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.
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.
In Kyrgyzstan, stories about the former president’s naughty son Maxim Bakiyev receive about as many column inches as the royal family in Britain’s tabloids. So, nodding to the temptation, this one is purely for the juice.
Maxim, that infamous playboy, surrounded himself with groveling businessmen and politicians in his father’s kingdom, but that did not buy him their loyalty, suggests another wikileaked cable available on the Russky Reporter website.
The cable describes an ostentatious opening party for Maxim’s newest resort on Lake Issyk-Kul in June 2009:
The main focus of the event was not the hotel, which nearly all attendees commented was done shoddily and in poor taste, but Maxim and his entourage. Maxim arrived at a nearby airport in his private plane, traveled to the hotel in a large motorcade with police escort, and moved around the party itself with eight bodyguards. Maxim mingled among the guests with his official wife Aijana (he is well known to have another girlfriend) on one side and Prime Minister Igor Chudinov on the other. Neither Aijana nor Chudinov looked happy to be there.
The author, former US Charge d’Affaires Lee Litzenberger, suggested throughout the cable that Maxim was widely disliked by his anxious coterie of businessmen, with one “otherwise loyal” interlocutor suggesting “the President is letting his son get away with too much -- and that these excesses will hurt the family and country in the end.”
Moscow is making no secret of its desire to return troops to the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border, perhaps the most porous frontier between the failed state and post-Soviet Central Asia.
Visiting Dushanbe on December 9, Foreign Ministry official Maxim Peshkov said the two sides had been actively discussing the topic, Ferghana.ru reports.
"Given the situation in Afghanistan and the growing threat of terrorism, Russia is ready to return to the Tajik-Afghan border," said the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Peshkov said that the question of the return of Russian border guards to Tajikistan is one of the constant themes of talks between Dushanbe and Moscow. He stressed that this issue is still pending. "If the Tajik side offers us the protection of their borders, then we have no reason to deny them this,” explained Peshkov.
Just two weeks ago, Peshkov -- a former ambassador to Dushanbe -- was in town negotiating an end to the tariffs imposed earlier this year on Russian oil products destined for Tajikistan. (Yes, they're talking about dropping the taxes, which pushed the price of petrol up by 30 percent overnight, entirely.)
Could the Kremlin be bribing its way back? Moscow is clearly interested in resuming oversight of the border, which Russian troops patrolled until July 2005 when President Emomali Rakhmon asked them to leave. Drug trafficking has boomed since then, making some people in Tajikistan very rich.
We journalists working in the countries of the former Soviet Union confront a constant menace: the risk of annoying repressive governments and subsequent deportation. But worse than deportation from a single state is the threat of being blacklisted -- or PNG’d -- from them all.
A new report by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, “Persona Non Grata: The CIS ban system for human rights defenders and journalists,” catalogues the practice of at least six Commonwealth of Independent States countries (Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), which have an agreement “where individuals who are denied entry to one of the six member states automatically are denied entry to the others.”
The topic has received little international attention in the past.
Paradoxically comparing the system to Europe’s Schengen visa agreement -- whereby an entry visa to one country facilitates cross-border travel in all -- the report describes how the six states share their “blacklists” of human rights activists and journalists. “Such decisions are usually made by the security services of the country in question, and those who are barred in this manner are neither provided with a reason for the ban, nor given any means of appeal,” the report says.
In a setback for Kyrgyzstan’s experiment in parliamentary democracy, the Central Asian nation’s governing coalition collapsed even before it could formally take power. Now, the legislature remains rudderless, as political leaders enter into a new round of negotiations to produce a government.
Inhale deeply, again. Three days after we breathed a collective sigh of relief that Kyrgyzstan’s squabbling politicians had somehow, after six weeks of backroom dealing, agreed to form a governing coalition, that “coalition” did not gather enough votes – from its own members – to assume power.
During a late, secret vote on December 2, the designated speaker, Omurbek Tekebayev, only received 58 votes, AKIpress reports. Sixty-one of the parliament’s 120 are required. The coalition-that-shall-not-be – comprising Tekebayev’s own Ata-Meken, the Social Democratic Party, and Respublika – holds 67 seats, highlighting dissension in the ranks.
The parliament has gone into crisis mode and Social Democrat leader Almazbek Atambayev, the would-be prime minister, says he intends to ask provisional President Roza Otunbayeva to pass the mandate for forming a coalition onto another party.
Ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his security chief brother Janysh are accused of organizing the bloodshed on April 7, as they desperately -- and fruitlessly -- attempted to hold onto power. Almost 90 died. But they are being tried in absentia. The former president is ensconced comfortably in Belarus; Minsk has refused several extradition requests. At home, many of the 28 defendants are junior officers who carried out orders that day.
While prosecutors search for a new, safer venue -- and as many decry the slapdash investigation -- it’s worth considering how the local execution of justice is undermining attempts to try Kyrgyzstan's most wanted.
Recently, one of the defense lawyers for seven of the junior security officers described the damage the trial is doing to efforts to bring the Bakiyevs to justice.
After nearly two months of horse-trading behind closed doors, Kyrgyzstan’s politicians have finally agreed on the formation of a coalition government. As many expected, the party chosen by provisional President Roza Otunbayeva -- her own Social Democratic Party (SDPK) -- has agreed to unite with the other pro-government party, Ata-Meken, and the new business-oriented Respublika.
Those expecting change from this year’s upheaval, however, may be disappointed.
The parties' leaders appear to have agreed to anoint each other into the same positions they held under ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev at various times between 2005-2009.