Thursday, August 03, 2006

Does Kyrgyzstan need to choose between the US and Russia?

When a broad coalition of politicians, civil society actors, and others almost accidently deposed Askar Akayev in March 2005, the rallying call was democracy and increased liberalism. Since that time, it has been a difficult road for the "revolutionaries" who took over the helm in Kyrgyzstan. The west has shown interest in helping the struggling democracy develop, but western powers do not seem to be forthcoming with serious money. Actual reforms are slow, and organized crime has moved into the forefront of politics. Unlike in Georgia and Ukraine, Russia surprisingly has been the most forthcoming of allies to the new leadership. The result is that there seems to be a growing movement within the Kyrgyzstan leadership against the west. This was most obvious during the prolonged negotiations on the continuation of the Manas airbase, but it has come to a head more recently with an exchange of diplomatic expulsions.

According to 24.kg, two American diplomats were sent out of Kyrgyzstan July 11 of this year under the request of the Kyrgyz Government, which alleged that the two were inappropriately interfering in the internal affairs of the Kyrgyz state. The same source suggests that the US government took retailiatory measures and expelled two Kyrgyz diplomats from the U.S. last week. The reasons for this sudden turn of events are not clear, but it suggests that there is a growing rift between Kyrgyzstan and the US, which does not seem to be in the interest of either country. 24.kg also reports that US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher will be visiting Kyrgyzstan later this week. If this is true, one would assume that the changes in US-Kyrgyzstan relations will likely be discussed.

If the Kyrgyzstani internet readers' comments to the news that the Kyrgyzstan Government had expelled two US diplomats from the country are indicitive of the feelings of people in the country, many Kyrgyz consider the cooling of relations between the US and Kyrgyzstan to be part of a warming to Russia. If a country like Kyrgyzstan needs to choose between the US and Russia in its foreign policy, the results for the country could be very unfortunate. Rather than being able to enjoy the good will and alliances of various power centers, being reliant on only one is likely to lead to dependancy. Is this indication of difficult times to come in the tri-relations between the US, Russia, and all of the Central Asian states? Have the years of speculation about the "new great game" in Central Asia finally begun to correspond to reality?

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