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Putin Punishes Kyrgyzstan For Helping US

From EurasiaNet:

KYRGYZSTAN: IS PUTIN PUNISHING BAKIYEV?

David Trilling and Chinghiz Umetov, 4/06/10

As President Kurmanbek Bakiyev confronts a political crisis in Kyrgyzstan, he is not getting any help from Moscow. If anything, the Kremlin appears intent on turning up the heat on the embattled Kyrgyz leader.

Gasoline and diesel prices are now set to rise sharply in Kyrgyzstan after Moscow suddenly slapped new customs duties on refined petroleum products being exported to the Central Asian nation. Prices for refined products could rise as much as 30 percent, stoking fears that inflation might further destabilize the already troubled Kyrgyz economy.

On April 1, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin terminated the preferred customs duties that Kyrgyzstan, as a member of the Eurasian Economic Community (the EurAsEC), had been receiving on Moscow’s gasoline and diesel exports

Many political experts in Bishkek believe Moscow is punishing Bakiyev for his administration’s failure to evict American forces from the Manas air base, outside of Bishkek. In what most observers saw as a quid pro quo, Moscow promised a $2.15 billion aid package in February 2009 on the same day Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev pledged to close the base. The Americans, however, remain at Manas.

On April 6, a mass protest that turned violent in the provincial capital of Talas, northwest of Bishkek, appeared to usher in a general political crisis in Kyrgyzstan. The demonstration was apparently triggered by popular discontent over price hikes for heating and electricity. The inflationary threat posed by the new Russian duties certainly stands to increase the degree of difficulty for the Bakiyev administration as it strives to contain the unrest.

"This [the new export duties] is a special decision by Russia. It is one of the steps for punishing Kyrgyzstan for disobedience in the geopolitical arena" said Zamir Osorov, an investigative journalist with the MSN newspaper in Bishkek. "This will be very unpleasant for Kyrgyzstan."

Political analyst Alexander Knyazev, an expert at the Bishkek branch of the CIS Institute, suggested that the Kremlin could be planning additional retaliatory steps. "This [the duties] is connected both with the work of the Customs Union and the further deterioration of Kyrgyz-Russian relations, and this is only the beginning," Knyazev told EurasiaNet.org.

The increase "will seriously affect Bakiyev’s position. The protest mood based on social-economic reasons is strong and is increasing among ordinary people, and the expected rise [in prices] of basic commodities and products will heighten the anti-Bakiyev mood," Knyazev added.

Bazarbai Mambetov, president of the Oil Traders Association of Kyrgyzstan, told EurasiaNet.org that oil shipments from Russia to Kyrgyzstan were suspended on April 1. The next day, Russian authorities instituted duties of $193.5 per ton for gasoline and diesel fuel exported to Kyrgyzstan, the AKIpress news service reported on April 5. That could translate into a price hike of almost 30 percent and a corresponding jump in inflation, predicted Sergey Ponomarev, the executive director of the Association of Markets, Trade and Services Sectors in Kyrgyzstan, the RIA Novosti reported…

Aza Mihranain, an economics professor at the Kyrgyz Russian Slavic University in Bishkek, suggested that the fuel duties will take a considerable toll on Kyrgyz citizens. "This will affect Kyrgyzstan since the introduction of tariffs on oil products will affect transport costs, which will generate" inflationary pressure, she told EuasiaNet.org. "This is only the beginning . . . Consumers will pay for this."

Nervous drivers in Bishkek are already reporting that the price of gas is rising. "All drivers worry the price will go up 25 percent," said a taxi driver in Bishkek. "My father uses 100 liters a day to drive his tractor during spring planting; what will he do?" In Osh, the gas price rose 3 percent overnight April 5-6.

And here is a little more back story on the recent activities of our good friends the Russians, via the Eurasia Daily Monitor:

Russian Mass Media Attack Bakiyev

By: Erica Marat

April 1, 2010

In the past two weeks, the Russian media has fiercely criticized the Kyrgyz President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s, regime. Newspapers and TV programs have sought to reveal the president’s corruption and nepotism, with some newspapers alleging the regime’s involvement in the killing of journalist Gennady Pavluk last December. The role of the president’s son, Maksim, in corruption was also scrutinized (www.pravda.ru, March 29)

This is the first time the Russian media has ever directly attacked the incumbent leader (www.ntv.ru, March 27). Even after Bakiyev’s about-face on the US base at Manas last year, the mainstream Russian media abstained from any criticism. The media’s tone is therefore indicative of the fact that the Kremlin disapproves of Bakiyev’s style of leadership, while Kyrgyz-Russian relations may have reached a low point.

The sudden increase in criticism also demonstrates how the Kremlin uses the national mass media to express its frustration with Bakiyev. Previously, Russian media outlets were galvanized to provide filtered reporting of issues relating to developments in Georgia, Ukraine, and other countries deemed as important to Russian foreign policy.

In fact, a few years ago, Bishkek also experienced how this powerful tool can impact on public opinion within the country. Following the fatal shooting of a Kyrgyz truck driver at the US base in December 2006, Russian media, based both in Kyrgyzstan and Russia, used the incident to fuel anti-US sentiment amongst the Kyrgyz public. The killing of the driver became a central theme in such reporting, about the looming “Western hegemony” over Kyrgyzstan. Since then, anti-Western and anti-US sentiments have increased in Kyrgyzstan. Russian media is also known for its ability to change public opinion inside Russia.

Earlier this week, the Kyrgyz foreign ministry forwarded a special note to Moscow expressing concern over the increase in negative reporting about Kyrgyzstan by state and non-state linked Russian media (www.lenta.ru, March 29). Indeed, media outlets loyal to the Kremlin, such as Izvestiya and NTV, castigated the Bakiyev regime. Online publications, known for their more independent work, among them Gazeta.ru and Ekho Moskvy, were also equally critical. Notably, little criticism was voiced against the work of the government or Kyrgyzstan’s opposition forces.

Meanwhile, concerns are mounting that the Bakiyev regime is increasingly reliant upon US support to increase its domestic power. Maksim Bakiyev will visit Washington next week to promote trade relations between the US and Kyrgyzstan. For a number of Kyrgyz activists, Maksim’s visit serves as a clear sign of US favor towards Bakiyev’s presidency and as a quid pro quo for his agreement to retain the Manas base.

Russian media attacks against Bakiyev intensified following the latest announcement that the US government will help Kyrgyzstan construct a new anti-terrorist training center in the Batken region (EDM, March 11). This news broke at a time when the status of a prospective Russian airbase in southern Kyrgyzstan is growing increasingly unclear. Little progress has been made since Moscow announced last year that it will station a second airbase under the aegis of the Collective Security Organization (CSTO).

On March 29, CSTO Secretary-General, Nikolai Bordyuzha, stated that Russia and Kyrgyzstan are continuing to closely collaborate. He also mentioned that he saw no increase in negative reporting in the Russian media. “Sometimes there are sharp criticisms that defy common sense and do not represent reality. But, this does not mean that relations between Russia and Kyrgyzstan are cooling: I can confirm that officially”, explained Bordyuzha (www.regnum.ru, March 31).

Criticism of Bakiyev coincided with his pro-governmental gatherings to commemorate the Tulip revolution’s fifth anniversary on March 24. This week, however, the media’s attention has been diverted towards the recent bombings in Moscow and Dagestan. It remains to be seen if the trend in Russian reporting will persist. Kyrgyz opposition forces certainly hope so. Potentially Russian TV channels and newspapers have a far greater propensity to mobilize Kyrgyz crowds against Bakiyev’s authoritarian regime compared with Western media broadcasting in Kyrgyzstan.

In sum, it looks like as is their wont the Russians have once again created an opposition front in an adjoining and supposedly independent country. (Cf. Ukraine, Georgia — Afghanistan…)

And have now they have effectively overthrown Kyrgyzstan’s legitimate government to punish them for being too friendly to the United States and too cooperative in the war on terror.

This is what ‘reset relations’ with the Soviet Union Russia looks like.

This is the new cooperation that Mr. Obama so glowingly speaks about.

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, April 8th, 2010. Comments are currently closed.

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