WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the U.S. and Russia vie for influence in Kyrgyzstan after last week's uprising, the future of a key U.S. transit hub to Afghanistan is at stake. A Gallup poll in July 2008 showed Kyrgyzstanis giving Russia the edge: Nearly two-thirds (63%) said it is more important for their country to have relations with Russia, even at the expense of relations with the United States.
Gallup surveyed Kyrgyzstanis about their relations with the two countries in July 2008, well before President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was overthrown last week and offered to step down Tuesday, reversed the decision to close the U.S. air base in 2009. The closure would have left Russia with a base in the country and the U.S. without its central supply route to Afghanistan. The U.S. finds itself in a similar situation less than a year later, with Kyrgyzstan's self-proclaimed new government promising to keep the U.S. airfield open -- for now.
At the time of the survey, Kyrgyzstanis, like most of their counterparts in the former Soviet nations surveyed, favored a closer relationship with Russia over one with the United States. But they were more likely than most to favor this relationship; only Armenians were more likely to say Russian relations were more important.
While other factors may be at play elsewhere in the region, continued economic dependence and a long, shared history largely explain Kyrgyzstanis' affinity for Russia. Further, not only do Kyrgyzstanis choose Russia over the U.S., but they also choose Russia over all of the countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States region. In 2009, 82% of Kyrgyzstanis say Russia is the country in the region that they would like to have the closest relations with.
With Kyrgyzstanis' approval of Russia's leadership at 88% and their approval of U.S. leadership at 34% in 2009, it's unlikely a sea change has occurred in their views toward relations with either country. Gallup data suggest that with Russia's large sphere of influence across Central Asia, it will not be easy for the U.S. to find other options should Kyrgyzstan's government decide to end or shorten the U.S. lease on the airfield.
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Results are based face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in July 2008 and July 2009 in Kyrgyzstan. Surveys conducted in 2008 in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. Surveys conducted in 2009 in Uzbekistan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. For results based on the total sample of national adults in Kyrgyzstan, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.7 percentage points. For other surveys, the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from ±3.3 in Moldova to ±3.9 in Ukraine. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.