Newsmakers: Kyrgyz Turmoil Rattles Russia

Kyrgyz Republic

By Simon Watkins


Kurmanbek Bakiyev

After a week of defying a provisional government that seized power in an armed uprising that left at least 84 people dead, the Kyrgyz Republic’s ousted president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, resigned and fled to neighboring Kazakhstan, as Global Finance was going to press. While it is hoped the former president’s departure will ease tensions in the central Asian country, the turmoil may have far-reaching implications. Both the US and Russia maintain strategically vital air bases in the former Soviet republics of central Asia, and China takes keen interest in the region as well. Given the stakes, observers believe it is unlikely that Russia, for one, will stand aside and let matters take their natural course.

While the upheaval in the Kyrgyz Republic has no serious implications for the Russian economy, its location is of vital strategic importance to Russia, says Chris Weafer, head of strategy for UralSib, in Moscow. “It is located on the eastern edge of central Asia, right up against China’s troubled Xinjiang province, and the capital, Bishkek, is relatively close to Almaty in Kazakhstan,” he says. Weafer believes the internal situation in the Kyrgyz Republic could rapidly deteriorate.

Russian leaders were sufficiently anxious about the prospect of escalating conflict to pledge $50 million in immediate economic aid to the interim government in mid-April. Part of the reason for that, according to Lauren Goodrich, Eurasian analyst for Stratfor, in Austin, is that Russia regards the Kyrgyz Republic as a key part of its ongoing—albeit unofficial—policy of rolling back Western influence in the former Soviet sphere. “In January Moscow signed a customs union agreement to economically reintegrate Russia with Kazakhstan and Belarus, a new pro-Russian government was elected in Ukraine, and now a pro-Russian government has taken power in the Kyrgyz Republic,” Goodrich says. “The last of these countries,” she adds, “is an important milestone for Moscow, given that Russia does not even have a border with it, which indicates that Moscow must be secure in its control of territory from the Russian core across the central Asian steppe.”