By Bakyt Beshimov
Reading David Ignatius’ op-ed “In Kyrgyz crisis, opportunity knocks” compels me to share my view, based on my experience as an ex-leader of the Kyrgyz opposition involved directly in the Kyrgyz-American airbase debate.
Ignatius proposes a “pragmatic partnership” with Russia in Central Asia. But I have witnessed Russia’s use of precisely that “partnership” with Washington to pursue its geopolitical ambitions, often directly against the interests of the U.S. It has done this with a cynical mix of deception, manipulation, and desire for unilateral control.
Thus,.in February 2009, the Kremlin promised the then president of Kyrgyzstan Kurmanbek Bakiev a $2 billion credit, with the understanding that Bakiev would close the American airbase. Bakiev obliged at a Moscow press conference. Russia’s President Medvedev stood by his side and preposterously affirmed that the expulsion of the US was the “sovereign decision of Kyrgyzstan.” Moscow then subjected members of the Kyrgyz parliament to ruthless pressure to prevent us from demanding a review of Bakiev’s action.
In June 2009 Bakiev reversed himself and allowed the Manas base to stay. The Russian media responded with a massive and coordinated attack on the government of Kyrgyzstan and its president. The Kremlin also imposed covert economic sanctions that were only rescinded after Bakiev’s fall. Bakiev was a corrupt and irresponsible leader. But Russia didn’t bat an eye at his corruption, let alone at his suppression of the Kyrgyz opposition. What stuck in Putin/Medvedev’s craw was Bakiev’s decision to allow the American base to stay. Bakiev himself acknowledged that this was the reason he was overthrown.
Perhaps Mr. Ignatius was unaware of this. But could he have missed Russia’s new military doctrine, which was announced in February, 2010, long after the Obama “Reset” with Moscow? The doctrine lists both NATO and the U.S. as primary threats to Russia. Indeed, of eleven listed military threats to Russia, five are explicitly or implicitly connected to the U.S. and NATO.
After Russia’s 2008 war on Georgia, Medvedev announced that former republics of the USSR constituted a “zone of privileged interests of the Russian Federation.” This was like Britain announcing after 1776 that America remained London’s zone of privileged interests. China has prudently rejected such a notion. Under earlier Republican and Democratic administrations the US did, too. Now it seems to have “gone wobbly,” and so has David Ignatius.
As a Kyrgyz citizen, I want external powers to cooperate over Kyrgyzstan. But this must be based on respect for Kyrgyzstan’s national integrity and freedom from outside control. We do not need the U.S. and Russia negotiating over our heads, or for the U.S. to ratify a Russian claim that would dilute our sovereignty. Bluntly, we don’t want to pay for Washington’s illusions, or those of Mr. Ignatius.