Did Russia Have a Hand in Kyrgyzstan?

Despite their claims to neutrality while the people of Kyrgyzstan were rebelling against Kurmanbek Bakiyev, it would have been hard to believe that Putin and Medvedev didn’t have some kind of influence over the unfolding of the country’s politics. Now a new story in the Washington Post details nicely how Russian economic pressure ultimately contributed to Bakiyev’s ouster.

Angered by Bakiev’s acceptance of Obama’s proposal to triple the rent payments on the U.S. air base in the country, the Russian government unleashed a an attack on him through the state media. But the real damage was done by way of economic policy:

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.”

Much remains to be seen about the country’s future. More than a week after the rebellion, what has become apparent is that this was not the culmination of a grassroots peoples’ movement but an outburst of suppressed anger and indignation at the corrupt leadership of the country. With the opposition party’s seamless transition into power, the institutional structure of the country has remained the same and popular anger seems to have quelled for the time being. Have the people of Kyrgyzstan by rebelling have played right into the hands of the country’s political elite?

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