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Russia Backs Kyrgyz President

Kyrgyzstan's traditional ally pledges assistance amid unrest which local officials claim has been provoked by groups funded by Western agencies.
By Kubat Otorbaev

A senior Russian security official last week backed the Kyrgyz president's handling of widespread protests, in what is seen as an attempt to bolster ties at a time of growing US influence in the region.

"Russia cannot just look on as events unfold in Kyrgyzstan. We will help in any way we can to stabilise the situation," Russian security council secretary Vladimir Rushailo told a press conference in Bishkek on June 13.

The Russian official was in Kyrgyzstan to discuss issues of military, political and economic security and stability in Central Asia.

State press agency Kabar also quoted him as saying, "Russia supports the policies of President Askar Akaev in stabilising the internal political situation in the republic in connection with the incidents in Aksy."

This southern region has been the focus of popular unrest that spiraled after police shot six protesters in March. The resulting uproar and a government inquiry led to the prime minister standing down. Demonstrations have, however, continued with calls for Akaev's resignation.

"Russian (intelligence) services know the names of the people who organised the disturbances in the Aksy region," Kabar reported Rushailo saying.

Such statements by the representative of a key Russian decision-making body are widely perceived as an attempt to shore up Moscow's waning influence in the former Soviet state, by scaring the local opposition and the country's new found "American friends".

Indeed, opposition parliamentary deputy Tursunbai Bakir-uulu links this tough talk directly to America leasing a Kyrgyz airbase last year, seen by many as the first step to growing US influence in the region. Kyrgyzstan, he says, has now become an arena for wrangling between superpowers - a situation that's not to the republic's benefit.

"Russia, for example, wants, just as it did in the past, to command us," he told IWPR. "It turns out that to throw the Americans out of their Manas air base, they need to link the Kyrgyzstan opposition with western grants and accuse them of infringing the constitution."

Another deputy, Adakhan Madumarov, has condemned Rushailo's statements as interference in the country's internal affairs.

"To speak for the Russian Federation that 'Russia supports Akaev in his fight with the opposition' shows, in my opinion, a lack of respect for the people of Kyrgyzstan," said Madumarov. "No state has the right to tell us how to live, especially when it concerns the relations between the president

and the opposition."

He said if Russia really does have a list of the people trying to destabilise the country it should furnish Kyrgyz authorities with such information. "It seems that on the territory of Kyrgyzstan, Russian special services work much more effectively than the officers of our own National Security Service," he added.

Madumarov has called for parliamentarians to write a letter to the State Duma chairman, Gennady Seleznyov, to clarify exactly what Rushailo meant.

Bishkek's presidential press officer Bolot Januzakov is, however, clear that the former superpower was not overstepping the mark. "I personally heard him [Rushailo] say on television that Russia will not interfere with the internal affairs of Kyrgyzstan, but as a strategic partner of the Republic of Kyrgyziya, it will provide all possible assistance in the fight with international terrorism."

The Kyrgyz president has consistently accused the opposition of organizing the demonstrations in the Aksy region and condemned protestors as "political extremists and a bunch of demagogues".

Media supporting the government have followed this line in recent weeks, accusing all dissidents of destabilising the country and alleging that opposition forces have been supported by western grant foundations.

Articles in the Erkin Too newspaper claimed the Kyrgyz opposition, supported by US finance, of undermining the constitution and maybe even setting in train a revolution.

"Our opposition turn their prayers and gazes to the West every other day, or rush there on their weary legs," said one piece in the newspaper by a sociologist under the pseudonym Erkin Muratov.

The Kyrgyz ministry of foreign affairs, however, denies that the government has been involved in a public relations campaign to discredit the opposition through the media. "The government of Kyrgyzstan is not the initiator of these publications and has no connection with them whatsoever,"

it declared in a press release.

At the same time, the ministry has appealed to international organizations and donor countries to provide aid to the Kyrgyz NGOs with what it delicately called, more care and forethought.

Many local experts see the Bishkek leadership as only too happy to accept assistance from Russia, if this will ensure its grip on power.

One officer from the Kyrgyz national security service, who does not want to be named, said that there are currently around ten "envoys" from the Russian Federation security service at work in the country.

At a meeting between Akaev and Russia's defense minister Sergei Ivanov in Bishkek on June 13, the issue of extending the time limit for Russian army installations here was resolved, with agreement that they would now remain in till 2006.

Moscow is also offering to provide military technology to Kyrgyzstan on preferential terms, along with weaponry and training for soldiers.

The current political turmoil in the country - arguably the greatest challange to the authorities since independence more than a decade ago - forced the Bishkek leadership to ask Russia for help in its confrontation with political opponents. But this help might backfire and make the whole situation even worse.

Kubat Otorbaev is an independent journalist

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