Russia’s Role in Kyrgyzstan Change

By Erica Marat

Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, was the first foreign political official to recognize the legitimacy of Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government. In stark contrast to the US State Department’s awkward statements about Washington’s intention to continue to cooperate with the Kurmanbek Bakiyev government that has not yet resigned, Putin scored credit among most Kyrgyz who were shocked by the recent violence in Bishkek. Putin’s recognition provided crucial support for the bravery and efforts of all those who stood against Bakiyev’s regime and dared to challenge the armed police.

However, Russian favor comes at a price. “The situation around the US Transit Center is very controversial at this point,” one opposition supporter told Jamestown. There are strong pro-US and pro-Russian leaders among the members of the provisional government. They all face the dilemma of how to best secure their own strength at home and support among the international community. In this environment, the Manas Transit Center can once again come under fire among Kyrgyz political leaders. Since the United States has been provocative in its reaction regarding the Bakiyev government, the center is seen as having deterred change from the atrocities of the Bakiyev regime and the country’s second chance to democratize.

> Map of Kyrgyzstan
While Washington was correct to claim that no provisional government can be recognized as legitimate until Bakiyev officially resigns, these principles fail to resonate with the Kyrgyz public. Over 70 were killed in the clashes with the police, and about 1,000 were injured –these are numbers that no one in Bishkek could have predicted. “On Wednesday morning, when we found out that four people died –we were in deep shock,” said one member of the Kyrgyz diaspora in Washington. For him, the death of 70 people is simply numbing.

Roza-OtunbayevaMeanwhile, the provisional government led by Roza Otunbayeva expressed its gratitude to the Kremlin for its crucial support. “We are grateful to the Russian Federation and to the Russian prime minister, because in those [difficult] days there was the support, significant support from Russia that exposed the family of a criminal regime. This regime resisted until the last bullet yesterday, and unfortunately we have dead, and wounded,” Roza Otunbayeva explained to Ekho Moskvy (www.echo.msk.ru, April 8).

At this point, it is clear that Bakiyev is struggling for his own life and not for the survival of the regime. He will be unable to remain in Kyrgyzstan in the foreseeable future, because of the genuine anger against his leadership among opposition leaders and the general public. Therefore, even though Kyrgyzstan faces an uncertain future, for most Kyrgyz recognizing his government’s legitimacy is the equivalent of defending him.

Bakiyev is likely to secretly flee Kyrgyzstan in the days ahead, like most of his supporters, including his Prime Minister, Daniyar Usenov. However, reportedly Bakiyev will seek to challenge the provisional government. “There is a list of leaders from the provisional government Bakiyev wants to physically eliminate,” an opposition leader told Jamestown. To date, Bakiyev has called the opposition’s provisional government “illegitimate” and denied using the armed forces against civilian demonstrators (www.aljazeera.com, April 8).

The US Transit Center’s future remains unclear, precisely because the State Department has been slow to react to the developments in Kyrgyzstan, sometimes exposing ignorance about the real mood in Kyrgyz society. Bakiyev was able to broker lucrative deals with the US and, apparently, guarantee that the center would remain unchallenged. Yet, by relying on the promises of an authoritarian leader, the US government has undermined its own position among other political forces in Kyrgyzstan.

Meanwhile, only sporadic cases of looting are reportedly taking place in Bishkek on the night of April 8 (www.akipress.kg, April 9). For Bishkek dwellers, this is the strongest indicator that the provisional government is slowly gaining ground in the country. Some opposition leaders plan to call for an international investigation of the violent suppression of the riots, in order to hold Bakiyev, his brothers and loyal supporters accountable.

Most opposition leaders are genuinely interested in knowing who took the decision to open fire on innocent civilians and to see Bakiyev stand trial. “Bakiyev must be charged for killing civilians and his political clique as accomplices,” the former Kyrgyz military official, Ruslan Isakov, asserted. Supporting these calls for justice should be taken seriously by the Western community. It is important to realize that the April 7 tragedy was Kyrgyzstan’s own “Andijan” –Uzbekistan’s infamous May 2005 massacre. It seems that the Kremlin has understood the potential implications of these events far more quickly than the rest of the international community
Jamestown Foundation


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