Two days after the main opposition groups in Kyrgyzstan claimed to have overthrown the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, control over the impoverished country remains in dispute.
Opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva, head of the self-proclaimed provisional government, said Bakiyev is organizing resistance in the southern city of Jalalabad. Otunbayeva and her backers control a number of government buildings in the capital, Bishkek, and other provincial cities. The opposition claims to have won the backing of most of the army and police.
The criminality of the Bakiyev regime was demonstrated in its massacre of protesters who marched on the presidential headquarters in Bishkek on Wednesday. Riot police fired point blank into thousands of demonstrators, mostly workers, killing at least 74 and injuring over 400 others.
The mass protest in the capital followed similar demonstrations in outlying cities earlier in the week. A major spur to the eruption of popular rage at the Bakiyev government was the regime’s imposition of sharp increases in the prices of basic commodities. The government increased the price of water and gas twofold, at a time when most workers and the rural poor have been hit hard by the global recession.
Many Kyrgyz families rely on remittances from relatives working abroad, especially in Russia. However, as jobs have been cut these itinerant workers have been among the first to be laid off.
Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries in the region, with a per capita gross domestic product one-ninth that of neighbouring Kazakhstan. Average daily wages are around $5.
The opposition leaders who are claiming to head a new “people’s government” do not represent the Kyrgyz masses. For the most part, they are former officials in the regimes of Bakiyev or his predecessor, Askar Akayev. The latter was overthrown in the 2005 US-backed “Tulip Revolution,” which installed Bakiyev in power.
As in the other countries that had Washington-backed “colour revolutions”—Georgia and Ukraine—the supposedly democratic leader supported by the US and other Western powers continued the anti-democratic methods of the ousted regime and intensified the economic attacks on the working population.
The Obama administration bears major political responsibility for Bakiyev’s massacre of workers on Wednesday. The popular movement against the American-backed despot has exposed the utter hypocrisy of US foreign policy and the predatory aims that underlie the war in Afghanistan.
A major reason for US support for Bakiyev has been his willingness, despite popular opposition, to allow the US military to continue using the Manas base near Bishkek as the central staging ground for moving US and NATO troops into Afghanistan and supplying the counterinsurgency operation.
US imperialism, under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has supported the Bakiyev administration despite its well-known record of human rights abuses. The regime has been internationally condemned for the detention, intimidation and killing of its political opponents.
On a recent trip to the country, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was forced to acknowledge that Kyrgyzstan failed to meet basic international standards of democratic rights, especially with regard to freedom of the media. Dozens of journalists who have voiced criticism of Bakiyev and his cronies have been assaulted or killed over the past five years, while several independent media outlets have been censored or closed down.
Last year, Bakiyev organized a presidential election that was widely seen, in Kyrgyzstan and by international election monitors, as rigged. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe election monitors declared that the Kyrgyz vote “fell short of key standards” and the Bakiyev government had employed “ballot stuffing,” “multiple voting,” and physical threats against monitors.
Washington remained virtually silent on the election fraud. Indeed, Obama subsequently praised Bakiyev.
The blatantly fraudulent 2009 vote in Kyrgyzstan took place just weeks after the Iranian presidential election was condemned by Washington—without any substantive evidence—as rigged. The difference in Washington’s attitude to the two elections was not based on any objective appraisal of the electoral standards in either country. The Bakiyev regime was an ally in Washington’s occupation of Afghanistan, and so could rig the vote as it wished, while the government in Tehran is a prime target for US aggression and “regime change.”
The explosive events in Kyrgyzstan have evidently taken Washington by surprise. Bakiyev’s son, Maksim Bakiyev, was scheduled to meet with administration officials in Washington on Thursday, but the meeting has been postponed. The elder Bakiyev named his son to head the Central Agency on Development, Investment, and Innovation last October.
The US military also announced that it had suspended flights in and out of the Manas base.
At the same time, the head of the provisional government, Roza Otunbayeva, has longstanding and close ties to the US. A former high official under Akayev, she was the first ambassador to the US from Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A key leader of the Tulip Revolution, Otunbayeva served briefly as foreign minister under Bakiyev.
Although some opposition leaders have called for the closure of the US military’s Manas base, Otunbayeva has hastened to reassure Washington, declaring that the provisional government will maintain the status quo.
Washington has reacted cautiously to the events in Kyrgyzstan, publicly calling for “restraint” from both the government and opposition sides. The US will seek to pressure whichever political formation consolidates power to ensure the continuation of US military operations at the Manas base.
The threat of civil war in Kyrgyzstan has been heightened by the nepotism of the Bakiyev regime, which has used state power to line the pockets of Bakiyev’s sons and brothers at the expense of rival factions of the local elite. The president’s family has monopolized “practically all the country’s resources,” causing friction between pro-government clans from the south of the country and groups from the traditionally more developed northern regions, according to Andrey Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Centre.
Ryabov also stated, “Russia, the US, China and the European Union are interested in keeping political stability in the country and prevent it from falling into chaos that may give an opening to Islamic radicalism in the south.”
The US elite also fears that other despotic allies in the region-—including the puppet regime of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan—could be threatened by popular uprisings. The scale and anger of the protests by the country’s impoverished masses pose a threat to all sections of the local elite and to the major powers.
Notwithstanding their conflicting geo-political and economic interests in Kyrgyzstan, Moscow and Beijing, like Washington, view any sign of popular revolt with fear and hostility. The Stalinist regime in China, which shares a border with Kyrgyzstan, recently violently suppressed expressions of opposition in its western province of Xianjing, while the Russian elite is fighting a low-level but brutal war against a growing insurgency in its Muslim-majority North Caucasus region.
In a move that indicates its concerns about a further deterioration of the security situation in the country, Moscow has recognized Otunbayeva as the head of a “government of national confidence.” Moscow is expected to pressure Bakiyev into entering negotiations leading to his resignation.
“The worst [outcome] for the US, Russia and China is instability and clan warfare,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs. “If Bakiyev tries to get support in the south, that’s the path to civil war.”
Seeking to shore up its position, Russia on Thursday sent an additional 150 paratroopers to its air base in Kyrgyzstan. Russian state television reported that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told Otunbayeva yesterday that the Kremlin was ready to provide Kyrgyzstan with “humanitarian aid.”
The Russian elite wants to limit the role of US imperialism in Central Asia, a region traditionally within Moscow’s sphere. However, the primary aim of Moscow, as well as its rivals in Washington and Beijing, is to ensure that the mass movement of workers and poor in Kyrgyzstan against the Bakiyev regime is brought rapidly under control.
The major powers will all seek to impose their will on whatever new government emerges, at the expense of their international rivals and the Kyrgyz masses.