According to the results of opinion poll conducted by 24.kg news agency in Kyrgyzstan, majority of respondents (46 percent) see Russia as a genuine ally, while the United States scored less than 4 percent (www.24.kg , October 8). The United State earned the most (37 percent) as the main adversary, while Russia was given a mere 5 percent. The poll included 545 respondents with access to the Internet. Despite such a disapproval rating of the United State as a country, however, only 11 percent think that the government should raise the issue of the withdrawal of the U.S. military base from Manas Airport.
The U.S. image in Kyrgyzstan was considerably tarnished following the shooting of a Kyrgyz truck driver Aleksander Ivanov in December 2006 by U.S. serviceman Zackary Hatfield. Since then a group of activists, including Ivanov’s widow Marina Ivanova, several journalists, and NGO leaders have been active campaigning for the withdrawal of the U.S. base.
At one event on October 21, a small group named “Zhoomart” headed by Nurlan Motuyev, infamous for his aggressive and lawless behavior in the aftermath of the Tulip Revolution in March 2005, held a protest in central Bishkek. Zhoomart demanded the withdrawal of the U.S. military base. In addition to Manas, however, Motuyev denounced the Russian air base in Kant city. The activist burned a dummy of U.S. President George Bush and an improvised U.S. flag.
Motuyev was joined by Igor Trofimov, president of an NGO, the “Sergei of Radonezh and Manas Benevolent Fund,” that was formed specifically to deal with the question of the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan, organized crime, and religious extremism. In contrast to Motuyev, who in the past has tried violently to seize several economic sites in Kyrgyzstan, Trofimov is known as a somewhat more consistent activist able to provide an adequate analysis of political developments in the country. Motuyev is out on bail, charged with 14 criminal acts, including theft of coal from the Kara-Keche coal mine. Despite this, Motuyev still proposed his candidacy to run for Ombudsman last February.
According to former MP Mars Sariyev, by joining the protest “Motuyev has successfully neutralized Trofimov’s initiative,” hinting at the damaging impact Motuyev’s infamous reputation will have on Trofimov’s previous efforts (www.24.kg, October 21). Not least, both activists seemed to be pursuing different goals, since Motuyev called for the expulsion from Kyrgyzstan of both the Russia and U.S. military, which “harm the country in the same way.” Motuyev’s message also failed to resonate with the ethnic Russian Trofimov because of his appeal to Muslims to fight foreign presence in the country, shaming those who did not show up in the protest. His calls for action, however, were not supported by the Spiritual Administration of Muslims.
Meanwhile, Marina Ivanova and her lawyer Galina Skripkina are planning to appeal to the Constitutional Court to demand the withdrawal of the U.S. base. Ivanova has been actively pursuing her mission for the past two years. Previously, Trofimov tried to appeal to the Bishkek city court and to the Constitutional Court with a similar plea. Trofimov also declared on several occasions that he would stage mass demonstrations to demand the withdrawal of the U.S. military. Other than creating a fuss in public, however, Trofimov fell short of any results. He and his followers were even arrested for breaking regulations on mass demonstrations.
The near monopoly of the Russian mass media is partly to blame for the fact that Ivanov’s tragedy became a turning point in the public perception of the Manas base. Weeks after the Ivanov incident rumors were spread, mainly through Russian language media and websites, about the alleged intentions of the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan. Among them was the allegation that the U.S. planned to attack Iran from the Manas base. Motuyev referred to this tale in his protests, also accusing the United States of occupying Muslim-dominated Afghanistan and Iraq. Similar phobias have recently evolved around a possible repetition of the Georgian scenario in Kyrgyzstan, in which Western forces were said to be seeking to divide the country.
Protests like the one on October 21 have not influenced Kyrgyz government foreign policy in any way. But like similar initiatives before, this one did arouse public discussion around the issue, although this time with a tone of irony, thanks to Motuyev’s nonsensical calls for action.