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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Kyrgyzstan: The Cameras of June (2010)

I should have covered this hot spot before. I wanted it to be the first post on this blog. While I was still working on Kyrgyzstan, Kim Jong-Il cried for attention (no pun intended).

Unlike the last post, this time I will split the post in several parts. I think it looks better that way.

Yours thinking about blogsthetics analyst,


April was a newsworthy month for Kyrgyzstan, even if for the wrong reasons. Violent expression of popular discontent left at least 80 protestors dead and several hundreds injured, brought down the government and caused President Bakiyev to relinquish power in return for a safe exit as he and his family prepared to flee the country. These events hardly made a blip in the international media. Fast-forward two months and one might be forgiven for the thought that peak summer arrived a month early in Bishkek (July is the hottest month). What started off as criminal violence in the second and third largest cities of Osh and Jalalabat, morphed into riots targeted at the Uzbek minority that killed hundreds and sent the provisional government scampering for foreign help to bring the country back from the brink of chaos. The violence occurred along historic fault lines and the presence of ethnic Russians was (thankfully) overlooked. In June however, cameras flashed feverishly and Kyrgyzstan was splashed all across the international media space in the second and third weeks of June.

Back in April, Russia had supported regime change in Kyrgyzstan. As politicians are wont to demonstrate and as has often been warned by generals, regime change is the easy part. This time was no different. The provisional government faced its first test of governance in June, and vividly fumbled. Desperate calls for international help went unheeded. US operated an air force base in Manas, barely 25km from the capital city, Bishkek. It however stiffed its lips, preferring instead to remain focused on its raison d'ĂȘtre in Manas, operate the logistics hub in Kyrgyzstan to support its military operations in Afghanistan. The Russian President took the ‘high’ ground and announced that the turmoil was an internal matter. In some sense, one cannot read a reversal in Russia’s choice to not get militarily involved as its influence in Kyrgyzstan hit new highs in April not because it went in full-armored but because it was on the right side of elites who had joined ranks with anti-government protestors. Popular discontent on a boil induces a winner-takes-all condition; those who succeed in staying put at the convex front of impending societal changes usually take the crown.

In the three weeks following the June crisis, Western diplomats made several appeals to Russia to step in to stabilize. The press tried it all - humored, ridiculed and castigated Russia, reminded it of responsibilities that come with its status as the principal power in Central Asia and highlighted the tragic consequences of failing to act. Russia however did not responded with military aid, even while Kyrgyzstan waited and its governance institutions proved hopelessly ineffective in preventing the handling to human tragedy. Russia's reputation as the principal stabilizer in the region took a hard blow. The initial global focus on the incompetence of the new Kyrgyz government in controlling the riots morphed into an intense focus on Russia’s inaction, making its position increasingly, and visibly, morally untenable.

We examine here in a three part series the reason for Russia’s inaction and hypothesize why it acted in the manner it did during the crisis. In the first part, we review key national characteristics of Kyrgyzstan and how they impact its socio-political and economic choices and, the interest of foreign powers in the region. Russia is the principal power in the region, but not the dominant power. Its choices are modulated by the kaleidoscopic interplay of interests of other powers in the region. We discuss the interests of other powers in Kyrgyzstan in part two. Finally, in part three, we turn our attention to the immediate triggers of the crisis before turning to the main subject. We have a lot of ground to cover. Kyrgyzstan is however doubly land-locked (as opposed to the Korean Peninsula). Thus, we won't dive straight in!*

* those who have read the post on NK would know what I mean

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