Who will be more popular in Kyrgyzstan come New Year’s Day: newly appointed Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev or his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin?
During his maiden trip to Moscow as premier, Atambayev secured a beautiful deal: Putin promised to drop, as of January 1, the punitive oil export tariffs he had instituted several days before Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown last April. At the time, it seemed Putin was punishing Bakiyev for reneging on a promise to evict the Americans from their airbase at Manas.
The move could result in a 25 percent reduction of gasoline prices at the pump, and trickle down support throughout the ailing Kyrgyz economy.
In addition, Putin may have offered a $200 million loan to help Kyrgyzstan out of its crisis, Atambayev suggested.
What Atambayev promised in return is unclear, but he sought Russian investment in the country’s struggling energy sector, noting that Kyrgyzstan has “unbreakable bonds with Russia.” Moscow sees influence upstream as a lever over prickly Uzbekistan.
Did Kyrgyzstan’s voters get the leaders they chose?
On December 17, the Respublika party announced the successful formation of a new governing coalition to lead Kyrgyzstan’s parliament. This second attempt at forming a majority succeeded where the first failed because Respublika, which led the effort, is unattached to the North/South regional divide or pro-/anti-government legacy of the other four winning parties.
But Respublika is unlike Kyrgyzstan’s other political parties in another way as well -- by the time the party came to power, most of its minorities and women had declined their seats in parliament, leaving a 100 percent ethnic Kyrgyz and mostly male party.
According to the Kyrgyz electoral code, voters cast ballots for a party’s list of candidates. Based on votes, each party is awarded a certain number of seats that go to the top candidates on their respective party lists. If a candidate declines his “mandate,” then the seat passes to the next highest candidate on his party’s list.
Defense Logistic Agency Energy (DLA-E), the arm of the Pentagon which oversees the Manas air base’s fuel contract, is reviewing the contents of the US Congressional report “Mystery at Manas” before deciding what to do next with Mina Corp, the shadowy and reticent company at the center of an elaborate procurement fraud.
On December 22, EurasiaNet.org asked DLA-E if they considered Mina Corp’s procurement of fuel using false end user certificates to be in line with agency directives and standards?
A DLA spokeswoman said:
No, DLA does not consider false end user certificates to be in line with either applicable US laws and regulations or DLA directives and standards.
However the agency insists the Congressional report, which was released on December 21, had nothing to do with their decision to ask previous bidders to extend their offers until February 16, 2011.
The findings of the Congressional report had no bearing on DLA Energy's decision to ask offerors to extend their offer under the Manas solicitation.
But if it wasn’t the Congressional report, what was it that prompted DLA to ask bidders on December 16 to keep their bids open?
Kyrgyzstan’s security officials are not the most convincing bunch. So when they go on a media blitz warning of impending terrorist attacks, we naturally start asking for evidence and bracing for some sort of blast. This time, they are worrying Osh, scene of fierce ethnic fighting that left over 400 dead in June.
Speaking on state television on December 20, Keneshbek Dushebayev -- director of Kyrgyzstan’s KGB-successor, the recently renamed State National Security Committee -- reiterated a familiar refrain: Terrorists wish “to turn the Central Asian region into a blazing torch of destabilization for the entire world.” He did not produce any evidence.
This would not seem unusual coming from a Central Asian security boss seeking international sympathy, but a week earlier Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov, who prompts panic merely by opening his mouth, suggested the city is swarming with terrorists who are ready to blow up a bridge, a government building, or a kindergarten.
Myrzakmatov has repeatedly tried to link Islamic militants to the summer’s ethnic violence. As ethnic Uzbeks tend to be more religious than their Kyrgyz neighbors, between the lines Myrzakmatov is again pushing the idea -- widely held in nationalist circles -- that Uzbeks are responsible for the violence.
Surprisingly, he also said the Islamic terrorists lurking in the hills are the same radicals responsible for the 2005 Andijan massacre in neighboring Uzbekistan, when security services murdered hundreds of their own citizens, according to human rights groups.
The long-awaited report from a U.S. congressional committee on fuel contracting at the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan has been released, and the findings already well dissected (recommended in particular are the pieces by Deirdre Tynan and Steve LeVine). From the executive summary of the report:
Policy officials at the Pentagon and State Department did little to nothing to assist DLA-Energy [the Pentagon agency in charge of supplying fuel to U.S. military] in oversight of its massive fuel procurement contracts. As long as the flow of fuel met demand, the civilian and military officials at the Department of Defense showed little interest in fuel contracting. The State Department, meanwhile, viewed the fuel contracts as solely a matter for the Pentagon to manage, even when fallout from the contracts badly damaged U.S.-Kyrgyz relations. In short, DLA-Energy, the Pentagon, and State Department all turned a blind eye to the fuel contracts’ serious political, diplomatic, and geopolitical collateral consequences.
But the question I had been most curious about -- how did these shadowy companies, Mina and Red Star, get these billion-dollar no-bid contracts in the first place -- was not answered by the report. I, and I think many people, assumed that the answer had to be that there was some high-level corruption in the Pentagon. Why else would the Pentagon give such a massive contract to such a mysterious company with such shady connections?
Maxim Bakiyev claimed the idea to re-name the US air base at Manas near Bishkek a “Transit Center” was his, according to a recently WikiLeaked diplomatic cable.
But a US Congressional report released December 21 reveals the bright spark behind the semantic slight of hand as none other than a Kyrgyz citizen with a vested interest in keeping the base open -- Erkin Bekbolotov of Mina Corp.
According to the report, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s February 2009 announcement that the air base would close prompted Bekbolotov to call his “social acquaintance” Maxim. Bekbolotov’s novel solution to his potential loss of business involved re-defining the base and using “pressure from Russia” to gain more rent.
The report “Mystery at Manas” explains:
In light of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia’s agreements to permit NATO’s use of their territory and airspace to transit non-military goods, Mr. Bekbolotov suggested to Mr. [Maxim] Bakiyev that instead of expelling the United States from Manas, the Bakiyev administration could require the United States to downgrade its status from a military installation to a logistical and transport hub while using the pressure from Russia to substantially increase their rental payments.
Man of the hour: Newly elected Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev at a Bishkek rally in March.
Three of Kyrgyzstan’s quarreling parties have finally succeeded – after two months and one failed attempt – to form a government. The partnership may seem an unlikely one, but it unifies the country’s fractious north and south and all hopes are on this group to shepherd the country safely into a new year without political instability and violence.
Parliament convened on December 17 to approve the coalition proposed by Respublika leader Omurbek Babanov. Provisional President Roza Otunbayeva chose Babanov to lead the process on December 4, after the first attempt by her Social Democratic Party’s (SDPK) Almazbek Atambayev, fell through.
He hasn’t presented any proof yet, but Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun says his office’s investigation has concluded that local Uzbeks began ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan this summer to carve off a piece of the country and join neighboring Uzbekistan. They then intended to overthrow strongman Islam Karimov, he said in comments carried by AKIpress.
Akun added that the Uzbeks started the fight but Kyrgyz then “finished it very harshly and more roughly.”
“The aim of the provocateurs was to create an autonomous region and make Uzbek its official language. They wanted to make Osh and Jalal-Abad regions an autonomous region of Uzbekistan. They had links with Uzbek citizens, rich Uzbek people who speak out against Karimov. And they wanted to overthrow Karimov and elect their person instead of him and rule all of Uzbekistan with Osh and Jalal-Abad regions."
Uzbek nationalist aspirations were one of the earliest explanations for June’s violence cited by official sources. However, convincing publicly available evidence has been scant.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization held a summit in Moscow at the end of last week, and on top of the agenda was the organization's nascent rapid reaction force. The CSTO, recall, has been positioning itself as a Russia-oriented NATO with the ability to intervene militarily and defend member states. But when CSTO member Kyrgyzstan erupted in violence earlier this year, the CSTO did nothing, exposing the organization to criticism that it is a paper tiger.
What exactly were the lessons of Kyrgyzstan for the CSTO? That depends on whom you ask.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke at the opening of the summit, and different press accounts have different takes on what he said:
Iran's Press TV: "The events in Kyrgyzstan became a test of strength of the organization. They revealed the need to refine the rapid reaction force."
China's People's Daily: "It is obvious to all of us that the events in Kyrgyzstan became a test of strength to the Organization. Through joint efforts we managed to stabilize the situation."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave a somewhat vague pronunciation, which you could interpret many ways: "The organization did not commit any fatal mistakes" in Kyrgyzstan.
Whatever the case, the CSTO did agree that it was necessary to fix the rapid reaction capability. Lavrov, speaking before the summit, said that was the top priority: "The most important cluster of matters agreed upon today is the changes to be made to the statutes of the CSTO in order to improve the efficiency of our organization in the field of emergency response."
Officials at Kyrgyzstan’s Education Ministry have little reason to celebrate this holiday season. The troubled Central Asian country ranked last in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which aims to predict and gradually improve nations’ “economic and social well-being” through regular, comparative evaluations of teenagers’ proficiency in reading, math and science.
The latest results of the PISA tests, administered since 2000 at three-year intervals to 15-year-olds in dozens of countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), were released December 7 with Kyrgyzstan coming in 65th. Its mean score suggests that high-school students in the impoverished nation lag some four and a half years behind their peers from OECD countries in terms of formal schooling and more than six years behind top-scoring Shanghai, China.
One particularly troubling result showed that more than 80 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s 15-year-olds had reading skills below Level 2, considered “a baseline level of proficiency, at which students begin to demonstrate the reading literacy competencies that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life.” Nearly 60 percent of tested students in Kyrgyzstan perform below level 1a.