A leader of Kyrgyzstan’s largest parliamentary faction, and a rumored contender for president, Kamchybek Tashiev, is gaining a reputation for using his fists to conduct official business. In addition to the widely reported smashup with a deputy from an opposing party earlier this month, some confirmation seems to be leaking out about a more physically damaging brawl between Tashiev and one of his fellow party members a day earlier.
Parliamentary deputy Bakhadyr Sulaimanov alleges Tashiev beat him so badly on March 31 that he suffered a concussion, 24.kg reports. The two are members of the same party, Ata-Jurt, and reportedly the altercation came about after Sulaimanov refused to give up his seat in the legislature. Still in hospital, Sulaimanov is pressing charges, the Prosecutor General’s office announced on April 12. (Someone claiming to be Sulaimanov gave a colorful account of the fight on the popular Diesel Forum.)
Tashiev, who holds parliamentary immunity, denies the allegations. If the assault really did take place, the reasons behind it are not clear. But then, little ever is in the struggle for power among Kyrgyzstan's politicians.
If you could choose one word to describe Kyrgyzstan, would it be "friendly"? If so, then you and Donald Rumsfeld are on the same page.
Rumsfeld, you may recall, has released many previously classified documents from his tenure as secretary of defense to coincide with the launch of his book. But he didn't post all of the documents that were released to him. And of all publications Gawker, the gossip blog, filed a FOIA request to see all of the documents, including the ones, as they put it, that "Rumsfeld Doesn't Want You to See." You can see them all in a dauntingly unorganized 1,362-page pdf here. But before I get through that, one memo from Rumsfeld's desk that Gawker highlighted is worth looking at.
It's from April 30, 2002, and titled "COUNTRIES FOR U.S./DOD TO EMPHASIZE -- AND WHY," and offers an extremely brief (two pages) tour d'horizon of how the Pentagon saw countries around the world, including Central Asia.
Central Asia – (Evolving, looking for counterweight to Russia and PRC; enormous energy potential, secular muslims v. religious extremism)
Kazakhstan – Big; oil-rich; leading [sic] our way, see the U.S. as counterbalance to PRC and Russia.
Azerbaijan – Friendly, potential as war on [sic] forward operating base
Kyrgyzstan – Friendly
Uzbekistan – concerned about Russia, has chosen the U.S.
Afghanistan – A potential liability; U.S. has a stake in it not failing.
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.
A couple of weeks ago, Kyrgyzstan's president, Roza Otunbayeva, announced that the country was planning to construct two counterterror training centers in the southern part of the country, and that one would be built by Russia and the other by the U.S. Her announcement raised a lot of questions, which I posed to Alisher Khamidov, a EurasiaNet contributor and expert on southern Kyrgyzstan. He said that fears of Islamist militants from Tajikistan as well as the military of Uzbekistan are motivating Kyrgyzstan to develop the centers, and that Otunbayeva puts a higher priority on the U.S. center than on the Russian one. From our email Q&A:
Q: There hasn't been much evidence of a threat of terrorist infiltration from Tajikistan -- in fact, the "terror" threat in Tajikistan seems to be largely driven by local strongmen with local grievances. Do you think Otunbayeva genuinely believes there is a terror threat, or is this a pretext for some other motive?
A: Based on my conversations with her, Otunbayeva and some top ranking Kyrgyz government officials genuinely believe there is a terror threat emanating from Tajikistan. Perhaps it's because the Kyrgyz National Security Service has its own sources in Tajikistan.
Q: Is there a geopolitical component to inviting both Russian and U.S training centers? Do you think she considers them equally important, both in terms of practical training and in geopolitical/symbolic terms? Or is one more important practically, and the other for symbolic/geopolitical ends?
Kyrgyzstan’s politicians are no poster boys for a parliamentary system of governance. The country’s ruling coalition was already shaky before two feral members bloodied each other at an April 1 session of the national legislature. And the mayhem that dominated the day – including not just the brawl but a fiery speech by the recently sacked prosecutor general and a mysterious intervention into lawmakers’ work by unidentified thugs in tracksuits – does not bode well for stability in the violence-racked country.
Prior to the fight, ex-Prosecutor General Kubatbek Baibolov, fired a day earlier, defended himself before the deputies against allegations that his family members had improperly profited off the scandal-clad nationalization of Kyrgyzstan’s largest mobile services provider, Megacom. In his speech, he accused Deputy Prime Minister Omburbek Babanov, leader of the Respublika Party, and others of illegally profiting from the deal.
One of them was Babanov’s long-time detractor Kamchybek Tashiev, whose powerful Ata-Jurt party belongs to the rickety three-party ruling coalition, which also includes Respublika. This time, Tashiev warned, if Babanov wasn’t properly investigated, Ata-Jurt would abandon the coalition, leaving the government to crumble. Because the threat was not Ata-Jurt’s first, one of Babanov’s allies told Tashiev, in no uncertain terms, to clam up and get out if he wanted to. Unprintable words and fisticuffs ensued.
Snow White nearly died from them. Trick-or-treating children once found razors in them. Now an ingenious gang of drug smugglers has been busted for stuffing them – yes, apples – with $14 million worth of heroin and driving them by truck from Kyrgyzstan to Russia, local news reports say.
Security officials in the major Siberian city of Novosibirsk announced this week that they have interdicted more than 82 kilograms of heroin “packed in spherical containers made of foamed plastic and disguised as apples. They were transported together with real fruit,” a spokeswoman for the regional branch of Russia’s main intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), was quoted as saying. Officials suspect the smack-packed shipment reached Russia from Kyrgyzstan via Kazakhstan, two Central Asian countries that claim to be the apple’s birthplace.
The major bust, preceded by a months-long joint investigation by the FSB and Russia’s Customs Service, resulted in the arrest of an unspecified number of people from different countries, news agencies reported. A search for the smugglers’ coconspirators continues.
Up to 10,000 prisoners, including inmates in all of Kyrgyzstan’s 11 prisons and six detention centers, have joined a hunger strike that began on March 25, media reports cite officials as saying. But why are the prisoners suddenly up in arms?
Prison brass attribute the protest to a high-profile crackdown on organized crime, launched last month after President Roza Otunbayeva, speaking to regional leaders, bemoaned the influence of the criminal world on local government.
“Criminal groups have become a powerful force, able in some regions to dictate ‘the rules of the game’ to local authorities,” she said February 5. “If this continues, then tomorrow criminal groups will be appointing provincial governors and other officials.”
A rash of arrests came fast and furious on the heels of Otunbayeva’s comments -- 118 as of March 17 -- but they have stirred more skepticism than awe. Prominent public figures have linked the sweeps to presidential elections slated for this October, with some calling the anti-crime campaign a PR stunt, while others allege it is part of a proxy war between competing factions in parliament.
One parliament deputy, speaking privately after the start of the anti-crime drive, said links between politicians and criminal groups ran rife, describing in detail how a leading national politician from the country’s north is trying “to clean out other criminal gangs to clear the way for his own, especially in the south.”
Moscow is deploying its fine-tuned instrument of influence over the poorest and most dependent Central Asian states, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. For the second year in a row, the Kremlin has slapped fuel duties on one of the countries in spring, just before the planting season when farmers need to top up their tractors. The move, cruel though it may be, has proven effective in bending the region’s recalcitrant despots to Moscow’s will or even, as in the case of Kyrgyzstan, helped oust ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
A week ago, Moscow suspended tariffs on fuel deliveries to Kyrgyzstan after Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev kowtowed at the Kremlin and promised to cut American middleman out of fuel deliveries to the American base at Manas Airport.
Tajikistan received duty-free Russian light refined fuels (gasoline, kerosene and aviation fuel) until mid-2010. The sudden introduction of tariffs then pushed prices at the pump (or the rusting tin funnel, as is often the case in Tajikistan) up 30 percent and fomented fears Russia was playing the same game it honed with Bakiyev. In December, however, officials from both sides announced they had almost worked out a deal to resume duty-free imports. Now, those tariffs are not disappearing, but increasing by an extra 5.3 percent.
You can’t fault Kyrgyzstan’s parliament deputies for generosity.
The Zhogorku Kenesh voted today to give up one day’s salary to aid earthquake victims in Japan. Judging by the number of Lexus SUVs lined up outside the parliament building, the total should round up to a nice useful sum.
But wait a minute.
Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg reported recently that deputies’ monthly salaries only amount to a frugal 18,000 soms ($380). Do some basic math and you get the thrifty sum of just over $1,500 going to Japan.
Kyrgyzstan likewise sent 3 tons of water to the devastated Asian country. Bishkek offered a team of its emergency service workers, but rumor has it that the Japanese politely declined.
The best thing Kyrgyz parliamentarians could do to help Japan at this point is to keep buying those Toyota Lexus SUVs.
The cheapest new one available on the carmaker's American site costs no less than $38,375 -- almost exactly 100 times as much as a deputy makes in a month.
Kazakh police say they’ve solved the brutal Almaty murder of a Kyrgyz journalist after well over a year. Anyone expecting that the killing was linked to the work of renowned investigative reporter Gennadiy Pavlyuk will be surprised: Kazakhstan’s cops have reached the conclusion that the journalist was hurled to his death, hands and legs bound, from the sixth floor in a robbery gone wrong.
“It has been established by the preliminary investigation that the suspects lured G. Pavlyuk to Almaty through an Internet exchange, booking a room in the Kazakhstan Hotel, after which by deception they took the journalist to an apartment on Furmanov Street,” Interior Ministry spokesman Kuanyshbek Zhumanov told a briefing March 24 in remarks quoted by Kazakhstan Today news agency.
They then tied him up and tried to extort valuables, Zhumanov continued, “but, not achieving what they desired, they threw the journalist out of the apartment window.”
This story appears to raise more questions than it answers. Why did the three suspects (two citizens of Kazakhstan and one of Kyrgyzstan) consider it worthwhile to lure a journalist not known for his lavish lifestyle 200 kilometers from Bishkek to obtain his worldly goods, and then defenestrate him when they failed? The casual observer might suppose that the extortionists would have been better off picking on a wealthy Kazakh businessman or even a random client leaving one of the city’s swish nightclubs, rather than duping an investigative reporter.