News / Asia

Analysts: Kyrgyzstan Unrest Sparked by Economic, Political Discontent

Gary Thomas

The Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan is attempting to stabilize itself after an uprising that toppled the government and sent the president fleeing.  A poor economy, rampant corruption, and autocratic rule made Kyrgyzstan a tinderbox waiting to ignite.

Kyrgyz are hoping that revolution is better the second time around.

In 2005, the so-called Tulip Revolution toppled the government after elections that were widely condemned as fraudulent and sent President Askar Akayev into exile in Russia.  Now history has repeated itself as his successor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, fled the capital Bishkek Wednesday after protests over his rule were put down with a heavy hand, leaving at least 75 people dead.

Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University, says the new government will try again to create a viable state.

The Tulip Revolution was taken over, basically, by the Bakiyev family," said Frederick Starr. "And it's interesting [that] Rosa Otunbayeva, who has now come to the fore as the head of this new government, was an ardent supporter of the Tulip Revolution.  It failed.  And between then and now, the opposition failed. So it's not a good prospect. Will they get it right this time?  We'll see.

Kyrgyzstan, with a population of five million, is one of the poorest of the states of the former Soviet Union.  In fact, says Central Asia analyst Lauren Goodrich of the private intelligence firm Stratfor, it has found it extremely difficult to survive as an independent entity.

"The country has extreme economic problems," said Lauren Goodrich. "It pretty much doesn't have an economy.  Because of this it has to rely on its neighbors for almost everything regarding oils, foodstuffs, etc.  The people inside Kyrgyzstan are incredibly poor, and there's just no way to climb out of that.  So put all that together, the domestic situation on trying to hold the country together as a government is incredibly difficult."

The country is heavily dependent on remittances sent back from Kyrgyz who work in Russia, which make up some 40 percent of Kyrgyzstan's Gross Domestic Product.  But hard economic times caused those remittances to begin to dry up.

On top of the dysfunctional economy, President Bakiyev turned out to both an autocratic ruler and a corrupt one, says Lauren Goodrich.

"Kyrgyzstan is a mob state - always has been, always will be," said  Goodrich. "And with Bakiyev's government, he wasn't pro-U.S., but he wasn't pro-Russian.  He was pro-himself.  He was up for bid.  Whoever would pay him the most was who he was going to be loyal to.  He doesn't have an ideology one way or another as far as wanting to create a democracy or wanting to lean towards the West or even wanting to return to Russia.  He doesn't care.  All he cares about is who is willing to give him the most."

So when the government announced utility price hikes of up to 200 percent, protests erupted.  

Did Russia, which has keen strategic interest in Kyrgyzstan, light the fuse?  Russia says no.  A senior Obama administration official on Russia, Michael McFaul told reporters it was not a Russian-sponsored event.

"This is not some anti-American coup," said Michael McFaul. "That we know for sure.  And this is not a sponsored-by-the-Russian coup.  I've heard some reports of that.  There's just no evidence of that as yet."

Frederick Starr agrees, but adds that Russian influence in Bishkek is still heavy.

I don't think Russia caused it," he said. "However, Russia's hand in Bishkek is very strong, much stronger than any of the reporting indicates.  They have several dozen, nearly 40, of their intelligence people running the Kyrgyz intelligence apparatus.  They took it over.  So this is the kind of position that Russia has made for itself there. It will play a very muscular hand, and the United States has to be sober and realistic.

Russia has been unhappy with the presence of a U.S. air base at Manas, making Kyrgyzstan the only Central Asian state to host both U.S. and Russian bases. It is used to supply troops in Afghanistan.

Stratfor's Lauren Goodrich thinks Russia would not be averse to exploiting an already volatile situation in Kyrgyzstan in order to get some leverage on the Manas issue.

"The protests have been going on for about a month," said Lauren Goodrich. "I think that the opposition saw an opportunity that with the protests intensifying over the past month that, okay, now it's time that we finally can seize power.  But, of course, the opposition members have been meeting with Russia.  I'm not saying that Russia planned this.  But they certainly did nudge it along, let's say."

The nascent Kyrgyz government has not said it will oust the Americans from Manas, as Uzbekistan did with the other U.S. air base in Central Asia last year.  But analysts say it is likely to try to negotiate new, more favorable terms for the lease.  

You May Like

As AIDS Epidemic Matures, Workplaces Adapt

Issue of AIDS in workplace is one of many social issues being discussed at the 20th International Aids Conference in Australia More

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid