Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Kyrgyzstan on his first foreign trip since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for his arrest for alleged war crimes.
Putin’s two-day trip to Bishkek will culminate in his attendance at a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an intergovernmental organisation made up of former Soviet republics, amid claims of waning Russian influence in the region.
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Putin, who has rarely left Russia since sending troops into Ukraine in early 2022, is also expected to travel to China next week for the third Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.
During a meeting with Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov on Thursday, Putin reiterated Russia’s importance as a trade partner and Kyrgyzstan’s biggest investor and said the two sides would further develop cooperation.
“I would like to thank the president for the invitation. We have good reasons [to be here], but even without reason, this visit is long overdue,” Putin said.
The Russian leader also highlighted double-digit growth in Russian-Kyrgyz trade, which some analysts in the West suspect is due to sanctions-busting by Russian businesses.
Last week, the Kyrgyzstan central bank urged local banks to tighten controls to improve compliance with Western sanctions against Moscow.
In July, the United States imposed sanctions on four Kyrgyz companies for re-exporting electronic components and other technology to Russia.
In Kyrgyzstan, Putin is also expected to take part in a ceremonies to mark the 20th anniversary of the opening of Russia’s airbase near the town of Kant, which allows Moscow to project power in the region.
The ICC in March issued a warrant for Putin and Russia’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for allegedly deporting thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.
Russia, which does not recognise the ICC’s authority, has rejected the warrant as “illegal”.
Kyrgyzstan and China are also not members of the ICC and therefore not bound by its jurisdiction.
Still, Russia has taken precautions with foreign visits in the past, sending Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in place of Putin to the BRICS summit in August.