Kyrgyzstan Demands Americans Vacate Air Base Next Year

Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on Thursday on end the United States’ lease on the air base at Manas which has been a critical transit hub for American troops and material moving in and out of Afghanistan. The Americans are expected to vacate the facility by July of next year when they will be in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Unable to use the Manas facility, the last American troops leaving in 2014 might have to exit through Pakistan, with which American relations are strained, or Russian air bases. The United States will also be harder pressed to send troops into Afghanistan post 2014 when the civilian government is likely to struggle to prevent the Taliban, who ruled the country between 1996 and 2001, from resurging.

Earlier this year, Russia agreed to NATO’s use of an air base at Ulyanovsk to facilitate the allied withdrawal. Read more “Kyrgyzstan Demands Americans Vacate Air Base Next Year”

Kyrgyz Political Crisis Prompts Premier’s Resignation

Kyrgyzstan is once again in political crisis. The product of a stagnating economy, accusations of corruption and the failure of the government to rapidly deliver promised prosperity, the latest iteration of the Central Asian republic’s political turmoil highlights both weaknesses that are inherent to parliamentary democracy and the latent potential of Kyrgyz civil society.

Often hailed as a democratic success in a region that is ruled by autocrats, Kyrgyzstan’s political instability inhibits economic and societal progress.

Twice since independence has Kyrgyzstan removed its president from power. Askar Akayev, elected as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991, was pushed out of office in 2005’s largely nonviolent Tulip Revolution. Riots and demonstrations two years ago forced Akayev’s successor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, to flee the country. A referendum subsequently approved the switch from a presidential to a parliamentary system under a new constitution. Read more “Kyrgyz Political Crisis Prompts Premier’s Resignation”

Clinton Visits Tumultuous Central Asia

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited different countries in Central Asia to push for improved political freedoms in the former Soviet republics and affirm their role as security partners of the United States. As the war in Afghanistan drags on, these countries, many of which are battling internal disorder, remain significant as part of America’s supply routes.

Clinton attended a summit of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe in Kazakhstan Wednesday where she also spoke with the country’s president and foreign minister. She thanked Kazakhstan for cooperating with the West in the realm of nonproliferation. Earlier this year, she pointed out during a press conference, along with the United Kingdom, Kazakhstan and the United States secured over ten metric tons of highly enriched uranium as well as three metric tons of weapons grade plutonium. “That is enough material to have made 775 nuclear weapons,” she said. “And now we are confident it will never fall into the wrong hands.” Read more “Clinton Visits Tumultuous Central Asia”

Kyrgyz Government Invites Russian Peacekeepers

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government led by Roza Otunbayeva has asked for Russian military support to suppress violence in the south of the country on Saturday. Dozens were reportedly killed in the city of Osh last week amid confrontations between native Kyrgyz and Uzbek youths.

Mass riots in Osh escalated into violence on Thursday night, resulting in hundreds of protesters being injured and, according to Russian and Chinese media, at least 62 deaths. Rioters set fire to government buildings amid widespread looting and vandalism. The unrest also spread to the capital, Bishkek, where armed mobs clashed with police and volunteer militias. Army and police reinforcements were quickly dispatched to quell the violence and a curfew has been imposed throughout southern Kyrgyzstan to last until June 20.

A spokesman for Roza Otunbayeva quoted the interim president as admitting that the situation “got out of control” and that Kyrgyzstan needs “outside military forces to solve the situation.” Read more “Kyrgyz Government Invites Russian Peacekeepers”

Violence in Kyrgyzstan

A minor riot in northwestern Kyrgyzstan has spread to the capital in recent days, leaving 74 protesters dead and over four hundred wounded. The country’s president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, fled Bishkek on Wednesday while police forces unsuccessfully attempted to repress the violent uprising.

Frustration had been rising in the former Soviet republic prior to the protests over perceived corruption in the Bakiyev government and its suppression of the media. A sharp increase in utility rates prompted demonstrations in the small town of Talas in the west of the country which subsequently took hold of the capital and the eastern city of Tokmok.

The geography of the protests is no coincidence, notes Dmitri Gorenburg, given that one of the main grievances against Bakiyev was his administration’s rampant cronyism. Where the previous government was seen as being dominated by northerners, this time around, “the south was largely quiescent and the largest protests occurred in the northern cities.”

By nightfall yesterday, opposition leaders, many of whom were just released from prison, declared an interim government under the auspices of Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister and ambassador to the United States. Otunbayeva is considered to be both a moderate and a pragmatic who should be able to find common ground between the country’s quarreling political factions. She fled to Russia in 2005 in response to protests that spring which brought Bakiyev to power.

The president has fled to the south but not left the country which may lead to an prolonged period of political instability. While the north appears under opposition control, the southern provinces have stayed quiet so far. “If Bakiyev refuses to step down,” warns Gorenburg, “and the south comes to his support, an extended period of dual power is possible, as there are relatively few links between the north and south and it would be difficult to move troops from one region to the other.”

A complicating factor is the American military presence in the country. The American air base at Manas, just outside the capital, is a key transit location for American forces and supplies bound for Afghanistan. Last month alone, over 50,000 coalition troops passed through Manas, according to American officials. The base was closed off on Wednesday with the intention to resume flights early this day.

Kyrgyzstan, previously very much dependent on Soviet support, is also still an ally of Russia’s and part of the Eurasian Economic Community (or EurAsEC) which Moscow promotes in order to counter China’s growing economic predominance within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The country is rich in mineral resources but has negligible petroleum and natural gas reserves. Among its mineral reserves are substantial deposits of antimony, coal, gold, uranium and other valuable metals. Metallurgy is an important industry but on the whole, the Kyrgyz economy has been stagnant for many years.