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Analysis: Both Sides Lose In The Battle Outside Bishkek


The battle of words that waged for months between current Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov and his predecessor, Almazbek Atambaev, turned into an armed battle at Atambaev's residence outside the capital, Bishkek, during the evening of August 7.

At least one member of the Kyrgyz special forces was killed, three are hospitalized in serious condition, six were held captive overnight at Atambaev's residence before being released, and dozens more security forces members and Atambaev's supporters are in hospitals with injuries.

Atambaev was eventually detained at his compound on August 8. Earlier that morning, he had said his supporters will rally in Bishkek to call for Jeenbekov's resignation.

Kyrgyz Ex-President Detained After Special-Forces Officer Dies In Raid On His Compound
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Jeenbekov held an emergency meeting of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council on August 8 saying Atambaev had violated the country's laws and constitution when he and his supporters resisted the attempt by security forces to arrest him.

Paying A Price

The showdown between Jeenbekov and Atambaev is not over yet, but both men will be paying a price for what happened at Atambaev's compound in the village of Koi-Tash on August 7.

Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted to strip Atambaev of his immunity, as a former president, from investigation or prosecution on June 27.

After that, police summoned Atambaev for questioning three times so the former president could explain what role, if any, Atambaev had in the release of a well-known crime boss from prison when he was president. The crime boss quickly fled the country and remains free in Russia.

Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov (left) shares a smile at his inauguration ceremony with his predecessor Almazbek Atambaev in 2017. Relations between the two men soured soon afterwards.
Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov (left) shares a smile at his inauguration ceremony with his predecessor Almazbek Atambaev in 2017. Relations between the two men soured soon afterwards.

Atambaev rejected the summonses, saying his immunity was still valid. He offered to respond in writing to any questions prosecutors or police might have for him and warned against trying to detain him at his residence.

Other charges almost certainly were going to be filed against Atambaev. Many officials from his administration have been charged with corruption and it seemed likely Atambaev would eventually be charged for the same crimes.

But now that Atambaev has been taken into custody, more serious charges await since a special forces member was shot dead in the abortive August 7 raid.

Prime Suspect

In comments on August 8, Atambaev claimed he was the one with two weapons and that his supporters were unarmed, instantly making himself a prime suspect in the killing of the special forces soldier.

Atambaev may also face charges of using force to resist arrest and trying to overthrow the government, after urging supporters to demonstrate and call for Jeenbekov's dismissal.

Jeenbekov was officially on vacation when the raid was launched. He left on August 5 for Kyrgyzstan's resort area of Issyk-Kul.

Did he approve of the raid before he left or while he was on vacation? If Jeenbekov knew a security operation was coming, why did he go on vacation?

In the end, the first attempt to capture Atambaev failed miserably and elite security forces, with a helicopter flying overhead, had to retreat from a mob armed mainly with sticks and stones.

Kyrgyz Special Forces Storm Atambaev Compound
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​Atambaev should have obeyed the summons. He is not above the law, and as a former president he should have known this better than anyone.

But Jeenbekov's image among Kyrgyzstan's people has suffered a big blow. The original raid failed miserably and an elite unit was forced to make a humiliating retreat.

Jeenbekov's political opponents will likely bring up this defeat again when they assail the president's policies in the future. although he may be able to reclaim some success now that the second raid has resulted in Atambaev's detention.

Video Captures Kyrgyz Ex-President's Surrender To Security Forces
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Bad Publicity

The government raid came despite comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 24 that both Atambaev and Jeenbekov should cease their feud in the interests of stability in Kyrgyzstan, a country that saw revolutions in 2005 and 2010 that toppled presidents.

But Jeenbekov went ahead with the raid, and now one person is dead and dozens are injured.

Putin's views on the August 7 events will no doubt be relayed to Jeenbekov when Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev arrives for an August 9 meeting of prime ministers of the Eurasian Economic Union countries at Issyk-Kul.

The initial botched raid is also bad international publicity for Kyrgyzstan.

The country's economy is not in good shape and foreign investment would be extremely welcome.

Kyrgyz authorities have been trying to promote the country as a good opportunity for foreign companies.

Unfortunately, Kyrgyzstan has made international headlines for the two revolutions and interethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010.

Kyrgyzstan is in international headlines again now, and once again for the wrong reasons.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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