Page 2 of 2   <      

Russia is said to have fueled unrest in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan's deposed president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, left, looks on as supporters deliver speeches in the courtyard of his family home.
Kyrgyzstan's deposed president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, left, looks on as supporters deliver speeches in the courtyard of his family home. (Sergei Grits/associated Press)

Much of the coverage focused on Bakiyev's son, Maksim, whom he appointed to lead an economic development agency and who had become a lightning rod for opposition charges of nepotism and embezzlement.

In addition to the reversal on the U.S. base, analysts said, the Kremlin turned against Bakiyev because he tried to bring China into a Russian deal to build a hydroelectric dam and to extract rent from Moscow for a Russian air base in Kyrgyzstan. Russian leaders were also upset that Bakiyev's family was buying gasoline from Russia at special prices and selling it to the air base, a scheme worth as much as $80 million per year, Russian media reported.

Alexander Knyazev, a political analyst here with ties to a Moscow think tank, said people began to worry that the Kremlim might expel the estimated 1 million Kyrgyz migrants who work in Russia and send money home to their families. The remittances account for as much as a third of the Kyrgyz economy and at least half of the government's budget, he said.

"Bakiyev was spoiling the relationship, and people saw it," he said. "That's how this protest mood got started."

After the opposition announced plans for nationwide protests, Putin provided a final spark by signing a decree March 29 eliminating subsidies on gasoline exports to Kyrgyzstan and other former Soviet republics that had not joined a new customs union.

When the tariffs kicked in April 1, Russian fuel shipments to Kyrgyzstan were suspended, said Bazarbai Mambetov, president of a Kyrgyz oil traders association. Within days, gas prices in Bishkek began to climb, enraging residents already angry about sharp increases in utility fees.

As the Kremlin leaned on Bakiyev, it also consulted the opposition, hosting its leaders on visits to Moscow, including in the days before the protests. On the eve of the demonstrations, the Kyrgyz prime minister accused one, Temir Sariev, of telling police that he had met with Putin and had won his support for efforts to overthrow Bakiyev.

Sariev, now the interim finance minister, said he never met Putin or told police any such thing. "But I did meet privately with friends," he acknowledged with a smile. "We did discuss the situation in Kyrgyzstan."

Tekebayev, second in command of the interim administration, said Russia's actions were important because they signaled to government officials that Bakiyev could not stay in office, undermining his support in key ministries and regions when the opposition seized control.

"The Russians used to work only with those in power in the former Soviet Union," he added. "But in the last year, they started developing relations with the opposition, like the Americans and Europeans. I think, for the first time, this approach was a success for them."

<       2

© 2010 The Washington Post Company