Kyrgyzstan’s leaders are saying all the right things, if the Kremlin were voting in this fall’s presidential election.
On the heels of Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev’s recent Moscow visit, First Deputy PM Omurbek Babanov is now there to discuss economic cooperation. To ease his expedition, Atambayev has pushed for Kyrgyzstan to join the Russia-led Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which is often described as Russia's bid to reassert economic dominance in the former Soviet Union and stanch rising Chinese influence.
But Babanov is a divisive figure in Bishkek. The largest party in the legislature, Ata-Jurt, has actively used corruption allegations to seek his resignation. Ata-Jurt leaders also fear the Atambayev-Babanov tandem will employ government resources to make a bid for the presidency.
Though Ata-Jurt is in the ruling coalition with Atambayev’s Social Democrats (SDPK) and Babanov’s Respublika, party leaders have repeatedly threatened (at one point employing fists and maybe packing guns) to withdraw and upset the ruling equilibrium just as the presidential campaign enters full swing.
Ata-Jurt is not alone with its forecast: Many in Bishkek expect Atambayev to run for president and attempt to bring along Babanov -- whose economic activities draw active comparisons to Maxim Bakiyev, the rapacious son of the former president -- as premier. But no one can be boss without friends in Moscow.
Babanov’s votive Moscow trip comes only a month after Russian officials loudly grumbled that his fingers were not welcome in some Russian pies, notably Kyrgyzstan’s largest mobile-services provider, Megacom, whose partial nationalization was rather opaque.
Atambayev understands Kyrgyzstan can afford only one sponsor. Or, at least he knows that’s what his Kremlin counterparts like to hear: “All of us are feeling sorrow for the collapse of the USSR,” he said on April 11, reiterating Kyrgyzstan’s support for the Customs Union.
So he's sent Babanov off to Moscow with his tail between his legs. All eyes are on Omurbek: The trip will either strengthen him, or hasten his fall.