Chaos in Kyrgyzstan
with protests turning violent and President Kurmanbek Bakiyev
reportedly having fled the capital, has taken the media world a bit by
surprise. Bloggers and readers are frantically searching for
information, throwing up links to the precious few people offering informed analysis. So what's going
on? We have tried to round up the best that's out there.
- Twin Causes: Energy Costs, Corruption Newsweek's Katie Paul
writes that "on the surface, the protests were prompted by state-mandated hikes in the price of heating
and electricity," while the underlying issues involve charges of "authoritarianism and corruption" in the current regime. Harper's magazine's Scott Horton, by contrast, calls the economic matters secondary and the corruption "the more immediate precipitant."
the U.S. Hasn't Helped The New York Times' Clifford Levy calls this a
"potential embarrassment," considering the Obama administration's
"courting" of President Baikyev "in an ultimately successful attempt
to reverse his decision to close [an American air base]." Scott Horton at Harper's expands on this theme:
unrest in Kyrgyzstan is among other things a test for the short-term,
and probably short-sighted, policies behind the U.S./NATO support
arrangements in Kyrgyzstan. The United States has curried favor with
powerful political figures intent on rent seeking. What happens when
those figures buckle and fold in the face of public unrest? The U.S.
proclivity for “sweet deals” with those in power will complicate things
in time of transition.
- Why You Should Care: the U.S. Air Base "If your reaction," writes Desert Storm vet James Joyner,
echoing Levy's point, "is, 'Who the hell cares about Kyrgyzstan?'
recall that Manus Air Base is the key transit point for US and NATO
resupply in Afghanistan."
- Don't Worry About the Air Base Anders Åslund,
senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for Intenrational Economics,
brushes aside worries in the American media. "This is very much on a
pecuniary basis," he explains: "the US pays a substantial amount to
hold the airbase." He thinks the country will continue to be happy to
host it, "regardless of regime." He also thinks it's highly likely
Bakiyev will flee the country.
- Keep an Eye Out for Russia and China? Åslund also says that "the main thing in Kyrgysztan is gold and electricity," and Newsweek's Katie Paul takes a paragraph to explore the geopolitics around these resources: "China
has been making overtures to Kyrgyzstan and other countries in Central
Asia, eying the bounty of energy resources underneath their soils and
seeking to move them away from their historic Russian orbit." Russia is
preoccupied with the financial crisis, but in any event seems
uninterested in helping President Bakiyev. "How does this play out now that opposition leaders are the ones in control? Your move, China."
- Does This Have to Do With Ethnicity? "Bakiev," notes Sean Paul Kelley--a
onetime traveler in the region--at The Agonist, "is from the Ferghana
lowlands and the upland/lowland divide informs a great deal of Kyrgyz
politics." He says he'd "like to see more on the tribal and ethnic
divide in Kyrgyz politics," as this is something his Kyrgyz friends
tell him plenty about but about which there is scant information over
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