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New Kyrgyz Leadership Gets A Cold Reception From The Kremlin


All smiles, for now: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) welcomes his Kyrgyz counterpart, Ruslan Kazakbaev, to Moscow on October 23.

The Kremlin could not be much clearer on its position about the big change in power in Kyrgyzstan in early October and that must worry the new leadership of the Central Asian country.

New Kyrgyz Prime Minister and acting President Sadyr Japarov appears a bit rattled by Moscow's reaction thus far and seemingly took the rash step of sending an unannounced envoy to Russia for talks with its Foreign Ministry.

Former Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Chingiz Aidarbekov, who is now Japarov's foreign-affairs adviser, arrived in Moscow for talks -- except no one in Moscow seemed to be expecting him, according to reports on October 29.

The chief editor of Kyrgyzstan's 24.kg information website, Asel Otorbaeva, wrote on her Facebook page the same day that Aidarbekov "wanted meetings in the Kremlin" with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, members of the Russian government, and State Duma leaders but was "rejected by absolutely everyone."

The state information agency Kabar tried to water that down later the same day, reporting that Aidarbekov "held talks with the leadership of Russia's Foreign Ministry and Finance Ministry," without mentioning any specific Russian official.

If, as was reported, Japarov did send Aidarbekov to Moscow unannounced, it is difficult to understand what the new leader thought might be accomplished.

From Prison To Power

The sudden emergence of Japarov -- a former nationalist politician freshly sprung from prison who was somehow nominated and finally approved as prime minister on October 14 after at least two attempts -- has startled many.

On October 15, Sooronbai Jeenbekov formally resigned as president and that same day, Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov announced a "pause" in sending a previously promised $100 million in financial assistance to Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan's new foreign minister, Ruslan Kazakbaev, who took Aidarbekov's place on October 14, was in Moscow on October 23 and met with Lavrov. Kazakbaev was trying to assure Lavrov and the Kremlin that the situation in Kyrgyzstan was returning to normal.

But it was not a good meeting.

At a press conference after their meeting, Lavrov indicated the new Kyrgyz government would not receive the $100 million in assistance that had been pledged to the previous government under Jeenbekov anytime soon.

Worse, during the press conference a Kyrgyz journalist asked Kazakbaev questions in the Kyrgyz language.

According to Kommersant.ru, "When the journalist turned to clarifying the fifth question in Kyrgyz, the Russian minister's patience ran out. 'Excuse me,' [Lavrov said] indignantly, 'You still have to respect the host, OK?' And for some reason added, 'In every sense.'"

Kyrgyzstan is part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as well as a couple of Russian-led organizations within the CIS framework, where the lingua franca is Russian.

Still, when the Chinese, French, or German foreign ministers, for example, visit Moscow, journalists from their countries regularly ask questions of their officials in their own language and it does not illicit such a response from Lavrov.

The day before Kazakbaev met with Lavrov, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the situation in Kyrgyzstan a "tragedy" and said Russia had been watching with "pity and concern."

Rather the devil you know: Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov during a meeting in Sochi on September 28.
Rather the devil you know: Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov during a meeting in Sochi on September 28.

Russian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Nikolai Udovichenko met with Kazakbaev on October 15 and with Japarov on October 21, with neither meeting going very far toward convincing Moscow's man in Bishkek that the new government was deserving of being in the Kremlin's good graces.

The heavily manipulated October 4 parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan led to unrest in Bishkek that quickly brought down the government. Protesters briefly occupied the government building, officials vanished, and for a few days it seemed no one was in charge before Japarov's surprise emergence.

The Kremlin was not a staunch supporter of Jeenbekov. Putin mistakenly called him Shariman when the two met in Sochi on September 28, even though Jeenbekov had been Kyrgyzstan's president since 2017 and met with Putin several times.

It could be that the Russian government has no objections to Japarov being in power.

But the Russian government does not like revolutions in CIS countries and three separate times now mass protests have ousted Kyrgyz leaders.

Putin said when he met with Jeenbekov in Sochi that "The Russian side is interested in stability in [Kyrgyzstan] and particularly in the postelection period."

The postelection period in Kyrgyzstan has been anything but stable.

The Kremlin has already shown in the past that it can add fuel to fires in Kyrgyzstan and sway the course of events.

Japarov was a supporter of President Kurmanbek Bakiev when he was in office.

So Japarov will surely remember the Kremlin's soft-power campaign against Bakiev in the Russian media -- which is widely available in Kyrgyzstan -- particularly in the northern part of the country -- that, in the end, played a significant role in helping chase Bakiev from power in April 2010.

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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