Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 34 Issue 6
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi
Russia’s concerted efforts in Kyrgyzstan, focused on supporting local educational and humanitarian initiatives, represent a significant augmentation of its soft power and cultural influence in the region. The cornerstone of this strategy lies in the establishment of Russian language schools in Kyrgyzstan, a project actively backed by Moscow.
Both economic and geopolitical imperatives underpin this endeavour, driven by the Kremlin’s strategic imperative to counter the burgeoning regional influence of Beijing and Ankara, as well as the enduring rivalry with Washington.
Russia’s Language School in Kyrgyzstan:
At the beginning of September 2023, Kyrgyz Presidents Sadyr Japarov and Russian President Vladimir Putin jointly inaugurated the construction of the initial three Kyrgyz-Russian schools, marking the commencement of a pivotal initiative.
This project envisions the creation of nine contemporary educational institutions, each equipped with cutting-edge technology, spanning across all regions of Kyrgyzstan, including the cities of Bishkek and Osh.
The first three schools situated in Bishkek, Batken, and Karakol are scheduled to be operationally ready in September 2025. Noteworthy is the provision for graduates to receive certificates from both nations, with instruction delivered in Russian, adhering to the curricular standards of both countries.
The existing 2,300 schools in the Kyrgyz Republic, supplemented by the ongoing construction of 60 more, underscore the pressing need for modernisation in both quantity and quality of educational infrastructure.
While Russian does not hold an official status in Kyrgyzstan, it remains the third most widely spoken language in terms of “ethnic speakers.” As of early 2021, there were 341,351 Russians in Kyrgyzstan, comprising 5.14% of the country’s population.
Thus, the establishment of Russian schools transcends the interests of just the ethnic Russian minority, expanding into a broader socio-cultural context. The rationale for constructing these schools emanates from a dual perspective, rooted in both economic and geopolitical considerations.
Economically, Moscow and Bishkek stand as strategic partners, with trade turnover exceeding three billion dollars in 2022. Many Russian-Kyrgyz enterprises collaborate within the Kyrgyz Republic, and the upcoming 10th Russian-Kyrgyz conference scheduled this fall will explore deeper industrial cooperation.
Furthermore, with an estimated 700,000 labour migrants from Kyrgyzstan in Russia by early 2022, the Kyrgyz authorities are inclined towards nurturing these migrants into qualified specialists, thereby contributing positively to both the Kyrgyz and Russian economies.
Geopolitically, the establishment of Russian schools serves as a linchpin for constructing a unified civilisational space between Russia and Kyrgyzstan. This augments their strategic partnership, especially critical in the face of escalating influence from China and Turkey in Central Asia.
President Erdogan’s endeavours to regain influence over Turkic-speaking countries find resonance in Kyrgyzstan, notably through Manas University, where there are education programs in Kyrgyz and Turkish. Moreover, the transition from Cyrillic to Latin script in Central Asian countries accentuates the significance of Russia’s educational presence.
Also, Beijing is present in the Kyrgyz education system thanks to the promotion of the Chinese language and culture. For instance, the inauguration of the Analytical Centre for China Studies in Bishkek in June 2023, as well as the Confucius Institute at Osh State University reorganised later into the Kyrgyz-Chinese Faculty, confirmed the Chinese approach towards the Kyrgyz education system.
In addition, Moscow’s expansion in Kyrgyzstan’s education system is a strategic response to counter U.S. soft power, largely mediated through NGOs and humanitarian projects. Recent focus on the activities of the Institute of War and Peace Report (IWPR) and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s substantial grant allocation for media in Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan, attests to this competition in shaping media narratives and public opinion.
Kyrgyzstan, strategically located in Central Asia, shares borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China. As a member of Moscow’s Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and a key participant in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, Kyrgyzstan plays a pivotal role in the geopolitical landscape of the region.
Recognising the country’s strategic importance, Russia has employed a multi-faceted approach, engaging across fields such as economy, politics, defence, and education to sustain its presence.
The establishment of Russian schools helps to foster stronger bilateral ties and offering increased educational and professional opportunities for Kyrgyz citizens in the Russian Federation. This initiative, therefore, reinforces Moscow’s influence, countering the growing influences of China and Turkey, as well as the enduring presence of the United States.
Recent events in Kyrgyzstan affirm the heightened significance of media and education in the geopolitical dynamics of Central Asia. This trend suggests an escalating interest from foreign actors in these sectors, with substantial support expected from Russia, Turkey, China, the United States, Iran, the European Union, and the Gulf Arab monarchies.
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