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Central Asia Report: July 13, 2004

13 July 2004, Volume 4, Number 27

THE WEEK AT A GLANCE. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan were among nine CIS states that signed a Russian-initiated 8 July statement harshly critical of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE garnered brickbats from the signatories for allegedly politicized election monitoring and a fixation on human rights to the exclusion of security concerns. Also on the international front, George Soros revealed in a 5 July interview that he hopes to make Central Asia the new focus of efforts to promote democracy through his Open Society Institute network.

Kazakhstan's Agency for Regulating Natural Monopolies embarked on a restructuring, shedding Director Uraz Dzhandosov and gaining acting Director Bakytzhan Sagintaev. State atomic-industry company Kazatomprom announced plans to triple uranium production to 10,000 tons a year by 2010. A relatively quiet week ended with the appointment of Eleusin Sagindikov as governor of Aqtobe Oblast on 10 July.

Kyrgyzstan continued to sift through a spy scandal that broke on 2 July with reports of 10 high-ranking officials arrested for espionage. National Security Service (SNB) head Kalyk Imankulov clarified the situation an 8 July news conference, explaining that six people, including current and former officials, are under arrest for trafficking in classified materials. The key revelation concerned Kelsenbek Akimaliev, a former SNB official, who confessed on videotape to providing Legislative Assembly deputies with classified documents that went on to play a role in the ongoing scandal over the placement of listening devices in the offices of opposition parliamentarians. On 9 July, Alisher Abdimomunov, who allegedly received the documents from Akimaliev, held his own news conference. He disputed the SNB allegations and dismissed the spy scandal as a PR move intended to pressure parliament and cover up the security agency's own involvement in illegal activities.

Amendments to Tajikistan's election law sailed through the upper chamber of parliament amid continuing criticism from opposition parties, which renewed their calls for President Imomali Rakhmonov to veto the bill. Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Tajikistan spoke out at a news conference in Yekaterinburg against the introduction of visa requirements for Tajik travelers to Russia. The envoy argued that visas would harm relations between the two countries and do nothing to stem the flow of Afghan narcotics from Tajikistan to Russia.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov lambasted his country's Ministry of Trade and External Economic Ties at an 8 July cabinet meeting for failing to rise to the challenges of the market economy. At the same meeting, he singled out the Turkmen Consumers Union, which oversees trade in consumer goods, for praise and suggested merging the two structures.

Uzbekistan created a new structure of its own -- a Chamber of Commerce -- from the existing Chamber of Manufacturers and Entrepreneurs. It will be tasked with encouraging entrepreneurship, promoting Uzbek goods, and drawing in foreign investment. On 9 July, President Islam Karimov addressed an extraordinary session of the Samarkand Oblast Assembly of People's Deputies, taking the opportunity to pillory Governor Rustam Kholmuradov for myriad abuses. The session duly removed Kholmuradov, appointing in his place, at Karimov's suggestion, current Finance Minister Mamarizo Nurmuratov.

GEORGE SOROS: A THORN IN THEIR SIDE. A specter is haunting the corridors of post-Soviet power. But it's not the specter of communism. With Marxism safely consigned to the ash heap of history, ruling elites from Minsk to Bishkek today fret over a possible repetition of Georgia's "Rose Revolution." So when American financier and philanthropist George Soros told the "Los Angeles Times" on 5 July that his Open Society Institute network will now focus its efforts on fomenting democratic change on Central Asia, he is likely to have further disquieted the regional powers-that-be, who are in no hurry to go gently into the night.

The events that toppled Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in November 2003 and elevated 36-year-old Mikheil Saakashvili to the presidency evoked widely differing reactions. Most Western observers saw a wave of popular discontent with corruption and political chicanery that swept away a doddering regime in a bloodless convulsion reminiscent of Czechoslovakia's much-heralded Velvet Revolution, with the emergence of a young, energetic, Western-oriented reformer to seal the happy ending.

But to those with a commitment to the status quo within the borders of the former Soviet Union, events in Georgia came across as a cynical manipulation of media and the masses, a sly operation to unseat a ruling clique that had outlived its usefulness and install another more conducive to the behind-the-scenes architects of regime change and their geopolitical aims.

Official Russian and U.S. reactions to Georgia's "Rose Revolution" neatly underscored the division. Speaking in Tbilisi on 25 January, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell regaled the Georgian people with an optimistic interpretation of the events that had recently transpired in their country. According to a transcript of his remarks on the State Department's website, he said, "Whether it is leading a peaceful Rose Revolution, cleaning up a city park, organizing clothing drives for orphans and street children, or training the spotlight on corruption, you have taken responsibility for your country. You know that Georgia's future is in your hands and you are shaping it for the better."

Igor Ivanov, Russia's former foreign minister and now secretary of its Security Council, provided an entirely different view in comments quoted by RIA-Novosti on 30 June: "As for the change of leadership in Georgia, and later in Adjara, I'd say that this isn't a velvet revolution and it's not a rose revolution. This is a violent changeover of power.... We shouldn't applaud these kinds of changes in any country, if we're talking about democracy.... A changeover of authority 'through the street' cannot be considered a democratic method."

The consensus Western view emerges clearly in an admiring article about Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili that David Ignatius wrote for "The Washington Post" on 6 July. The article begins, "How do you make a peaceful democratic revolution?" Proceeding from this premise -- that events in Georgia constituted a peaceful democratic revolution -- the author asks Saakashvili how it was done, and receives commonsensical answers that hew to the initial hypothesis: "Burrow from within"; "Use nongovernmental organizations to help build a political base"; "Create a political movement that is modern, media-savvy, and well-connected in the West"; "Never show fear"; and "Cultivate your enemies." On the touchy matter of Western connections, Saakashvili acknowledges that the Kmara student movement, which played a key role in the November events, was "funded partly by contributions from billionaire George Soros's Open Society project." But Georgia's new president stresses: "Nobody can pay for a revolution. You can't buy the enthusiasm of the people." Ignatius takes this point at face value in a conclusion that speaks primarily to domestic U.S. politics: "The Bush administration talks about democratic change. But it's the Saakashvilis, armed with their homegrown how-to manuals, who actually make it happen."

The other consensus about the Rose Revolution focuses on George Soros's role and motivations, doesn't see anything democratic about the revolution, and would never describe the manual as "homegrown." Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the CIS Institute, told on 7 July, "No European standards of democracy presume the violent overthrow of presidents, which is precisely what happened in Georgia." He went on to debunk Soros's self-proclaimed role of inculcating democracy through the Open Society Institute. Zharikhin said, "Soros's practices show that he doesn't increase the amount of democracy in a country; he merely exchanges one set of authoritarian rulers for others who are obedient to him...."

And why would Soros do this? Ivan Tregubov wrote on 6 July for, "George Soros demonstrates a heightened concern for democracy, glasnost, and 'openness' in those countries where he has business interests...." Tregubov goes on to note, "Moreover, the financier's activities frequently overlap in remarkable fashion with the actions of the American authorities." Tregubov concludes that Soros, "like Trotskii, promotes a permanent revolution across the globe (if under a different flag and with his own money), while being careful not to forget either American interests or his own wallet." The more extreme proponents of this theory simply state that Soros acts as the handmaiden of U.S. intelligence in a worldwide battle for influence and control.

This latter, conspiratorial, view of Georgia's Rose Revolution and George Soros's hand in it has gained currency among ruling elites in Central Asia for several reasons. First, the Russian-language press, where this view has been widely disseminated, still serves as the main window on the world for local elites that were educated in Russian under Soviet rule.

Second, this particular interpretation is fully in keeping with a peculiar facet of the Soviet mentality, which continues to unite elites throughout the former Soviet Union -- that the beneficiaries of an event are its likely organizers, and that all control comes from above. On 11 April 1913, Vladimir Lenin wrote in "Pravda," "There is a Latin phrase: 'cui prodest,' or who stands to gain? When it is not immediately apparent which political or social groups, forces, and figures advocate particular proposals and measures, one should always ask, 'Who stands to gain?'" Thus, if the perceived beneficiary of regime change in Georgia is the United States -- and innumerable Russian accounts stress that this is the case -- one knows who stood behind the events. Moreover, the Soviet mentality does not admit the possibility that individuals and organizations make decisions for their own reasons -- everything must be a part of the central plan. An imagined Soviet equivalent of Soros's Open Society Institute would have received its marching orders in Moscow. Consequently, the handbook for the Rose Revolution could not possibly have been "homegrown."

Third, the conspiratorial interpretation of events in Georgia provided Central Asian ruling elites with a convenient explanation of events that were profoundly disturbing, for Georgia presented the first instance of a post-Soviet regime felled by forces it could not control. In the 28 November 2003 issue of "RFE/RL's Central Asia Report," Adam Albion vividly described the source of the unease that overtook Central Asian officialdom when Eduard Shevardnadze fell, and the reactions that the logic limned above produced:

"Central Asia's presidents must have been unnerved when Shevardnadze, the consummate political survivor, was bested by unarmed crowds whose leader, 35-year-old former Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili, brandished nothing more intimidating than a red rose. However, amid the congratulations of the international community, they could not condemn it outright. Nor could they embrace it as the just deserts of an unpopular autocrat without virtually admitting that they should be next. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Turkmenistan maintained a stony silence, while Uzbekistan and Tajikistan mostly tried to ignore it.

"Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were marginally bolder and more creative. Authorities there selectively interpreted the causes of Shevardnadze's downfall in self-serving ways, stressing weaknesses of his rule in the very areas where their own records are allegedly stronger. As a consequence, the reactions of Central Asian governments to the revolution presented a skewed picture of events in Georgia, while presenting a favorable image of themselves."

Equally disturbing, from the vantage point of Central Asian ruling elites, the example of the "rose revolution" has become a staple of political discussion in the region, as analysts and observers weigh the chances of another Rose Revolution and attempt to gauge the preventive countermeasures undertaken by various governments.

On 20 February, for example, the Kazakh opposition newspaper "Assandi-Times" prefaced a query of local analysts as follows, "Experts are scratching their heads, trying to guess who will be next after Tbilisi, and whether one could grow a 'Rose Revolution' in the gardens of Kazakhstan."

Kyrgyz parliamentarian Dooronbek Sadyrbaev lamented in "Moya stolitsa" on 23 April: "I love my people very much. But I must admit that a 'Rose Revolution' is impossible in Kyrgyzstan. You can't make one Georgian even out of three Kyrgyz...."

An analysis of Uzbek politics in "Rossiiskie vesti" on 25 March concluded, "It's not out of the question that the Uzbek authorities are beginning to suspect Washington of preparing a 'Rose Revolution' in line with the Georgian model."

Nor is such speculation limited to the post-Soviet press. When Germany's "Der Spiegel" wrote on 19 April that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's supposed tilt toward Russia could get him in trouble, the magazine concluded, "Bush's people are currently strengthening their contacts with the Kazakh opposition. Republican hard-liners are already betting that [President Nazarbaev] will fall in the fashion of the Georgian 'Rose Revolution.'"

It was against this overwrought backdrop that George Soros detailed his affinity for democratic change in Central Asia. His actual comments, however, were somewhat less than revolutionary. Noting that his Open Society Institute spent $20 million on various projects in Central Asia in 2003, Soros explained that his approach is to bring "such great benefits to the people that even a repressive regime finds it advantageous to accept your presence."

The financier-turned-philanthropist limited his overtly critical comments to Uzbekistan, where the Open Society Institute was recently denied registration, calling the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov "very repressive." Elsewhere, he expressed cautious optimism over Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev's stated intention not to run for a third term. On events in Georgia, he said, "I'm delighted by what happened in Georgia, and I take great pride in having contributed to it." In closing, he stressed that while a Rose Revolution might not be a bad thing for Central Asia, he does not see it as a likely scenario: "It is the avowed objective of the foundation to move toward a more open society. So if you could have a dramatic move in that direction, it would be something that would be very desirable to the people involved, and to me as a supporter of those people. However -- and this is very important -- I consider the situation in Georgia unique."

Soros's comments came at a time of rising tensions between several CIS states and a prominent international organization committed to promoting democracy in the region. On 8 July, Russia's delegation to the OSCE presented a written statement co-signed by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. (Georgia, although a member of both the CIS and the OSCE, did not sign.) The statement charged the OSCE with paying "selective heightened attention" to particular countries and with violating its mandate through an obsessive focus on "humanitarian problems." The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) came in for particularly harsh criticism: "This [selective heightened attention] is especially evident in the work of ODIHR, which is mainly occupied with monitoring and evaluating the results of elections in member states. ODIHR's activities are often politicized and do not take into account the specific features of individual countries." If one recalls that suspicions of falsified election results served as the flash point for popular unrest in Georgia, and that parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 2004-05 in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan could involve OSCE monitoring (depending on countries' willingness to invite in the OSCE and on the results of needs-assessment missions), the advance criticism of ODIHR's election-monitoring activities acquires a certain logic. Fedor Lukyanov, editor in chief of the Russian quarterly "Russia in Global Policy," connected the dots in a 9 July telephone interview with RFE/RL: "[CIS] countries such as the Central Asian countries, or Russia now too, have obviously passed the era of trying to portray themselves as meeting European, or Western European, standards, and now they simply do not want to play by the Western rules; they want to formulate their own rules."

Whether one believes that George Soros is a crusader for democratic change or a nefarious prankster in the service of a grander scheme, his recent statements show that, in addition to his riches, he has more than a little chutzpah. If he intends to follow his bold statements with equally bold deeds in Central Asia, he will likely discover that he needs plenty of both.

KYRGYZ SPY SCANDAL TAKES DOMESTIC TURN. Initial reports promised a surefire sensation. On 2 July, news agencies broke the news that Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB) had arrested 10 high-ranking officials from key ministries on espionage charges. Only a day earlier, a top SNB official had warned parliament that religious extremists pose a growing threat to the country. Suddenly, the air was rife with rumors that militants had penetrated the highest reaches of government. At least one report suggested that extremists were planning to seize power....

SNB head Kalyk Imankulov peeled away the Hollywood tinsel at an 8 July news conference in Bishkek to reveal a more mundane picture. Imankulov told journalists that the SNB arrested five members of a criminal group on 25 June, Kabar news agency reported. identified them by their last names as Makeev, an employee in the Transportation Ministry's courier service; Ergesheva, an Interior Ministry official; Ashirbekov, a former Interior Ministry official; Khavanshanova, an entrepreneur; and Yusupova, a teacher. On 28 June, they were charged with complicity in the attempted disclosure of state secrets, the collection of classified information with the aim of further dissemination, and abuse of office. Colonel Kelsenbek Akimaliev, an official in the Border Service and a former SNB employee, was arrested on 1 July, Kyrgyzinfo reported. He was charged on 3 July with the disclosure of state secrets. All of the suspects are Kyrgyz citizens.

Imankulov went on to explain that the group had been trafficking in classified information for two years, peddling materials from a wide array of government agencies on topics ranging from the state of the economy to the preparedness of the armed forces. Searches turned up copies of 700 documents, and Imankulov promised an investigation into the provenance of each and every one. The group's motivation was not ideological, but rather financial. According to Imankulov, the suspects made $60,000 in 2003 from the sale of classified materials.

The centerpiece of Imankulov's 8 July press conference was a videotaped confession by Akimaliev, Kyrgyzinfo reported. Before the camera, the former SNB official admitted to providing members of parliament Alisher Abdimomunov and Ismail Isakov with classified materials that the legislators then used in the course of a scandal that erupted earlier this year. On 14 January, Isakov, the former leader of the opposition Movement for the Resignation of President Askar Akaev and Reforms for the People, revealed at a news conference that a listening device had been discovered in his office. The scandal soon widened with the discovery of more listening devices in the offices of other opposition legislators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16, and 21 January 2004, and "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 26 January 2004). A parliamentary commission reported in May 2004 that the SNB was behind the bugging; the commission is slated to release additional findings in September 2004.

Imankulov put a slightly different spin on the events, however, claiming that legislators scuttled a covert operation when they revealed the names of SNB agents in open session. Kyrgyzinfo quoted him as saying, "When they revealed their names, they endangered our guys, who were working at the time in a country with a dangerous situation." Imankulov suggested that legislators were more concerned with sensation than with national security, and he warned that parliamentarians would be held responsible for any ill consequences suffered by SNB agents with blown covers. He noted in closing that several members of parliament are currently under investigation.

Alisher Abdimomunov hit back with a press conference of his own on 8 July, summarized in a statement made public through the Legislative Assembly's (lower house of parliament) press office. Abdimomunov blasted Imankulov's claims, denying any contacts with Akimaliev and describing the ex-SNB man's videotaped confession as a failed attempt by the security service to vindicate itself in the wake of the bugging scandal. Noting that the parliamentary commission has already uncovered evidence of illegal acts committed by the SNB, Abdimomunov called the latest revelations an attempt to put pressure on the commission. He ridiculed the talk of pilfered state secrets, asking what exactly constitutes a secret in a country that closely coordinates political, economic, and military policy with a welter of international organizations. In the end, however, Abdimomunov saw some value in Akimaliev's confession. quoted the outraged legislator as saying: "If a former [SNB] official allegedly passed on these materials, that means they existed. In other words, the SNB violated the constitutional rights of deputies and citizens. For the first time since the beginning of the scandal with listening devices, the SNB has admitted this."

What began on 2 July as a spy scandal rife with rumors of Islamist extremist infiltration into the highest levels of government has now become something rather different. The initial furor has dissolved into the grim realization that easily stoked hysteria over religious extremism could become a new fixture of Kyrgyz politics. Meanwhile, a domestic political fracas looms on the horizon, as familiar foes from the SNB and the Legislative Assembly steel themselves for another round of charges and countercharges.