Alphabet at issue in Great Game for Central Asia

Russia has suspended the import of dairy products from Kyrgyzstan, ostensibly citing concerns about quality control. But the report on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty suggests that the move is retaliation after the Kyrgyz National Commission on State Language & Language Policy announced that the country is to begin a transition from Cyrillic to a Latin-based alphabet. Barring of dairy imports hs apparently been used several times over past years as a "blunt foreign policy instrument against former Soviet states whose actions Moscow dislikes," including Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The move to switch the script also appears not to have the support of Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, who is said to have met with language commision chair Kanybek Osmonaliev to "harshly criticize" him for the April 19 announcement.

While Japarov is perceived as tilting to Moscow, there are evidently divisions within his government. US Assistant Secretary of State for South & Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu met with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubaev in capital Bishkek on April 24, to discuss "development of bilateral relations." Among issues addressed was Bishkek's further integration within the C5+1 regional diplomatic platform bringing together Washington and the governments of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. (AzerNews)

The report on RFE/RL (itself linked to the US State Department) notes that other regional countries have been dropping Cyrillic for Latin-based script, portraying it as "in part driven by political considerations in order to distance the Turkic-speaking nations from years of Russian influence and develop a stronger national identity." Kazakhstan has been in the process of switching to the Latin alphabet since 2017, with the transition slated to be complete by 2025. Uzbekistan also adopted a Latin-based script for all official purposes this year. Turkmenistan dropped Cyrillic for Latin script in 1993, while Azerbaijan replaced its Cyrillic-based script with a Latin-based one immediately upon independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.