Kyrgyz President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, is continuing to centralize control over military and security structures to strengthen the protection of his regime. Last year, he disbanded the Security Council and National Guard and appointed his cronies, including his own brother and son, to head key security structures. Recently, he announced that he will create a new “elite” security structure, “Arstan,” that will protect top government officials –placed under direct presidential control (www.azattyk.kg, February 19). “Arstan” is likely to become the president’s family bodyguard and a guarantor of an uncomplicated future transition of power.
The new structure will be separate from all other military institutions. Aside from protecting Bakiyev from direct pressure by competing forces, the new force will have the capacity to act as an offensive institution against the regime’s opponents. According to local analysts, Bakiyev has created the structure with the idea that it would prevent any attempt at regime change, similar to the removal of former president Askar Akayev five years ago (www.azattyk.kg, February 19). It remains to be seen how autonomous and powerful “Arstan” will become relative to other security structures, and whether it will intervene in the lives of ordinary citizens.
Furthermore, the new security structure will protect the president from other branches of the military and security turning against the regime. The Kyrgyz military might choose not to follow Bakiyev’s orders, should mass demonstrations take place against the regime. There is also the risk that internal division within military circles will be caused by split loyalties towards the regime and opposition leaders. In order to prevent autonomous behavior among the military, Bakiyev must balance fostering loyalty to the regime among the military against the prevention of intra-military and intra-ethnic splits.
Unlike Akayev, who fled Kyrgyzstan through the Russian air-base in Kant five years ago as a result of widespread demonstrations, Bakiyev shows no sign that he would rely on Russian support during a crisis. Rumors in Bishkek suggest that the Russian airbase in Kant will soon downsize its personnel, while Russia is reconsidering its plan to open a second base in Osh.
Meanwhile, mass protests against the government’s increase of electricity tariffs are taking place in Naryn (www.akipress.kg, February 24). According to government reports, the number of people gathered does not exceed 300, but opposition forces have claimed there are as many as 1,600. The crowds in Naryn promised to protest for ten more days. Although the Kyrgyz opposition has been considerably weakened by Bakiyev’s direct attack against its leaders, and is unable to mobilize public support across the country into action against the regime, the Naryn protests nevertheless alarmed the government. The crowds gathered despite Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov’s promise to cancel further tariff hikes in the future. While tariff increases are necessary for Kyrgyzstan’s energy sector to reform, the recent privatization of the largest energy company “Severoelektro” has angered many since the ruling regime benefits from such revenue.
Structures similar to “Arstan” also exist in all neighboring Central Asian states, and were created by their presidents. In Tajikistan and Turkmenistan such Special Forces consist of the closest presidential allies from their native regions. In Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov’s personal security is reportedly represented by non-Uzbeks (www.vpk-news.ru, December 1, 2009). During his reign, Akayev, established a personal guard, but that was considerably weaker compared to the structure Bakiyev is building.
Similar to its neighbors, Kyrgyzstan’s security sector in general is now geared toward primarily protecting presidential power and has little consideration for national security. Should there be an outbreak of insurgency or a natural disaster, the military and para-military forces will fail to respond professionally. Bakiyev’s regime shows no interest in participating in wider anti-terrorist efforts apart from hosting the US military base.
For this minor effort, the Kyrgyz government is often acknowledged as an important partner at official meetings with US representatives. Most recently, during his press conference in Astana US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, expressed thanks to the Kyrgyz government for hosting the US transit base (www.24.kg, February 24). The increasing politicization of the domestic military structures under Bakiyev’s rule receives little attention from international actors.