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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs