13 April 2010

Russian involvement in Kyrgyzstan

In Slim's post yesterday, he mentioned that there are conspiracy theories circulating about Russia's support for the opposition movement in Kyrgyzstan. According to the Washington Post, those theories are not without justification. Within the past year Russia has canceled a $2 billion aid package to Kyrgyzstan, cut oil subsidies, and aired very negative portrayals of Bakiyev during the anniversary of the Tulip Revolution.

When I first heard rumors about a Russian sponsored revolution, I dismissed the whole idea. Bakiyev had been drifting away from Moscow's orbit for a quite a while, but the risks of overthrowing him far exceeded the benefits. Not only would a revolution agitate Russia's Kyrgyz migrants, but if it failed then everyone would know that Russia was behind it. Aside from the Kant airbase, Kyrgyzstan isn't very critical to Russia's security or economy, and even if the opposition secured its hold on the Kyrgyz government there was no reason for Moscow to believe that it would be any more cooperative than the previous regime. Bakiyev was supposed to kick the Americans out of the airbase at Manas after the Tulip revolution, but that didn't happen. Why would Moscow risk a revolution when the outcomes are so unpredictable?

I still do not believe Russia orchestrated the revolution. What is more likely is that the Kremlin was trying to ratchet up pressure on Bakiyev's regime by choking off gasoline exports and foreign aid. The outbreak of revolution was a possibility but not an intention. This makes more sense than assuming Russia was hoping that its southern neighbor would collapse (most countries don't want their neighbors to descend into anarchy).

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