Kyrgyzstan: The Next Ukraine?

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Baktybek Beshimov and Ryskeldi Satke via The Diplomat,

Kyrgyzstan was once known for its Tulip Revolution, a name the followed the trend of color-coded revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. The ouster of the corrupt regime of President Askar Akayev in 2005 gave those Kyrgyz aspiring for a better future cause for hope, but expectations were quickly dampened. Akayev’s successor Kurmanbek Bakiyev suffered the same fate, with his removal from office in 2010.

The Kyrgyz Republic subsequently became the first ever parliamentarian state in Central Asia, normally a bastion of post-Soviet dictatorships. In this part of the world, presidents and their loyalists control politics, along with economic and financial assets. For Kyrgyzstan, the hope was that following two failed regimes in a decade, this novel rule by parliament and the peaceful transfer of power would break the ice of autocracy in Central Asia. Certainly the new leader of the republic—first as prime minister and then as fourth president—Almazbek Atambayev has spared no effort to convey his commitment to democracy.

Yet, like his predecessors, Atambayev has sought to extend his political power, strengthening control over lucrative businesses and persecuting his opponents. Overcoming the old authoritarian traditions has proven challenging. Today, factional infighting for power among the provincial clans and political regionalism continue to set the agenda for this small nation.

Mayoral elections in two major cities in Kyrgyzstan on January 15 have intensified the political divisions in the provinces, with evident hostility from the South toward the central authorities in Bishkek. Atambayev’s protégé stood as the only candidate for mayor of Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek. Suspect elections in the southern city of Osh, where incumbent Melis Myrzakmatov lost despite being the strong frontrunner, only reignited brewing anger at a president who was widely believed to have been involved in hijacking the popular vote. Myrzakmatov’s supporters took to the streets of the city the same day to condemn the outcome. According to local reports, up to ten thousand people attended a demonstration in Osh on January 15. The ousted mayor called for restraint at the protest, urging his electorate base to prepare to use civil disobedience to protest the government. In a country known for electoral fraud, the elections have kicked off another round of political confrontation between the clans. Kyrgyz political factions often mobilize ordinary citizens to undermine government, in what Scott Radnitz called “weapons of the wealthy.”

Indeed, the North-South political divide has only widened in the years since the overthrow of the Bakiyev regime. The fractured nature of the Kyrgyz political field was one of the subjects of Atambayev’s speech in December 2011, when the Kyrgyz leader pledged to bridge the differences. Yet the dubious outcome of the Osh elections suggested he has made little progress on that front.

Protests in Kyrgyzstan are commonplace, with 782 in 2013 alone, a staggering number for a tiny republic. But the most volatile part of the country remains the South, where large-scale ethnic conflict exploded in the summer of 2010. In contrast to the North, the poverty-stricken provinces of Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken are highly dependent on the cross-border trade with neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. One of the biggest markets in Central Asia is the Kara-Suu bazaar located near the city of Osh, in the Ferghana Valley. According to an OSCE report from 2011, trade between these southern provinces and neighboring states including China plays a major role in the social and economic development of the volatile Ferghana Valley region. Nonetheless, Kyrgyz Ministry of Labor, Migration and Youth statistics for 2012 show that unemployment in Kyrgyzstan is highest in the South. The central authorities in Bishkek and Atambayev have played little role in the politics or social development of the region, where disregard for central government is widespread.

Nevertheless, it would be inaccurate to blame the country’s struggles entirely on old Kyrgyz political traditions. The current political chaos is also an outcome of the Kyrgyz leadership’s policies. Atambayev is the most pro-Kremlin figure among Central Asia’s leaders today. At his personal initiative, Russia has monopolized the Kyrgyz Republic’s energy, defense and transportation industries. The entire national gas supply system (admittedly debt burdened) was sold to Russia’s giant Gazprom for $1 dollar. RusHydro took the lion’s share of the Kyrgyz hydro energy company, and Rosneft is in the process of acquiring more than fifty percent of Manas International Airport, which had been leased by the U.S. and NATO member states after 9/11. Atambayev took a step further when he extended the Russian military airbase presence, hoping to rearm Kyrgyzstan’s military with the help of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This appeared to be more an act of despair than a carefully defined strategy. Consequently, Kyrgyzstan failed to reform its judiciary system, where anti-corruption campaigns mired in constant controversy add to government dysfunction. The Kyrgyz Republic’s desperate economy has low export capacity, lacks foreign investment and depends on remittances from migrant labor working in Russia. With bleak economic prospects, Atambayev has accelerated Kyrgyzstan’s shift towards Russia to secure his own political future. This has left him walking a fine line between the sovereign interests of Kyrgyzstan and the neo-imperial policy of the Kremlin.

Ultimately,  the Kyrgyz Republic’s transformation into a Russian client state and military bulwark is bad news for Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Not surprisingly, Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev has openly expressed his opposition to Kyrgyzstan’s joining the Customs Union, with its special privileges and concessions. The Uzbek president added that the unequal distribution of the water resources of Central Asia could spark conflict, specifically over Russian joint hydro energy projects planned in upstream states, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Naturally, all these external grudges have engendered domestic discontent. What has taken place in the Ukraine may perhaps embolden factions of the Kyrgyz opposition to move against Atambayev and what they see as his excessively pro-Russia policy. However, given Moscow’s extensive historical influence in Kyrgyzstan and the large presence of Kyrgyz laborers in Russia, support for a shift away from Russia does not seem widespread. More likely, the next regime change in Kyrgyzstan will be the result of a factional split and regional divisions.

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SilverRhino's picture

Damn.  There's Putin's payback.    He pressures enough of the FSU -stans and kids the US out of them.  ..... then the troops in Afghanistan have to bail out.  

johnQpublic's picture

reserving judgement til I hear what sarah palin has to say

Independent's picture

Ahh some good ol descendants of Genghis Khan, who was the first one to create 'Russia' an nation from the shores of the Black Sea to the Pacific


Dr. Engali's picture

Is it Genghis Kahn or Gengis Kahn? Let's ask horesface:

Mr. Chairwoman's picture

It's okay sweetie, unusual accomodation will make everything feel better!

Oh regional Indian's picture

Was waiting for the DiPOOPlomat drivel on the subject. THey obviously have some Kyrghyzy defectors (asylum seekers/green cardies) on board.

DRIVEL. Russia goes in somewhere and actually builds shit...BAD.

USATO goes and bombs the shit out of places....crickets...


Beam Me Up Scotty's picture

Putin is just trying to get the band back together.

Unpopular Truth's picture

Yup. One by one, they will all come back to mother Russia.

Urban Redneck's picture

Even the "special Kids" now apparently have a right to have their opinion considered in the USSA.

But since they conclude by implying that impeding the kelptocracy of Nazarbayev is a bad thing, I wonder which side they think they are trying to support.

DoChenRollingBearing's picture

I think we can all agree that Kyrgyzstan can be a problem for Russia and China.  Have at it guys.  

"Let's you and him fight."

ACP's picture

Yeah...but I doubt Putin would try that...lots of Russian support in Crimea, making it easy.

Occam's Razor says...Putin wants to expand his naval capacity all over the world and Crimea is just another port. Why ask permission (like in the other areas) when the people there will just let you take it?

Freddie's picture

Here is a pimp for one of the best sites on the Ukraine.  The guy running it is very bright, a working stiff with kids and a Christian who has done an amazing job.  I do not pimp web sites but this one is outstanding and he seems like a very good man.

He has a good RT link on a roundtable that is informative.

Optimusprime's picture

+1 for touting the estimable Vineyard Saker.  His analysis his head and shoulders above the drivel emanating from The Diplomat.

Freddie's picture

Yeah - Kerry supporting the troops after LBJ and McCain's old man the admiral started that war with MIC.   One of those MIC is still around and is Obama's biggest supporters.  Kerry is an evil shit and I hope there is a hell waiting for him.

Oh and i think the MF'er pronounces it as Gingghiss Khan.   I cannot watch the clip because he is a despicable lowlife like McCain. 

Grande Tetons's picture

What is the difference between a soccer mom and a pitbull? 

8 IQ points. 

Independent's picture

The descendants of Genghis Khan live in Kyrgyztan, he was the first man to create 'Russia' a nation form the shores of the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean

Sorry the first comment didnt go through for a while so entered again then saw it appear

DoChenRollingBearing's picture

Yes...  Unless China objects...

Ar-Pharazôn's picture

the chinese are frigging excited beacuse you know... the senkaku ;)

erg's picture

Someone needs to launch a salvo of proper vowels at some of these countries.

Rusty Shorts's picture

Im applying for a Visa tomorrow, LOL

lewietheparrot's picture


You are too far ahead of me----it is too early to move on----this one is interesting and it is even possible that enough may be learned from it

that the future might not be

or might be different than ever before

I don't know, but you are going too fast, imo

thanks for the post a lot I didn't know was in it

THX 1178's picture

Meh. No one is forcing anyone to read ZH. Some ZHers might live in Kyrgyzstan or know people who live there. Any analysis whatsoever is valuable in this world we live in.

lewietheparrot's picture


I didn't give any thought to that---valid point

I just don't like to get too far into the future

Just thinking about 'me' at the time

Thanks for the balance

jerry_theking_lawler's picture

Wow! Very interesting article....just met a young lady this weekend and she has a relative in Kyrgyzstand 'setting up contracts' for Chevron.

This is solely a war for energy.

chump666's picture

Vlad is on the move (East Ukraine):

nonclaim's picture

Putin is fighting to a recreate the old cccp with tools from the last war... The red army can still be brutal, yes, but there is a lot of advances in urban warfare and tons of resentment from the old soviet republics. People know now that they have to fight because the only other option is misery and despair.

Ar-Pharazôn's picture

choices are 2. the third choice of Ukrainian indipendece is just utopy.


choice 1. go with bankrupt EU and see your country totally deprived of every single valuable asset.


choice 2. go with Russia, see your country invaded by russian military, and hope for the best.


neither choice is a good choice.


btw i support putin

Wait What's picture

it would be fun to see how Obama handled a take-over by Putin of the US' major troop transfer point into afghanistan. not that it will be necessary in a year or two, but for shits and giggles, if not a real nuclear showdown. not likely, but fun.

disabledvet's picture

"If Vlad have problem with Krcyk Peoples...we understand, we help.
If Vlad have probelm with Kiev we no understand, we no help."

We are not enemies, yes Vlad?
And if we are not enemies then we can be friends too,
yes, yes?


Grande Tetons's picture

Why can't we be friends?

40 year old eeeeeerily contemporary. 

Flakmeister's picture

These kleptocrats are simply too greedy for their own good...

The Internet and social media has changed things, people can now look at their neighbors and see who is getting the shaft...

The Ukraine and Poland once upon a time barely had a pot to piss in between them, and now the Ukraine envies the standard of living in Poland...

And this is starting in the 'stans....

These guys are nothing more the Steppes version of Mobuto Sese Seko wannabes..... 

dobermangang's picture

Putin better watch it!  If he keeps on invading countries, Obama just might do something drastic like unfriend him.

modest_proposal's picture

Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan are already in the tank for Putin. None of them internalized democratic principles, and reverted almost immediately to autocratic governance (with lifetime autocrats, punctuated by occasional coups or overthrows - by new autocrats). Those autocratic regimes are all subject to Moscow - kleptocratic carrot, putsch stick. It'll take some really dramatic changes in geopolitics for these countries to get far enough out of line to require Russian military intervention, and a minor miracle for them to gain any significant consent-of-the-governed government. 

chump666's picture

The Imapler is moving in from the East on Luhansk, nasty, he covers Crimea, now looking to encircle from the Eastern side.  Yep, that human rights of the Crimea was the calling card. lol  He is going for a full scale invasion.  Poland, Belarus, Romania must be flipping out


Ukraine's Customs Service is reporting a "gathering of military machines" in the Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk regions just across the Russian border, according to Evhen Perebyinis, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.

tony wilson's picture

chump you are a crazy girl.

poland will not waver

we are strong

are people full of spunk

are men fine carpenters and painters.

we can destroy and unlike the female men of the uk  we can rebuild.

steven spielberg was just on polachsmhloch news tonight he says putin is the new hitler.

he wants to make a movie about the innocent jewish olligarch tribes of ukraine who are suffering.

polund will not allow this mad  russian dog to prevail.

if we have to go pole nuke hot let it be so.

as the mighty spielberg said freedom is to important a thing to be left to concrete realities.

fakery is better and has a tear full gerry goldmith score


Jorgen's picture

I upvoted you but, please, start using a spellchecker before posting. It is really hard to read what you write.

Ar-Pharazôn's picture

if Jew Jew Spielberg said so.... IT MUST BE TRUE. /sarc


when people will realize that the tv is all a fantasy where the arrogance and hipcrisy of the american government is in plain sight?

shutdown's picture

Kyrgyzstan?  I wonder how many Americans can find it on a map.

However because actual Russians live there, and particularly because the name ends in "-stan," the USA will get involved, undermine the government, make things tough for them, jack 'em up bad, so bad the Russians will be forced to settle matters. 

Debugas's picture

the next focal point is not Kyrgyztan but Tatarstan region of Russia.

The aim will be to install pro-western minded elite there

Stemmer's picture

I worked in Kyrgyzstan since 2005 and went through 2 revolutions. The image of burning government buildings and tanks on the streets will always be ingrained in my mind. 

This country and its attempts at democracy have been a dismal failure. Russia said it best when  Bakiyev was overthrown and Rosa changed the constitution to limit the powers of the President that "Kyrgyzstan is not ready for Democracy".  Every politician's goal is to make as much money as possible while in power. The top bureaucratic jobs are bought by the person wanting the job along with the judges. By paying for their jobs it allows them to demand payment for any decision. The Russian influence is strong but so is the Chinese influence. Kyrgyzstan is bordered by China to the south and they have a huge trading relationship. Russia keeps its fingers in the region but it is not a priority to them. Kyrgyzstan will always be tied to Moscow and that is evident every time i used to fly there before an election. The plane would have the Kyrgyz political leaders in business class after their pilgrimage to Moscow to seek campaigned funds and Kremlin support. 


This country is a business cesspool and  Russian businessmen are wary of spending money there. The Russian Government throws them a bone a few times a year to remind them who is really in charge. The ironic thing is those bones are fought over by the crooked politicians to see how they can steal the money for their own personal use.