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Putin Signs Kyrgyzstan Dam Agreements, Extends Military Presence, Writes Off Half a Billion USD Debt

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan

Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered support to Kyrgyzstan in its conflict with downstream Uzbekistan over distribution of water resources in Central Asia. Almost $500 million USD in debt will be excused in exchange for a package of deals that will extend Moscow's water, energy and military influence in the region.

During Putin's official visit to Kyrgyzstan on September 19-20, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novakand Kyrgyz Minister of Energy and Industry Avtandil Kalmambetov signed an agreement to build four hydroelectric plants within the Upper Naryn cascade and another agreement to build and operate the Kambarata-1 hydropower plant.

Putin also secured a 15-year extension to Russia's lease on its military base in the country. Kyrgyzstan has confirmed plans to close a U.S. base used to fly troops in and out of Afghanistan after Washington's lease expires in 2014,

All of the power plants will be located on the trans-boundary Naryn River in Kyrgyzstan. The Naryn is a tributary of the Syr Darya River, which flows for 2,200 kilometers through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to the dying Aral Sea.

“We must take into account concerns expressed by all countries of the region, keep them in mind and create the conditions for dissolution of such concerns,” Putin added in a September 20 press conference.

He proposed involving downstream Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the projects.

“We stand for the involvement of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in this work,” the Russian leader said. “The Kyrgyz president and I spoke [about this] today and yesterday [September 19 and 20]. The Kyrgyz side backs such an approach. We invite our partners to participate in joint efforts. This would include managing the future hydropower enterprises we're talking about, realization of which has already begun."

Putin emphasized that the projects were initially developed under the Soviets, and claimed there were no concerns about them at that time.

“What does that show? That shows that if we form rules of interaction and cooperation in the region, then the realization of such projects will not pose a threat,” he said.

According to Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev, the Kambarata-1 project has always been intended to help Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan with their irrigation needs.

“When we complete Kambarata-1, then in winter we will be able to release water from Kambarata-1 [to produce electricity], while holding it in Toktogul [reservoir]” and preserving it for downstream countries to use for irrigation in the spring.

Atambayev acknowledged that his country cannot now provide downstream neighbors with sufficient volumes of water in spring and summer, as it uses existing hydropower plants to supply electricity for domestic needs in winter.

Earlier this month, Uzbek President Karimov reproached Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for their plans to dam trans-boundary waterways for hydropower projects, and predicted future water wars in the region.