Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant Russian nationalist, is no longer welcome in Kyrgyzstan.
Parliament voted May 15 to ask the Foreign Ministry to declare the Russian State Duma vice speaker persona non grata. Though some deputies warned the measure could damage relations with Moscow, 67 of 120 voted for the ban.
Zhirinovsky, who heads Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, angered many in Bishkek last month by suggesting Kyrgyzstan give up one of its most prized assets – picturesque Lake Issyk-Kul – in exchange for a debt write-off.
He often makes disparaging remarks about Central Asian migrants in Russia and has pushed to tighten visa requirements. But his venom is not just directed at Kyrgyzstan.
A few weeks back, Zhirinovsky suggested that Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon – who is engaged in a protracted dispute over the lease for a Russian division based in Tajikistan – could end up facing a brutal and public death at the hands of the Taliban were it not for Russian aid.
A conference focusing on Kyrgyzstan’s present problems and future choices threatens to become sidetracked by a conflict-of-interest controversy. One of the financial backers of the event is involved in a legal tussle with the Kyrgyz government over allegations of financial impropriety.
The all-day workshop, titled Kyrgyzstan since 2010: Progress, Problems and Opportunities, is scheduled to take place May 15 in Brussels. It is being organized by the Washington, DC,-based Atlantic Council. Ambassador Ross Wilson, the director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, confirmed that Latvian financier Valeri Belokon was one of several event sponsors, his support coming via his involvement in the council’s Connecting Central Asia and the Caucasus Initiative.
Belokon remains a highly controversial figure in Kyrgyzstan. The Latvian banker is widely believed in Bishkek to have been a reputed business associate of Maxim Bakiyev, the son of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The Kyrgyz government is investigating whether Belokon helped Maxim illicitly transfer state assets out of the country amid the collapse of the Bakiyev administration in April of 2010. Belokon adamantly denies any wrongdoing.
U.S. military officers show Kyrgyz journalists the Manas air base. (photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rachel Martinez
One thing that was notable about the early coverage of the U.S. air force refueling jet crash on Friday was how unpoliticized it was. The air base at which the KC-135 Stratotanker was based, Manas, is a very sensitive issue in Kyrgyzstan, and any developments there are closely parsed for their political and geopolitical meaning. This crash, in which three U.S. airmen were killed, would seem to be a human tragedy and possibly an aviation safety story, with no political angle. When I noted on twitter that the Kyrgyz press focused primarily on the search for victims and, somewhat surprisingly, avoided any political angles, the press secretary of the president of Kyrgyzstan, Kadyr Toktogulov, responded, "what kind of political speculation could there possibly be?"
Well, now we're starting to find out. 24.kg reported that the Americans were "obstructing the examination" of the bodies of the crew members killed in the crash:
Representatives of the Transit Center at Manas didn’t let the investigation agencies to examine the bodies of the crashed airplane casualties, the special investigation group told 24.kg news agency today.
It’s noted that, despite promises of the U.S. side not to interfere and assist in investigation of the plane crash, the transit center officers decided to take the bodies of pilots away.
The bodies of the three crew members were taken to the airbase. Local investigators have no information about further actions of the Transit Center at Manas.
Also, the investigation group noted that the filling station at the base is cordoned off; however, American officers do not let Kyrgyz investigators to the base.
After appearing in Kyrgyzstan and Chechnya, leaflets expressing support for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Djokhar Tsarnaev have now emerged in central Kazakhstan.
The Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency reports that fliers featuring Tsarnaev's picture, along with a note reading "Pray for Djokhar" in English, had been found plastered in a pedestrian underpass in Karaganda. Police have said they will charge anyone caught pasting the posters on public property.
"Should the individuals who put up the leaflets be identified, they will face an administrative offence for damaging public property. Plastering announcements and other posters is a sign of littering," Interfax-Kazakhstan quoted the regional police press service as saying.
Earlier Interfax reported that similar leaflets had appeared in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and in Russia's Chechnya region, Tsarnaev’s ancestral homeland.
Leaflets found on an avenue named after Russian President Vladimir Putin in downtown Grozny, the Chechen capital, called on people to raise funds for Tsarnaev and his family. Those fliers explained that Tsarnaev was in serious condition in a prison hospital in the United States and that he needed medical and legal aid. "Djokhar's parents appeal for your assistance," the posters said.
KC-135s on the tarmac at the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. (photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brett Clashman)
A U.S. Air Force refueling jet has crashed in Kyrgyzstan near the Manas air base, according to Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS).
The plane exploded in mid-air, said a local official, reports Kloop.kg: "The former mayor of the Panfilov region Taalaybek Sydykov said in an interview with Kloop.kg, that... 'Residents of the region who were working in the fields say that there was an explosion in the air and the plane fell behind the mountains.'" A couple of twitterusers reported the same.
An MChS official told AFP that the plane, apparently KC-135 Stratotanker, crashed after taking off:
"According to my information, the plane broke up into three pieces. Information on the dead or wounded is being clarified. All the rescue services have gone to the scene," the ministry's press secretary Abdisharip Bekilov said.
The plane crashed near the mountain village of Chaldybar, around 200 kilometres from the capital Bishkek and close to the border with Kazakhstan, the emergency ministry spokesman said.
Information about who may have been on board is still sketchy, but CA-News reports, citing MChS sources, that there were five crew members on the flight.
Once again, a clash is being reported on the imprecise Kyrgyz-Tajik border in the Ferghana Valley. Like usual, in the days after these regular troubles, a little bit is clear and a lot is not.
What’s clear is that there has been physical violence, property damaged, and hostages taken by opposing residents of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in the un-demarcated borderlands. Once again, the conflict was over infrastructure, this time a road. After that, the details get murky, lost in a flurry of accusation and counter-accusation.
Officials on both sides agree the clash occurred on April 27 in the area around the Tajik exclave of Vorukh, which is surrounded entirely by Kyrgyz territory, when Kyrgyz workers were building or repairing a road. It’s unclear if their activities were government-backed or a local private initiative.
The three countries sharing the Ferghana Valley – Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – inherited unclear borders at independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Efforts to define them have been halting, especially in populated areas.
According to a Kyrgyz Interior Ministry spokesman cited by Bishkek’s 24.kg news agency, on April 27 Kyrgyz workers were building a road connecting Aksai – a Kyrgyz village that abuts Vorukh – and a neighboring village. Around 3 p.m. about 100 residents of Tajikistan, unhappy with the roadwork, which they alleged was happening on their territory, beat up some construction workers and broke the windows of bulldozers and excavators. As local residents from both sides gathered and grew hostile (with Tajiks outnumbering Kyrgyz 10 to one, according to Kyrgyz police), Tajik border guards fired warning shots into the air. After that, about 4,000 Kyrgyz and about 7,000 Tajiks faced off and blocked the road.
As Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital recovers from the turmoil of ethnic violence and its aftermath, its ancient market has been a touchstone of Osh’s general wellbeing. Gutted by fire and fear in June 2010, it is now thriving again – though without the vigor and seeming prosperity of the days before “the war.” Both ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek venders work at the market, but under the surface tensions remain, as deep-rooted problems like poverty, injustice, and poor governance simmer unaddressed.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
Members of the U.S. Congress visit Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov in February 2013 (photo: president.uz)
The bombing of the Boston marathon has appeared to whet the appetites of some members of Congress to increase cooperation with post-Soviet governments in taking a strong hand against the threat of Islamist radicals.The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on Friday, "Islamist Extremism in Chechnya: A Threat to the U.S. Homeland?" And it provided the opportunity for several members of Congress to tout not just greater security cooperation with Russia vis-a-vis Chechnya, but across the post-Soviet space.
In his opening statement, Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican and chair of the subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, promoted the idea of closer security ties to Russia and Central Asia:
What outside forces have sought to transform the North Caucasus and Central Asia into a region of Muslin extremism which did not exist before?
Greater cooperation with Russia and the governments Central Asia should be explored in order to properly respond to this emerging threat. This part of the world is critical to the future of the human race. If it becomes dominated by a radical version of Islam, it will change the course of history in an extremely negative way.
Later in the hearing, Rohrabacher returned to a theme he is fond of, the notion that the Uzbekistan government's violations of human rights are necessary to maintain security there:
Russia’s drug tsar has come up with a pro-active and novel plan for combatting drug trafficking to his country via Central Asia that sees Russia buying up businesses and creating jobs in the region.
Moscow will initially spend about $64 million on the plan, which involves creating a Russian Corporation for Cooperation with Central Asian Countries, Viktor Ivanov told the Kommersant daily on April 26. Ivanov, the head of the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), had finally gotten some government approval for his 2-billion-ruble proposal, which he believes will help reduce the staggering number of drug-related deaths in Russia.
“Every year at least 100,000 young people die [due to drug use] in Russia. Thanks to the program, this figure could in five years be reduced by 25-30 percent. How can this be measured in money?" Kommersant quoted Ivanov as saying. (Other officials have said heroin kills 30,000 Russians each year.)
Central Asia lies on a major narcotics-trafficking route out of Afghanistan. Approximately 30 percent of Afghan opiates transit the region – especially Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – according to the UN, most of them en route to Russia, fueling crime, corruption, and HIV along the old Silk Road. Ivanov estimated the plan would save Russia an amount equivalent to about 1.3 percent of GDP, which he said is “annually lost due to drug-trafficking,” and provoke a “sharp decline” in crime – 32-33 percent. He gave no details on either prognosis.
I was born in Uzbekistan and emigrated to the United States in 2001, when I was 14. I never expected to return to Central Asia. But after graduating law school, Freedom House offered me an opportunity to work in a country where I could use my Russian-language skills and interest in human rights: Kyrgyzstan.
I jumped at the opportunity, thinking Kyrgyzstan was progressive relative to its neighbors and that my work could serve a purpose. But the Kyrgyz authorities disagreed. Soon after arriving in Kyrgyzstan in October 2011, I was denied a visa extension on the grounds that my stay “lacked purpose.”
Determined, I discovered that I could simply exit and re-enter Kyrgyzstan every 90 days – a perfectly legal, albeit cumbersome process.
My work with Freedom House led me to the south of the country in February 2012. I travelled alongside the Freedom House deputy director and a USAID employee to assess women’s legal rights and to distribute toys to families suffering in the aftermath of ethnic violence in 2010, when over 400 people, mostly minority Uzbeks, died.
These were tense times, when many Kyrgyz bristled at international calls for transparent investigations into the violence, and subsequent trials, which continue to disproportionately target Uzbeks.
I later learned that soon after my trip the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) contacted the US Embassy (I am a US citizen) to inquire. That was disturbing, but the Embassy did not pass details about the MFA’s concerns to me.