The opposition movement claims the Parliament has been dissolved and over 100 are dead at the hands of Kyrgyz police. The government claims the amount is around 40. Reportedly, the main cause for the opposition is the corrupt, dictatorial government’s high taxation blocking the marketplace and skyrocketing utility bills. Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Bishkek, said Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the country’s president, has now fled the capital and relocated to the country’s south (5:43):
7 Apr 2010 | InfoShop News
Leaders of an opposition movement to the Kyrgyzstan government have “seized internal security headquarters and a state TV channel after fatal clashes with government forces… saying they now controlled the Central Asian nation that hosts a U.S. base key to the Afghan war,” Peter Leonard reports at the Associated Press (A.P.).
“Opposition leaders have called for the closure of the Manas air base, saying it could put their country at risk if the United States goes to war with Iran,” Mr Leonard reports.
The Obama Administration “angered the Kyrgyz opposition last summer by courting Mr. Bakiyev in an ultimately successful attempt to reverse his decision to close the base, angering the opposition,” Clifford Levy reports at The New York Times (NYT).
Though, “American officials said that as of Wednesday evening the base was functioning normally”, this revolution “posed a potential embarrassment” for the Administration, he adds, as the U.S. embassy in the Kyrgyz capital expressed in a statement it was “deeply concerned”.
Columbia Law Professor Scott Horton at Harper’s writes today: “The United States has curried favor with powerful political figures intent on rent seeking…. The U.S. proclivity for “sweet deals” with those in power will complicate things in time of transition.”
Temir Sariyev, an opposition party leader, told the A.P., “[T]he prime minister has submitted his resignation, and the entire government is also resigning”. Mr. Sariyev “earlier announced a coalition of opposition politicians had agreed on a new prime minister as well as a new interior minister and new security chief”. The A.P. could not confirm these claims.
Keneshbek Duishebayev, referred to by the A.P. as an “opposition leader”, was seen by a staff reporter sitting in the office of the National Security Agency, reporting, “[He] issued orders on the phone to people Duishebayev said were security agents. He also gave orders to a uniformed special forces commando.”
Prof. Scott Horton at Harper’s adds: “Kyrgyz felt their concerns about out-of-control corruption by the leadership were validated when Italian criminal-justice authorities issued a warrant for the arrest of a close business associate of President Bakiyev’s son, Maksim, in connection with a fraud investigation. Then both the president and the opposition convened a kurultai—invoking the ancient Kyrgyz tradition of spontaneous plebiscite to decide important issues,” adding later [emphasis added]:
The developments in Kyrgyzstan are being followed warily in Washington, Berlin, and London because of the Manas air base developed by the United States and used by the NATO allies. It forms a key supply terminal in their northern logistical support network, supporting military operations in Afghanistan. The protesters are focused on the same facts. By and large, the crowds in Bishkek show no signs of being anti-U.S. or anti-Russian, but they are concerned about the corrupt relationship that has developed between the United States military and their leaders. Both former president Askar Akayev and the current incumbent Kurmanbek Bakiyev developed “special relationships” with the U.S. logistical supply point—as members of their immediate families garnered sweetheart deals from the Pentagon that supported the base operations. Kyrgyz political figures often sneer at American government officials who preach transparency and anti-corruption tactics and then cut the most obviously corrupt deals in the country.
Prof. Horton was told by Columbia University Professor Alex Cooley, “who has studied the politics of the Manas air base” [emphasis added]:
The United States has founded its engagement with the Kyrgyz government on providing lucrative contacts–for fuel and other Manas-related services–worth hundreds of millions of dollars to entities controlled by the Bakiyev ruling family. In the event that the government collapses, its successor will deem these contracts improper and will either terminate or renegotiate them. In fact, in the aftermath of the Tulip Revolution, then interim president Bakiyev publicly denounced the airbase deals that the United States had cut with the deposed Akayev family and demanded a huge increase in base-related rent. The larger lesson for the Defense Department should be clear: placating authoritarian regimes with private contracts and pay-offs does not guarantee long-term stability of relations; in volatile political climates like Kyrgyzstan, it may, in fact, sow the seeds for discontent and political challenges to the regime.
The protests “appeared to be a revolution” that “erupted when thousands of protesters… seized government buildings in Bishkek”—the Kyrgyz capital—“and clashed with police, who opened fire, killing dozens and wounding hundreds”, Mr. Leonard reports, adding [emphasis added]:
Since coming to power in 2005 on a wave of street protests known as the Tulip Revolution, Bakiyev had ensured a measure of stability, but many observers say he has done so at the expense of democratic standards while enriching himself and his family. He faced the same accusations of corruption and cronyism that led to the ouster of his predecessor.
Over the past two years, Kyrgyz authorities have clamped down on free media, and opposition activists say they have routinely been subjected to physical intimidation and targeted by politically motivated criminal investigations….
The anti-government forces have been in disarray until recently, but widespread anger over a 200 percent hike in electricity and heating gas bills has helped them come together and galvanize support.…
The Independent reports [emphasis added]:
Police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets, but were nevertheless overrun by protesters. In many cases, whole battalions of riot police were forced to flee in terror, as youths wielding stones and weapons gave pursuit. Some police officers were captured and set upon. By late afternoon, some of the protesters had managed to seize weaponry and even armoured vehicles from the police, and began attacking government buildings….
Around 1,000 protesters broke into the prosecutor-general’s office and burnt it to the ground. Government soldiers fired automatic weapons into the crowd to push back the masses from the government’s headquarters, though it was unclear at that point whether Mr Bakiyev was still inside….
Galina Skripkina, a senior opposition official, said Mr. Bakiyev had flown from the capital to the southern city of Osh. The government had agreed to resign but a deal had not been signed, Ms. Skripkina told Reuters. Mr. Bakiyev did not make any public appearances or statements at any point during the day….
Ten opposition leaders who had been arrested by Kyrgyz security forces earlier in the week were freed yesterday, and declared that they would form a new government.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the protection of “all human rights”, including “free speech and freedom of the media”, Al Jazeera English reported Saturday, adding [emphasis added]:
The Kyrgyz authorities have recently cracked down on independent media, seizing equipment in a raid on a television station, effectively taking it off the air, and closing down an opposition newspaper.
In March, the courts banned two newspapers close to the Kyrgyz opposition and fined them $111,000 for having attacked the honour of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the Kyrgyz president.
Two prominent journalists were killed in the region late last year and several independent media websites and radio stations have not been accessible in Kyrgyzstan since early March….
Advocacy groups have accused the West of putting oil and security above democracy in its contacts with Central Asia, a region lying on vast energy reserves and serving as a transit route for supplies headed for NATO troops in Afghanistan.
“We are deeply disturbed by the actions of Kyrgyz authorities to systematically unplug their citizens from independent and opposition news sources,” the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said a statement.
Kyrgyzstan is a former U.S.S.R. territory of nearly 5.5 million people. It’s Tulip Revolution is one of many so-called “color revolution” movements in the former Soviet republics. Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, wrote in 2006 that the “color revolutions in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Belarus, and Lebanon as examples of what [then-president George W. Bush] had earlier referred to as a U.S.-led ‘global democratic revolution‘” [emphasis added]:
In Kyrgyzstan, you’ll remember, the classic pattern of these color-coded revolutions ran true to form: a disputed election, massive street protests, and the flight of the former leader to Russia. This was hailedCondoleezza Rice and numerous commentators as yet more evidence that the Bushian “global democratic revolution” was taking hold by —inspired, or so we were told, by the American “liberation” of Iraq and the president’s “forward strategy of freedom.”
The former president, Askar Akayev, an ex-communist bureaucrat, was accused by all the pertinent “human rights” organizations to be an election-thief as well as a mini-Stalin. Compared to what followed, however, the era of Akayev’s rule will go down in the history of the country as relatively benign: compared, that is, to the reign of his successor, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, which has been marked by what the International Herald Tribune describes as “political instability and deteriorating public security, including a string of high-profile murders.” The latest outrage is the news that the president’s brother tried to have heroin planted on a prominent opposition leader. Against the backdrop of mysterious hooligan attacks on the independent media, one thing seems clear: in Kyrgyzstan, the Tulip Revolution has wilted, and the familiar weed of autocracy has grown up in its place.
Both Russia and the U.S. maintain military bases in the country—there was, you may recall, that mysterious incident with the disappearing U.S. officer, who turned up several miles away from where she was last seen, for reasons that aren’t quite clear. And now we have this collision in the air over Manas Air Base, involving a Kyrgyz airliner and a U.S. military refueling aircraft—both reminders of the shadowy American presence in this far corner of Central Asia.
It was under Akayev that the Russians were granted access to their base near the village of Kant, not far from the capital city of Bishkek, in 2003. Shortly afterward, he was overthrown. While Bakiyev got into a tiff with the U.S. over the price of basing rights—he wanted $50 million more, to start—his increasingly repressive regime has not occasioned any reprimands from the Americans. What may provoke the ire of the U.S. are increasing military and economic ties with Russia, such as the recent joint “anti-terrorism” military exercises conducted by Kyrgyz and Russian forces. Who wants to bet that the guardians of liberty over at Freedom House and the constellation of “human rights” organizations will suddenly begin to take note of Bakiyev’s shortcomings?
The “color revolutions” are meant to “extend the reach of American military power, via NATO and more directly”, according to Mr. Raimondo, in order “to encircle the Russians and the Chinese, keeping both in check and extending the far frontiers of the rising American empire deep into Central Asia”.
There are genuine grievances by the Kyrgyz people, but it’s difficult to assume such revolt can occur in such a vital location in U.S. geopolitics without Washington meddling.
But, let’s say the U.S. simply removed military backing for the Kyrgyz government for this revolution to be successful. Beltway technocrats have too much at stake to not have some control over Kyrgyzstan’s government to tyrannically control the Kyrzyg people who don’t want to be exploited for the imperialists’ interests. The Kyrgyz opposition movement will most likely be made well aware, if they haven’t been alerted already, that the U.S. base in Manas stays, with the immunity to defend the territory by any means necessary, or the president returns with U.S. military backing—and/or the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has participated in fighting off the protesters to this point. If not the recently deposed president, a new movement will be backed to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the Kyrgyz people to overthrow the opposition for a government the imperial powers can puppeteer.
UPDATE #1: Deirdre Tynan and Kadyr Toktogulov of The Wall Street Journal write (via CNN): “The U.S. military base outside the Kyrgyz capital is vital to the expanding American war effort in Afghanistan. Most of the U.S. troops deploying to Afghanistan first pass through Manas, which also handles the majority of the American fuel, food and ammunition shipments to the war zone.
“Last month alone, more than 50,000 U.S. and coalition troops passed through Manas en route to Afghanistan, according to military officials at the base. More than 200,000 troops have deployed to Afghanistan through Manas since last October.”
Ivan Eland of The Independent Institute discusses the U.S. government’s pivotal air base and potential Kyrgyz concerns about a U.S. military offensive against Iran with RT (4:44):
Reuters has posted a good deal of basic facts on the small impoverished country.
UPDATE #2: Owen Matthews at Newsweek makes a great point on collective sentiments of people toward foreign governments [emphasis added]:
Bakiyev’s ouster may make the West think again about its support for corrupt and unpopular regimes in the region. “Over the last few years, the West and the E.U. have posited a tradeoff between stability and governance,” Cooley says. But Wednesday’s events in Bishkek show “that’s a false trade-off.” In other words, repression and corruption weaken, rather than strengthen, regimes—and when they collapse, people remember who supported the hated despot. By that token, Russia, surprisingly enough, comes off looking better than the U.S. Moscow has been strongly critical of the Bakiyev regime for at least a year, ever since Bakiyev took a $300 million tranche of Kremlin aid money that came with the categorical (if secret) proviso that the Kyrgyz must kick the U.S. out of the Manas airbase in return. Instead, Bakiyev took the Russian money, doubled down on the Americans for more rent, and, in the process, made a sworn enemy of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
But breaks down the U.S. bribes (err… “rent”) to the Kyrgyz government to show why the new government will most likely latch on to the government that “people remember… supported the hated despot” [emphasis added]:
But though Russia has been the most prominent international critic of the Bakiyevs, Moscow’s opportunities for leveraging that into soft and hard power are limited. U.S. rent on the Manas base, which was hiked last July from $17.1 million a year to $60 million, plus an additional $117 million for economic development, upgrading the airport, and fighting drug trafficking in the country, makes up a significant chunk of the nation’s income. And it’s unlikely that the incoming opposition leaders, who include former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva and veteran activist Temir Sariyev, will take an anti-U.S. stance. Indeed the U.S. Embassy criticized the imprisonment of Sariyev and his supporters over the last year, and the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz service remains the most trusted source of news for most Kyrgyz people, despite repeated government attempts to jam it.
The root causes are, we agree with Mr. Matthews, local. But U.S. bribery buys the control of those local problems, even if indirectly. A U.S.-Russia proxy-bidding war is more likely than democratic revolution.