During the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s (CSTO) informal summit on May 7 in Moscow, member states – Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – expressed concern over the ongoing instability in Kyrgyzstan. In the joint statement CSTO members agreed that the regime change in Kyrgyzstan last month was unconstitutional and that its provisional government must take action to prevent further destabilization (www.dkb.gov.ru, May 8).
Meanwhile, Belarusian President, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, attended the summit carrying a letter from the former Kyrgyz President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, in which the ousted leader urged the CSTO to send its troops to Kyrgyzstan and help him restore power. Almost one month ago Lukashenka provided political asylum to Bakiyev in Belarus.
The head of the Kyrgyz provisional government, Roza Otunbayeva, avoided the summit, but attended the May 9 Victory Day parade in Moscow commemorating the end of World War II. During her visit to Moscow, Otunbayeva met with the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, and Kazakhstan’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev. She claims that the leaders expressed their support towards her government (www.akipress.kg, May 11).
Yet, despite the seeming support by Russia and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan’s new government remains ever more dependent on its neighbors. CSTO members avoided discussing the possibility of deploying a military contingent to Kyrgyzstan (www.vremya.ru, May 12). However, no member pressured Lukashenka to extradite Bakiyev or condemn Belarus for hosting the former Kyrgyz president.
“It looks like Bakiyev will, for a long time, remain Russia’s instrument to control Kyrgyzstan’s new government,” one member of the provisional government told Jamestown. He drew parallels with another former Kyrgyz President, Askar Akayev, who, after five years of silence reinvented himself as a US critic following the April 7 regime change. Akayev also expressed his desire to return to Kyrgyzstan from Moscow where he has lived since March 2005. Both Akayev and Bakiyev, as well as members of their families, can influence developments in Kyrgyzstan, given that the current government still needs to gain legitimacy.
Furthermore, despite earlier promises Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan continue to keep their borders with Kyrgyzstan closed. Astana has been taking credit for assisting Kyrgyzstan in sustaining stability by transporting Bakiyev out of the country to Belarus. The Kazakh government also promised to assist Bishkek with more humanitarian aid. Nonetheless, the sealed border remains Astana’s strongest instrument to control Kyrgyzstan’s new government, increasing Bishkek’s dependence upon the Kazakh leadership. Kyrgyz businesses are suffering as a result of Astana’s border policy, further contributing to frustration among locals.
In addition to external challenges, the provisional government’s domestic problems are also mounting. Rumors suggest that more protests will spread on May 17, 40 days after the change of regime. The former head of the Interior Ministry, Felix Kulov, has warned that the provisional government will use weapons to disperse crowds should there be calls for another regime change.
It still remains unclear who was behind organizing the unrest in the outskirts of Bishkek on April 19 that resulted in five deaths. On May 12, supporters of the former Mayor of Bishkek, Nariman Tuleev, gathered to protest against the provisional government’s cadre policies (www.akipress.kg, May 12). According to reports circulating in Kyrgyz social networks, Tuleev offered food and money to those willing to gather. A similar trend of “pay-per-protest” politics spread rapidly after the March 2005 regime change. Given that Otunbayeva’s government enjoys less support and trust among the general public compared to the almost unanimous support for Bakiyev’s leadership during his first months in power, street protests both sponsored and spontaneous might once again become Kyrgyzstan’s daily reality.
Meanwhile, earlier this week the interim Prosecutor-General, Azimbek Beknazarov, said that eight snipers who allegedly shot at protestors on April 7 had been arrested. A few more members of Bakiyev’s government and loyal supporters were called to testify, including the former Prime Minister, Igor Chudinov, and the head of the Communist Party, Iskhak Masaliev (www.24.kg, May 12). The prosecutor-general also sent a request to the Latvian government to arrest Bakiyev’s son, Maksim Bakiyev.
Nevertheless, as experts in Kyrgyzstan argue, Kyrgyz courts still remain heavily dependent upon the provisional government and lack recognition by the international community. Even if Maksim Bakiyev is arrested, he can delay his extradition by claiming that he would face an unfair trial in his home country. Bakiyev’s brother, Zhanysh, and his son, Marat, are reportedly still in Kyrgyzstan but constantly changing their location and crossing the borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government has claimed that it enjoys widespread support among the international community. However, as Lukashenka’s backing of Bakiyev is silently supported by the CSTO members and Kazakhstan keeps its border closed, Kyrgyzstan’s dependence upon Moscow and Astana continues to deepen.