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Russian hydroelectric project strengthens bond with Kyrgyzstan

A project to build four hydroelectric power stations will extend the Kremlin's footprint in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz officials welcome the investment, which could boost their economy.

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"Great Russia supports us," he said to the applause of Kyrgyz officials, top RusHydro managers and local residents in the mountain-rimmed Naryn River valley.

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Twenty-one years after the demise of the Soviet UnionKyrgyzstan, a mainly Muslim Central Asian nation, remains one of the poorest of the 15 former Soviet republics despite its abundant hydropower potential and other natural resources.

The country, where two presidents have been toppled in violent revolts since 2005 and per capita GDP is less than a tenth of that in next-door Kazakhstan, badly needs foreign investment to alleviate poverty that stokes instability.

The cascades of hydropower stations will have a combined annual capacity of 1.055 million kilowatt-hours. Kyrgyz officials say the construction of the first one will begin next spring.

The plants will cost between $410 million and $425 million and will be financed on a parity basis by Kyrgyzstanand RusHydro, which would also manage 25 percent of the plants' capacity until they turn profitable.

The project, initially conceived in the Soviet era, is expected to be the first of several major energy projects set to strengthen Russia's hold in the strategic nation bordering China and lying on a drug trafficking route out ofAfghanistan.

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