Kyrgyzstan: Eurasian Geopolitics 101

For the moment, the Pentagon is breathing a sigh of relief. Vital US fuel supply flights from its Manas base to Afghanistan resumed last week even as Kyrgyzstan slid into chaos. At least 171 and possibly as many as 500 have died in rioting in southern Kyrgyzstan this week, almost all ethnic Uzbeks, with thousands injured. More than 80,000 fled to neighbouring Uzbekistan, forcing it to close its borders as it cannot cope with more. On Monday, China began evacuating the majority of its 1000 nationals.

Armed Kyrgyz in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city, Jalalabad and some villages targeted Uzbek neighbourhoods, burning and killing indiscriminately. The Red Cross said 100 bodies were seen buried in just one cemetery. The chaos spread to the capital Bishkek but was brought under control when riot police fired tear gas and flash grenades.

Kyrgyzstan’s acting President Roza Otunbayeva declared a state of emergency in the south, ordered the mobilisation of military reservists, and issued a shoot to kill order after Russia refused her request Saturday to send in troops to quell the rioters. Defending her moves, said Sergei Abashin, senior researcher at the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology in Moscow, “Local police would easily surrender their weapons to young Kyrgyz rioters as they have common relatives and friends in this clan, and they would never shoot at their own.”

After consulting on Monday with other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO, which also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), Russia decided to send helicopters, trucks and fuel in addition to humanitarian aid, though it ruled out sending troops. “Russia is unlikely to intervene unless it felt that the situation was going to make the region unstable or ethnic Russians were in danger,” analyst Asher Pirt told Deutsche Welle.

The unrest has been simmering since the interim government came to power on 7 April, when 81 protesters were killed by police and president Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled the capital to his home in the south. The new government quickly established control over the capital and the north of the country, but not in Bakiyev’s south, part of the Ferghana Valley where Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks have been living side-by-side for centuries. Stalin divvied the valley up between ethnic republics in the 1920s, creating the basis for the current problems. Ethnicity, however, is really a cover for the underlying settler/nomad distinction, the Uzbeks being more business-oriented and, in the current pro-market environment, richer, the Kyrgyz more pastoral. The People’s Friendship University was razed because it was funded by a wealthy Uzbek businessman.

Washington’s discrete silence except to condemn the violence suggests it realises it would only make matters worse by speaking up. As long as its base is allowed to function, it will stay in the background. The US base is highly unpopular with locals, and the resentment and instability it encourages prompted Otunbayeva initially to call for it to be closed for “security reasons”, though under intense US pressure, the contract for the base was renewed for another year. Kyrgyz authorities blocked the operations of the fuel sub-contractor Mina Corp, which is linked to Maksim Bakiyev, son of the disgraced president, accused of embezzling millions in “rent” and other service charges on the US base, but operations resumed even as the country unravelled.

The US Congress Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs launched an investigation in April into the Gilbraltar-listed Mina Corp. The Kyrgyz government launched an investigation into six companies owned by Maksim Bakiyev: Manas Fuel Services, Kyrgyz Aviation, Central Asia Fuel, Aviation Fuel Service, Aircraft Petrol Ltd, and Central Asia Trade Group. Both moves augur ill for the Bakiyevs and the current travails are no doubt a welcome distraction for them.

There is little at this point the Kyrgyz can do to stop the Americans from operating their base as virtually a sovereign entity and this is one political crisis where Obama can honestly say “not me”. But, alas, the US is the chief source of the ongoing instability, having drawn Kygyzstan and three other central Asian states into NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme in 1994, and dumped democracy-promoting NGOs there in the past two decades. The Tulip Revolution of 2005 was coordinated from the US embassy, overthrowing the respected president Askar Akayev (he was getting too close to China and Russia), fatally rupturing any faith in the fledgling independent state. Then there’s the massive US base and the many problems it has caused and is still causing, from murder, drugs and prostitution to espionage, terror and corruption.

The longstanding ethnic divide had abated under Akayev, but worsened in the five years since Bakiyev’s Tulip Revolution, as he turned Kyrgyzstan into his own clan’s fiefdom, leaving the relatively prosperous Uzbeks with no political power. The Uzbeks represent 15 per cent of the population and close to half in the south. They indeed rejoiced at his downfall. But then so did the majority of Kyrgyz. The worsening discrimination has been exacerbated by the return of migrant labourers who lost their jobs in Russia’s current recession. This toxic brew resulted in a replay of violent ethnic clashes in Osh in 1990 that left hundreds dead and only abated when the Soviet government sent in troops.

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva’s government had hoped to hold a referendum to approve a new constitution on 27 June, but the likelihood of that vote taking place is slim. It will take all the energy of the interim government, a great deal of help from Russia, and most important, the closure of Manas to return the country to a semblance of normality.

That Otunbayeva is not the corrupt, vengeful would-be pasha that Bakiyev turned into is clear to all. Former prime minister Felix Kulov, who is not in the interim government, has formed a group under the slogan “Whoever Values Peace — Unite!”

Those most worried about the collapse of authority are its immediate neighbours. The lack of law and order now makes Kyrgyzstan a playground for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other outlawed groups intent on overthrowing the anti-Muslim Uzbek president next door. Uzbekistan is a police state which brutally suppresses devout Uzbeks, and the regime has good cause to fear the consequences of a failed state next door. Tajikistan suffered a wrenching civil war between eastern Islamists and reformers and western pro-government forces in the 1990s, and its current peace is fragile at best.

China’s Xinjiang region shares a 530-mile border with Kyrgyzstan. There were widespread riots just last year by its Muslim Uighurs, who yearn for their own independent state like their “lucky” Kyrgyz brothers. China understandably worries about the massive US military base just next door crawling with CIA operatives plus a now porous border which, according to analyst Nick Amies, will facilitate “covert destabilising operations into the strategically vital and politically fragile province.”

Russia has no border with Kyrgyzstan, but like China, has geopolitical interests there. Washington’s success in expanding NATO’s presence throughout the region, crowned by the huge Manas base, has been justified by its “war on terror”, but its real goals are political and economic hegemony. After all, it was the US that funded, trained and parachuted in the Islamic militants that now infest Eurasia, according to the principle: create the problem, provide the solution. Is there any reason to think the US has changed its modus operandi, especially now that it has such easy access to the region?

As for Afghanistan, NATO’s supply routes there through Pakistan are close to unusable, making Manas the crucial link in the current surges. Last week militants destroyed 50 NATO supply trucks and the Taliban killed 31 NATO soldiers. General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of Nato’s troops, boasted capturing and/or killing 120 Taliban leaders in the past 90 days, but “not enough” say officials, as more “grass” sprouts each day in Afghanistan’s unforgiving climate.

Eric Walberg is a journalist who worked in Uzbekistan and is now writing for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. He is the author of From Postmodernism to Postsecularism and Postmodern Imperialism. His most recent book is Islamic Resistance to Imperialism. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Rehmat said on June 17th, 2010 at 6:19pm #

    It looks like Washington is replaying its 2005 “Tulip Revolution” against its own puppet, Kyrgyzstan’s president Kurmanbek Bakiyev by using the country’s Opposition leaders as it used Kurmanbek and other Opposition leaders against previous president Askar Akayev in 2005. It is reported that as the result of large-scale protests in Bishhek on Wednesday, president Kurmanbek has fled from the city and Opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev, the former Speaker of Parliament has demanded that president Kurmanbek and the rest of his government resign. Kurmanbek Bakiyev had angered his masters in Washington when he switched his alliance to Moscow for a US$2.15 billion aid package and demanded the closer of US military base at Manas in 2010. The US military base at Manas is a key transit point for US occupation troops and supplies bound for Afghanistan. Last month alone, 50,000 US and coalition troops passed through Manas enroute to Afghanistan, according to Pentagon source. In March it was reported that Pentagon plans to build a US$5.5 million training facility for Krygyz Special Forces in the southern province of Batken – the home to the so-called “Islamist terrorists”, who are against the occupation of their country by both Russia and the US.

    Israeli Hasbara organ, The Wall Street Journal, has reported today that an interim government has been established under the leadership of Roza Otunbayeva with Vice-premier Omurbek Tekebayev, Vice-premier Temir Sariyev and defence minister Ismail Isakov. The interim government has promised to keep the US military base at Manas operating indefinitely

  2. hayate said on June 17th, 2010 at 9:29pm #

    Walberg missed that the violence started when groups of people in unmrked vehicles went around gunning people down at random. Other people or groups worked to spread rumors that much more violence was on the way. This is from reports I’ve been reading. The ops have that classic israeloamerican destablisation style to them of using terrorists to stir up ethnic tensions and violence. In this case, those shooters were used to terrorise and spark reprisals. My guess, besides the usual business of making things tough for a new guv, a guv that looks more and more like they are not israeloamerican sponsored, the israeloamericans were hoping to suck the Russians into a lose-lose peacekeeping mission in Kyrgyzstan, where they would probably end up in trouble with both factions there. Whatever the reasons, I’ve no doubt the unrest was mossad/cia started.

  3. mary said on June 18th, 2010 at 12:04am #

    Craig Murray ex UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan (until he resigned over the complicity of the UK in the CIA sponsored torture there) has done a good overview of what is going on in the region. Unusually one of the broadsheets have given him space.

    He has also recently written this pieces on his blog –

    Afghan War Spreads Corruption Through Central Asia
    Kyrgyzstan: Hundreds Dead
    The Killings in Osh, Kyrgyzstan are Stalin’s Legacy
    Terrible News From Osh

  4. hayate said on June 18th, 2010 at 2:24am #

    Sorry, Mary, but murray is tainted goods. He’s an mi6 disinformation conduit and an example of the uk tory non-zionist (probably non-zionist) great gamers. The Brit version, and allies, of the zbigs in the usa.

    “We can no longer afford a short-term policy conditioned by the tactical expediency of securing regional logistic support for the Afghan War. We continue to ignore Central Asia at our peril.”

    I can imagine who the “we” are and what their long term policy is.

    He mentioned the great game early on, then completely ignored the implications of that. He simplified the great game to jostling for air bases to resupply the Afghan war crime from. And he simplified the israeloamerican/eu aggression against Afghanistan to a conflict between local “tribes”. He mentioned the gangs terrorizing people at the very end of the spiel, but not who they were. He blamed violence on ethnic differences, never mentioned possible bakyev hold overs’ involvement or israeloamerican/eu involvement, in fact, he exonerated the usa of involvement, but he did mention stalin as being the root of it all. Jesus. What a clown.

    The question to ask is who profits? The Russians? Hardly. In all likelihood, it was hoped to sucker them into the conflict and then boost it like the israeloamericans did in Afghanistan during the late 70’s . I’ll bet even old zbig had a hand in this Kyrgyz terrorism. If not him, his proteges sure as hell did. What about the present Kyrgyz guv, do they profit? Seriously doubtful. Worst case: if they are greedy, they don’t want unrest where their position is challenged. If they are as they portray themselves, then the unrest wont be helping them, either. So who does that leave, the Chinese? Well, mi6 murray barely mentioned them at all. They are interested, but their interest is in stability, given the recent israeloamerican covert ops just across the border in China. The Chinese do not want to see any Kyrgyz unrest spreading across the border into China.

    Guess who that leaves? Yup, good ole israeloamerica and its stooges in the UK. Destabilization works fine for them. Sucker the Russians in, then inflate the thing into a full blown civil war. Spread the unrest throughout the region and , viola, Russia and China lose their position there. In great game chess, that would be called check. Then the israeloamericans move in, offer their services and clean up. That would be checkmate.

    The violence in Kyrgyzstan has all the hall marks of a counterrevolution attempt of the previous guv and its sponsors. Apparently, the strategy failed, though. The Russians didn’t rush in and the Kyrgyz guv didn’t unleash a mass repressive response (that could have then really sparked a civil war). Now we wait to see what happens next.

  5. efgh1951 said on June 18th, 2010 at 2:47am #

    hayate: The violence in Kyrgyzstan has all the hall marks of a counterrevolution attempt of the previous guv and its sponsors. Apparently, the strategy failed, though. The Russians didn’t rush in and the Kyrgyz guv didn’t unleash a mass repressive response (that could have then really sparked a civil war).

    yes, the bakiyev crowd is behind this.
    i still think the usa — at least the obama crowd — were not involved. their plate is more than full these days. but this is plausible. it follows the usa game plan: create the problem, provide the solution.
    the izzies could well be there. the lubovitchers control the synagogues throughout the ex-su and most certainly love muslims killing each other.
    definitely the russians are cautious. whoever is behind it want the russians there for propaganda purposes.
    and otunbaeva sounds like a rare example of an uncorruptible politician in all this mess. let’s hope she gets a chance to reconcile the communities.
    it’s a geopolitical minefield so the prospects are not good.

  6. hayate said on June 18th, 2010 at 11:56am #

    The Uzbek and Kyrgyz Ethnic Conflicts in Kyrgyztan: Replay of the 1990 Osh Drama

    by Aleksandr Shustov



    The majority of watchers are convinced that the Osh massacre was the result of a provocation organized by the clan of the ousted Kyrgyz president K. Bakiyev. On June 14, Jalal-Abad province commandant and First Deputy Chairman of the Kyrgyz State National Security Service Kubatbek Baibolov charged that a group of Tajic citizens who opened fire indiscriminately on ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks was responsible for fueling the unrest. He also said the Tajics were hired by the Bakiyev clan. Tajikistan reacted harshly to Baibolov’s statement and requested that Kyrgyzstan either present evidence to support the claim or apologize.

    Obviously, the key objective pursued by the forces which ignited the conflict is to derail the June 27 referendum which is to confirm the status of the Kyrgyz interim government. To an extent, they can already boast success as the outcome of the referendum will lack credibility given the large number of persons in Kyrgyzstan who are currently displaced. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have also been dragged into the orbit of the conflict — the former had to host masses of refugees and the latter — to face allegations that its citizens helped organize the outbreak of violence. The escalation in Kyrgyzstan – in case it takes place – is sure to further affect both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Considering that Kazakhstan also borders Kyrgyzstan, it is clear that currently the entire Central Asia is under serious threat.

  7. hayate said on June 19th, 2010 at 12:19pm #

    Cases of cash paid for Kyrgyz unrest – former president

    Published 17 June, 2010, 10:50


    Criminals and unemployed youths were paid in suitcases of cash to start bashing people up and set everything on fire, shared Askar Akayev, the country’s president from 1990 to 2005, with RT.

    RT: Are you saying Bakiyev’s family is using its resources, its money to foment revolution?

    AA: Absolutely so. It’s a well-known fact that when the April revolution broke out, the Bakiyevs carried away all the cash resources from banks and from the finance ministry. They took them to the south of Kyrgyzstan. And now they are using these resources. And they are paying not for the provocations using criminals alone. My friends gave me a call from Osh. They said that a couple of days before the bloodshed in Osh, they felt something was wrong and stayed at home having closed all the doors, because cash was being handed out to the unemployed youth in suitcases. In other words, they were giving money to the young to stir them up. Sadly, that was the case.

    RT: What was the going rate for a protestor?

    AA: I don’t have the figures, but you know, for our struggling region – the average salary in Kyrgyzstan is less than US$100 [per month]. $100 is enough for a person to start bashing people up and setting everything on fire.