Kyrgyzstan is a Central Asian country of incredible natural beauty and proud nomadic traditions, most of which was formally annexed to neighboring Russia in 1876. Its inhabitants, the Kyrgyz, staged a major revolt against the Tsarist Empire in 1916, in which almost one-sixth of the Kyrgyz population was killed. The country then became a Soviet republic in 1936 and achieved independence in 1991, when the USSR dissolved.
Nationwide demonstrations in the spring of 2005 resulted in the ouster of President Askar Akaev, who had been running the country since 1990. Former prime minister Kurmanbek Bakiev overwhelmingly won the presidential election in the summer of 2005 and, over the next few years, he was accused of manipulating the parliament to accrue new powers for the presidency. However, in July 2009, after months of harassment against his opponents and media critics, Bakiev won re-election in a presidential campaign that the international community deemed flawed. In April 2010, violent protests in Bishkek led to the collapse of the Bakiev-led regime and his eventual flight to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. His successor, Roza Otunbaeva, served as transitional president until Almazbek Atambaev was inaugurated in December 2011, marking the first peaceful transfer of presidential power in independent Kyrgyzstan’s history.
Nowadays, the country’s continuing concerns include the trajectory of democratization, endemic corruption, poor inter-ethnic relations and, last but not least, terrorism.
Over the years since the collapse of the former USSR, has proven one fact if nothing else: the chaos in Kyrgyzstan seems to point out that the autocrats in neighboring countries were right all along. For much of its history, the region has only seen stability when despots – first Genghis Khan, then the Russian czars and finally Joseph Stalin, who subjected the region to Soviet rule – maintained an iron grip.
The United States of America has acted to reassure the region that Washington D.C. is their friend and it will stand with them in their fight against extreme radicalism. The White House seems to be watchful as it is looking at the possibility of the region becoming yet another Ukraine as Russia flexes its international muscle.
The problem with the US promises is that, after the most recent election in Kyrgyzstan, Moscow-friendly parties achieved a remarkable result…
With more than 99 percent of votes counted, the pro-Russian Social Democratic Party led with 27 percent of votes, with the opposition Respublika-Ata Zhurt second on 20 percent, election authorities said.
Six political parties, mainly supporting President Almazbek Atambayev’s policy of building closer ties with Russia, had passed the threshold to take seats in the 120-member legislature, early official data showed.
As for the generic “goals” set up by the State Department, the U.S. Government assistance goals in Kyrgyzstan are to strengthen democratic institutions, promote greater respect for human rights and the rule of law, enhance regional security, support broad-based economic opportunity, provide assistance for basic humanitarian needs and address development challenges in the health and education areas.
Recently Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have joined together in a Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), a customs union with a defense component. The EEU is seen by its advocates as a step toward re-establishing the old Soviet frontiers in the form of a voluntary economic and political union, modeled on the EU – a project to take the sting out of the West’s “victory” in the Cold War.
Economics is a major concern for Kyrgyzstan, since the U.S. government pays for its base at Manas. “For them to lose this would be a big thing”. The base contributes some $50 million to Kyrgyzstan’s economy each year, according to the Associated Press. In addition, Bishkek receives roughly $10 million in annual military aid from the U.S.A.. And now that the base is closed, there is a hole in the cash available to the central government, as easily foreseeable.Kyrgyzstan is a relatively tiny, landlocked country of 5 million inhabitants with not many natural resources, therefore having not much leverage in the region. Then why would they want the base to leave?The answer to the above question may lie in what is known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional security body whose members include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Originally called the Shanghai Five, the SCO formed in the mid-1990s largely to resolve border and disarmament disputes between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation. In 2001, the organization added Uzbekistan and renamed itself the SCO. The group has since gained in prominence, tackling issues of trade, counter-terrorism, and drug trafficking, as some experts cite a convergence of interests among members in recent years, including the perceived threat posed by U.S. forces in the region. Increasingly, the SCO is being used by Moscow and Beijing as a vehicle to assert their influence in the region. The SCO, therefore, has issued a declaration calling for the United States to set a timeline for its withdrawal of military forces from the region.With tensions between Washington and Moscow and between Washington and Beijing on the rise, the pivotal importance of Central Asia returns to the forefront, and then there is the possibility of the influence of extreme fundamentalism further isolating the country and the region. Within the country there is already a separation between the people of the north and those of the south: the north is more industrialized than the south, which is more rural in make-up, which could eventually lead to further radicalization.Furthermore, the economic future could assist the rise of civil unrest. The closing of the US air base and the weakened Russian economy, which employs many that send their money back home, could only feed the possibility of unrest. The Kremlin is struggling from the lower prices for oil and gas and that struggle will spill into Central Asia.
There seems to be only one bright economic spot for Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, and that light is China.
Beijing has been long worried about its dependency on foreign oil, which is transported by ship. Their concern is that if a hostile force gained control of the Malacca Straits, their supplies would almost inevitably dry up. In order to counter this possibility, the Chinese leadership has started working on a new Silk Road, namely an overland transportation network that runs through Central Asia. Seed money in the neighborhood has been of $44 billion and this would bring much needed income into the region.
For Central Asia and Kyrgyzstan, thus, it is only a matter of time…