President Biden. I think, we heard from the government if you look at the statement that the Foreign Ministry put out that they were responsive to our concerns.
Question: Uh huh… after the journalist investigation of the family business of the head of Kyrgyz security Tashiev, Tashiev said: “these journalist investigations are paid from abroad”. Does the U.S. government pay for journalist investigations here in Kyrgyzstan, this kind of investigations?
Under Secretary Zeya: Well, I want to be clear from the outset that Russia is engaged in active disinformation and malign influence campaigns that are intended to deceive and confuse the public, disrupt and cause disorder and deepen cleavages in societies among and within democratic states. So, these disinformation campaigns globally are also threatening the vital work of independent media and civil society organizations. We see independent media as a vital medium of communication between citizens and their governments. They assist officials and political leaders in identifying and responding to the needs of the people of the Kyrgyz Republic. So, through our grant programs, the U.S. Government supports independent media in the Kyrgyz Republic and many other countries. But let me be clear, the United States does not interfere in the editorial decisions of independent media who are exactly that Kyrgyz journalists are free to make their conclusions, conduct their vital work without any editorial content or any influence from us in terms of the support that we provide, which is transparent and I believe, if you look at our embassy’s website, you can look up further information on the ways that we support media freedom and other vital universal human rights in Kyrgyzstan and as we do in other countries.
Question: Um, in the end of 2020 the ex-US Ambassador Donald Lu, he made a statement on the organized crime here in Kyrgyzstan. Do you see any progress in fighting the organized crime here?
Under Secretary Zeya: Well, I would say we welcome President Japarov’s stated commitment to combating corruption, and we look forward to more meaningful steps because this is fundamental to building a strong sustainable economy and creating greater economic opportunities for the Kyrgyz people. In my meeting with the Prosecutor General, we discussed in detail the government’s anti-corruption goals and how our law enforcement agencies and our governments could work more effectively together on issues, such as asset recovery, returning stolen wealth to the Kyrgyz people. But I would add here that independent journalism also has a crucial role to play in combating corruption and offering transparency on the work on the actions of kleptocratic actors in diverting resources from the people.
Question: Um, the last question (laughing). Almost finished.
Under Secretary Zeya: Sure.
Question: Uh, will the U. S. Government relocate financial aid to Eastern Europe from the other parts of the world or, on the contrary, contrary, it will spend, for example, in Central Asia to promote the freedom of speech?
Under Secretary Zeya: Well, we are the leading international contributor to the Ukrainian people. I should, I think I also mentioned we are the leading bi-lateral donor, uh, to the Kyrgyz Republic as well. We’re very proud of that. And we are working to support the people of Ukraine as they’re fighting so bravely to defend their country against Russia’s destabilizing invasion. But we would note, this invasion is wreaking havoc beyond Ukraine. It’s undermining international food and energy security. Those are two very important points. So, we are working with international partners to mitigate these consequences, including for the people of Central Asia. In the context of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked aggression against the Ukrainian people, we believe, supporting free and independent media is more important than ever, so that the people can learn the truth about what’s happening, and we can protect institutions that are so vital to nation’s prosperity, security and ultimate stability.
AKI Press: Okay, thank you very much. Thank you.