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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs