Wednesday, April 07, 2010

THE EVENTS IN BISHKEK: A QUICK ANALYSIS




"BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyz opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva said on Thursday she had taken over the government after violent protests forced the president of the Central Asian country to flee the capital. She said she wanted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who she helped bring to power five years ago, to resign.

"We have a caretaker government now in place, and I am the head of it," Otunbayeva told Reuters by telephone.

"It will remain in place for half a year, during which we will draft the constitution and create conditions for free and fair (presidential) elections," she said.

Bakiyev left Bishkek -- where demonstrators torched the prosecutor-general's office and tried to smash trucks into government buildings -- and flew to the southern city of Osh, an opposition member of parliament earlier told Reuters. Otunbayeva said she had not been in contact with Bakiyev and had no idea of his whereabouts. Bakiyev himself came to power in the 2005 "Tulip Revolution" protests, led jointly by Otunbayeva, which ousted Kyrgyzstan's first post-Soviet president, Askar Akayev. She was a former foreign minister under Bakiyev. Spokesmen for the government and the president were not available for comment.

Sporadic gunfire continued through the night in Bishkek as crowds looted shops and ran through streets strewn with rubble and glass, whistling and waving red national flags. Many buildings remained ablaze, including the prosecutors' office. Kyrgyz news agency Kabar said looters ransacked and set ablaze a house belonging to the family of Bakiyev.

The United States has a military air base supporting troops in Afghanistan in the Kyrgyz city of Manas and is a major donor to Kyrgyzstan, along with China and Russia, which also has military base in the ex-Soviet state of 5.3 million people.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said operations at the base -- visited by U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus last month -- appeared unaffected.

"Right now the transit center at the Manas airport is functioning normally," he said. "It's an important facility connected to our Afghan operations and it's functioning normally....

Political unrest over poverty, rising prices and corruption has gripped Kyrgyzstan since early March. About a third of the population live below the poverty line and remittances from workers in Russia have fallen during the global economic crisis.
The opposition said at least 100 people had been killed on Wednesday. A Health Ministry official put the death toll in Bishkek at 47, and said 420 people had been injured.

A doctor at a Bishkek hospital said many of the victims had been shot. "There are dozens of dead bodies, all with gunshot wounds," Akylbek Yeukebayev told Reuters.

Kyrgyz troops earlier shot at thousands of anti-government protesters who tried to smash two trucks through the perimeter fence of government buildings, a Reuters reporter said. Around 1,000 people stormed the prosecutor-general's office before setting fire to the building. Opposition activists also took control of state television channel KTR.

Protesters seized government buildings in three other towns. In Talas, Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Aklybek Japarov and Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongantiyev were beaten. Kongantiyev was forced to shout: "Down with Bakiyev!," two witnesses said. Kyrgyz Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov earlier told Reuters by phone that he and the president were working in their offices.

"We daren't even look out of the window," Kamil Sydykov, the prime minister's spokesman, said by telephone from inside the presidential building. The protests spread to the capital after riots which began in Talas and Naryn on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday. The border with Kazakhstan was closed.


"Kyrgyz Opposition says running government, wants elections," 7 April 2010, in www.reuters.com



"Neither Russia nor your humble servant nor Russian officials have anything to do with these events....No matter what is going on there - it's Kyrgyzstan's domestic affair. The only thing I ask is that the authorities and opposition demonstrate restraint and refrain from violence....When President Bakiyev came to power [after the so-called tulip revolution in 2005], he harshly criticized the toppled president, Akayev, for nepotism and giving his relatives top economic posts. I get the impression that Bakiyev has fallen into the same trap."


"Russia not involved in Kyrgyz events - Putin," 7 April 2010 in www.en.rian.ru


No doubt there was an element of schadenfreude when Grazhdanin Putin, made his statement today. Obviously, with Bakiyev having betrayed Putin last year over the American air base in Manas, it is not that surprising that Putin is rather less than charitable about the downfall of the old regime in Bishkek. Still, one hardly expects the Russian premier to talk about governments (his own or anyone else's for that matter) 'refraining from violence." Et cetera. One should of course not indulge in that old reductionist exercise of attributing everything which happens in the world to those the 'qui bono', test. Formerly of course the prime recipients of this type of intellectual vulgarity were the American CIA, British Intelligence and the Jesuits...However, looking at things from the outside (and right now, that is the only means of looking at anything in Kyrgyzstan. Id est. no one knows what is really going on or what has just happened), it would appear that Matushka Russia, was not by any means unhappy that Bakiyev fell from power (hence Putin's statement). Indeed, if one were to look at events from a (again reductionist) post hoc ergo propter hoc angle, it is very much the case that Moskva did indeed have a hand in what has happened today. As noted on Monday of this week, by the online journal, Eurasianet:

"As President Kurmanbek Bakiyev confronts a political crisis in Kyrgyzstan, he is not getting any help from Moscow. If anything, the Kremlin appears intent on turning up the heat on the embattled Kyrgyz leader. Gasoline and diesel prices are now set to rise sharply in Kyrgyzstan after Moscow suddenly slapped new customs duties on refined petroleum products being exported to the Central Asian nation. Prices for refined products could rise as much as 30 percent, stoking fears that inflation might further destabilize the already troubled Kyrgyz economy. On April 1, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin terminated the preferred customs duties that Kyrgyzstan, as a member of the Eurasian Economic Community (the EurAsEC), had been receiving on Moscow’s gasoline and diesel exports. The apparent justification for the move is the fact that the EurAsEC is being eclipsed by a new Customs Union, comprising Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. The Customs Union is set to become fully functional this coming July....Many political experts in Bishkek believe Moscow is punishing Bakiyev for his administration’s failure to evict American forces from the Manas air base, outside of Bishkek. In what most observers saw as a quid pro quo, Moscow promised a $2.15 billion aid package in February 2009 on the same day Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev pledged to close the base....This [the new export duties] is a special decision by Russia. It is one of the steps for punishing Kyrgyzstan for disobedience in the geopolitical arena. The first step was stopping the rest of the Russian loan, and this is the next," said Zamir Osorov, an investigative journalist with the MSN newspaper in Bishkek. "This will be very unpleasant for Kyrgyzstan.'"


"Kyrgyzstan: Is Putin Punishing Bakiyev?" 5 April 2010, in www.eurasianet.org


The fact of course that Putin felt the need to deny any Russian involvement (something which he did not see the last time there was an ousting of a regime in Bishkek), might or might not mean something. Ultimately, the happenings in Bishkek are a result of the fact that the Bakiyev regime, like its predecessor, was unable to establish a stable, authoritarian regime, unlike the rest of Central Asia. With some commentators stating that the country's endemic disputes between its two predominate clans (one northern based, one southern based) prevent any leader from establishing a normative authoritarian regime. With that being said, the any Russian involvement is merely as it were a contributing, rather than a primary variable. Therefore, it behooves one to note that this small, but, in some sense strategically valuable country is once again up for grabs, in terms of geopolitical influence, and, that as the events in the past few days seem to demonstrate, Matushka Russia, no doubt has the upper hand. With any other, outside power, destined to play second fiddle as it were. Something that the Americans with their air base, would do well to remember, as it would not be surprising if said base, would be one of the first things that the new regime in Bishkek, would wish to see the back of the hand of.

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