Russian Policies Fueled Unrest in Kyrgyzstan

Monday, 12 Apr 2010 10:01 AM

 

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BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN - Less than a month before the violent protests that toppled the government of Kyrgyzstan last week, Russian television stations broadcast scathing reports portraying President Kurmanbek Bakiyev as a repugnant dictator whose family was stealing billions of dollars from this impoverished nation.

The media campaign, along with punishing economic measures adopted by the Kremlin, played a critical role in fanning public anger against Bakiyev and bringing people into the streets for the demonstrations that forced him to flee the capital Wednesday, according to protest leaders, local journalists and analysts.

"Even without Russia, this would have happened sooner or later, but . . . I think the Russian factor was decisive," said Omurbek Tekebayev, a former opposition leader who is now the No. 2 figure in the government.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has denied that Moscow played any role in the uprising, and leaders of the movement to oust Bakiyev insist they received only moral support. But the Kremlin had made no secret of its growing displeasure with Bakiyev, and over the past few months it steadily ratcheted up the pressure on his government while reaching out to the opposition.

The strategy was a sharp departure from Russia's traditional support for autocratic leaders in its neighborhood. It paid off quickly and dramatically, and it appears to have delivered the Kremlin a rare foreign policy victory.

Not only has Moscow served notice on other wayward autocrats in its back yard -- many of whom also govern Russian-speaking populations that watch Russian television -- it also appears to have gained a greater say over the future of the U.S. air base here, which is critical to supplying the NATO military surge in Afghanistan.

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