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Kyrgyzstan: Bloodstained Geopolitical Chessboard

Stop NATO
June 16, 2010

Kyrgyzstan: Bloodstained Geopolitical Chessboard
Rick Rozoff

Events in a remote, landlocked and agrarian nation of slightly over five million people have become the center of world attention.

A week of violence which first erupted in Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city, Osh, in the south of the country, has resulted in the deaths of at least 120 civilians and in over 1,700 being injured.

More than 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks have fled Osh and the nearby city of Jalal-Abad (Jalalabad) and three-quarters of those have reportedly crossed the border into Uzbekistan.

A report of June 14 estimated that 50,000 were stranded on the Kyrgyz side of the border without food, water and other necessities. [1]

Witnesses describe attacks by gangs of ethnic Kyrgyz against Uzbeks with reports of government armed forces siding with the assailants.

The following day the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 275,000 people in total had fled the violence-torn area.

On June 14 the deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Osh, Severine Chappaz, was quoted as warning: “We are extremely concerned about the nature of the violence that is taking place and are getting reports of severe brutality, with an intent to kill and harm. The authorities are completely overwhelmed, as are the emergency services.

“The armed and security forces must do everything they can to protect the vulnerable and ensure that hospitals, ambulances, medical staff and other emergency services are not attacked.” [2]

The government of neighboring Uzbekistan had registered 45,000 refugees by June 14, with an estimated 55,000 more on the way. United Nations representatives said that over 100,000 people had fled Kyrgyzstan, mainly ethnic Uzbeks to Uzbekistan, by June 15.

According to a news account of the preceding day, “Kyrgyz mobs burned Uzbek villages and slaughtered residents on Sunday, sending more than 75,000 Uzbeks fleeing across the border into Uzbekistan. Ethnic Uzbeks in a besieged neighbourhood of the Kyrgyz city of Osh said gangs, aided by the military, were carrying out genocide, burning residents out of their homes and shooting them as they fled.” [3]

Accounts of hundreds of corpses in the streets and a hundred bodies buried in one unmarked grave have also surfaced.

The government of acting (unelected) president Roza Otunbayeva (the nation’s first ambassador to the United States in the early 1990s) called up all reservists under 50 years of age and issued shoot-to-kill orders in the affected areas.

On June 13 Russia deployed a reinforced battalion of as many as 650 airborne troops to the Kant Air Base in Kyrgyzstan where Russian air force units have been stationed since 2003. (Russia had also sent 150 paratroopers to the base after April’s overthrow of Otunbayeva’s predecessor Kurmanbek Bakiyev.)

On June 15 two chartered planes repatriated 195 Chinese nationals from Kyrgyzstan, flying them into the adjoining Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.  By the following day almost 1,000 Chinese had been rescued.

India, Pakistan, Turkey and Russia also evacuated citizens from the nation.

Both the Collective Security Treaty Organization consisting of Russia, Kyrgyzstan and five other former Soviet republics and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization of China, Russia and all Central Asian nations except for Turkmenistan have addressed the Kyrgyz crisis.

This month’s bloody rampages were an aftershock of those following the overthrow of President Bakiyev in early April [4], following which at least 80 people were killed and over 1,500 injured. At that time Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that “Kyrgyzstan is on the threshold of a civil war.” [5]

The current violence in Kyrgyzstan, which may prove to be terminal for the 19-year-old Central Asian state, is a continuation and inevitable culmination of that of April. The latter in turn occurred five years after the overthrow of the government of President Askar Akayev by a coalition of opposition forces led by Bakiyev, Otunbayeva and Felix Kulov, a coup that was widely celebrated in the West at the time as the high point of an inexorable wave of what were characterized as “color” and “rainbow” revolutions in the former Soviet Union and beyond.

Two months after the 2005 putsch in Kyrgyzstan, U.S. President George W. Bush was in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi where he crowed: “In recent months, the world has marvelled at the hopeful changes taking place from Baghdad to Beirut to Bishkek [the Kyrgyz capital]. But before there was a purple revolution in Iraq, or an orange revolution in Ukraine, a cedar revolution in Lebanon, there was a rose revolution in Georgia.” [6]

Bush’s statement, his transparent endorsement of the “color revolution” model of extending U.S. domination over former Soviet states and Middle Eastern nations, has been echoed by former U.S. national security advisor and self-ordained geostrategic chess master Zbigniew Brzezinski who was quoted by a Kyrgyz news source as saying, “I believe revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan were a sincere and snap expression of the political will.” [7]

The ringleaders of the 2005 violent, unconstitutional takeover in Kyrgyzstan divided up top government posts, with Bakiyev becoming president, Kulov prime minister and Otunbayeva acting foreign minister.

Regarding the “hopeful changes” that Bush and Brzezinski acclaimed, it is worth recalling that the only two elected presidents in the young nation’s history are wanted men forced into exile. The “shock therapy” privatization of the nation’s economy in the 1990s, as disruptive as it was abrupt, laid the groundwork for subsequent destabilization, but that buildings are flammable is no defense for an arsonist.

The Pentagon opened the Manas Air Base (also named the Ganci Air Base by the U.S.) near the Kyrgyz capital in December of 2001, two months after the invasion of Afghanistan to support military operations in that nation.

The base, since last summer called the Transit Center at Manas, has seen hundreds of thousands of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization combat troops pass through in the interim.

Washington’s civilian hit man for the expanding war in South Asia, which is the largest and most deadly war in the world currently with hundreds of thousands of troops involved and millions of civilians displaced on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, is Richard Holbrooke, appointed Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan after the new administration was installed in Washington in January of last year.

This February he visited Kyrgyzstan and the three other former Soviet Central Asian republics it borders: Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Shortly after returning to Washington, “Holbrooke said that the United States would soon renew an agreement to use the Manas airbase, where he said 35,000 US troops were transiting each month on their way in and out of Afghanistan.” [8]

Afterward Major John Redfield of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said that during the next month, this March, 50,000 American troops had passed through the Kyrgyz base to and from Afghanistan, and the new commander of U.S. operations at Manas with the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing, Colonel Dwight Sones, recently disclosed that “55,000 servicemen were airlifted to Afghanistan via Manas in May.” [9]

That is, 20,000 more troops a month over a three-month period and at a rate of almost two-thirds of a million annually.

In February of 2009 Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted 78-1 to close the U.S. air base at Manas and President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed a decree to do so.

The U.S. was given “180 days to withdraw some 1,200 personnel, aircraft and other equipment.” [10] The following month Kyrgyz deputies also voted to expel military personnel from Australia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, South Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Turkey and France, all nations providing troops for NATO’s International Assistance Security Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

Popular internal opposition to the presence of U.S. and NATO forces in the country had been mounting as the Afghan war dragged on interminably and especially after the killing of a Kyrgyz civilian, Alexander Ivanov, by an American soldier in December of 2006 and the dumping of 80 tons of fuel into the atmosphere by U.S. military planes the year before. Many Kyrgyz also fear that the use of the air base at Manas for an attack against Iran could pull their nation into a second and far more catastrophic armed conflict.

The situation was made worse in August of 2008 when “A major depot with weapons and ammunition” was “found in a private house in Bishkek rented by U.S. nationals in an operation by Kyrgyz police….According to law enforcement officers, six heavy machine guns, 26 Kalashnikov assault-rifles, almost 3,000 cartridges for them, two Winchester rifles, four machine gun barrels, two grenade launches, four sniper guns, six Beretta pistols, 10,000 cartridges for a nine-millimetre pistol, 478 12-millimetre cartridges, 1,000 tracer cartridges and 123 empty magazines were found there.

“Police said the house belonged to a Kyrgyz national, who had rented it to US nationals.

“They also said there were several staffers of the U.S. Embassy to Kyrgyzstan having diplomatic immunity, as well as ten U.S. military in the house during the search.” [11]

The U.S. claimed it had government permission to store the above-described arsenal in a private residence.

Last year Russia negotiated an extension of its military presence at the Kant Air Base for 49 years and offered the Kyrgyz government a $2 billion loan.

In June of 2009 the outgoing U.S. commander at Manas, Colonel Christopher Bence, “said the facility had started to wind down operations” and “has started to shut down and will close by mid-August.” [12] He added “that over the past year alone 189,000 troops from 20 countries had moved to and out of Afghanistan via the Manas base” [13] and that “we have started shipping equipment and supplies to other locations and those shipments should be finished by August 18.” [14] (Recall that 55,000 Western troops passed through the base last month alone.)

However, earlier in the month President Barack Obama sent a personal appeal to his Kyrgyz counterpart urging him to reverse the decision to expel U.S. military personnel, some 1,300 permanently assigned to the base, and “Kyrgyzstan showed more flexibility on the matter after receiving the letter….” [15]

On July 2 President Bakiyev signed an agreement to extend U.S. military presence at Manas after Washington offered $180 million a year for the use of the base, thereafter referred to as a transit center. “Rent for the land is $60 million as compared to $17.4 million Kyrgyzstan received for hosting the airbase.” [16] In early August U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a letter to President Bakiyev commending him for overriding the near-unanimous decision by his country’s parliament, including his own party’s deputies, to close down Pentagon operations, instead simply renaming the Manas Air Base while activity there was scheduled to increase.

A Russian report on the transition, a change more formal than substantive, said that “Many experts on Central Asian politics speculated that Bishkek was simply angling for more money and was not intending to close the base.” [17]

It is in part a struggle over the $180 million in U.S. funds as well as the $2 billion in Russian aid pledged in February of last year that precipitated April’s phase two of the so-called Tulip Revolution.

Complementing the new arrangement with the Pentagon, last December Kyrgyzstan authorized the establishment of a NATO representative office in its capital. A spokesman for the nation’s parliament said at the time, “Until recently, the NATO representative office was located in the city of Astana, Kazakhstan.” Kyrgyz Defense Minister Bakyt Kalyev stated: “NATO recently started to pay special attention to Central Asia in light of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

“The relocation of NATO’s official to the territory of Kyrgyzstan will proceed as part of the Partnership for Peace Program. One of the key reasons behind the transfer of the office from Astana to Bishkek is the fact that the territory of the republic houses the International Transit Center.” [18]

Richard Holbrooke met with the Kyrgyz president this February to solidify plans for the Manas base.

This March it was announced that the Pentagon is to set up a “counter-terrorism” special forces training base in Kyrgyzstan.

General David Petraeus, chief of U.S. Central Command, visited Kyrgyzstan and met with its president in March. “The visit [came] a day after US diplomats confirmed Washington would provide US$5.5 million to the Kyrgyz government toward the construction of a counter-terrorism training center in southern Kyrgyzstan.” [19]

The day after this April’s uprising began a Pentagon spokesman said of the operations at Manas that “Our support to Afghanistan continues and has not been seriously affected, and we are hopeful that we will be able to resume full operations soon.” [20]

A week later the government of then interim prime minister Roza Otunbayeva extended the lease for the Manas base another year. The next month a record number of Western troops passed through Kyrgyzstan in support of the war in Afghanistan.

On June 10 Robert Simmons, NATO’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, arrived in the Kyrgyz capital to further military cooperation with the new regime. “Simmons visits Kyrgyzstan each time the existence of the Transit Center at Manas, called Manas Air Base until 2009, is threatened. The high-ranking diplomat’s first visit to Bishkek took place in May 2005.

“Then, Washington was concerned about the base’s future after the March 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan that overthrew President Askar Akayev. Simmons paid another visit to the republic in February 2009, or two weeks before President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced his intention to close the base. This time, Simmons met with Roza Otunbayeva, head of the Kyrgyz interim government, and acting Finance Minister Temir Sariyev, who is responsible for budget income.” [21]

In addition, “Kyrgyz media say Washington has paid $15 million in first-quarter lease payments ahead of schedule and promises to transfer the second tranche to the cash-strapped Kyrgyz budget soon.” [22]

On June 8 EurasiaNet, “operated by the Central Eurasia Project of the Open Society Institute,” [23] ran a feature entitled “Pentagon Looks to Plant New Facilities in Central Asia,” which included these excerpts:

“The Pentagon is preparing to embark on a mini-building boom in Central Asia. A recently posted sources-sought survey indicates the US military wants to be involved in strategic construction projects in all five Central Asian states, including Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

“According to the notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website in mid-May, the US Army Corps of Engineers wants to hear from respondents interested in participating in ‘large-scale ground-up design-build construction projects in the following Central South Asian States (CASA): Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan; Turkmenistan; and Uzbekistan.’

“’We anticipate two different projects in Kyrgyzstan. Both are estimated to be in the $5 million to $10 million dollar range.’” [24]

On June 14 Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan told CNN that “the refueling and troop transport operations at the U.S. transit base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, continue ‘unabated’ by ethnic riots in the southern part of the country….Refueling operations had been halted while the United States negotiated new fuel contracts with the interim government…but late last week refueling started again.” [25]

An analysis recently appeared on the website of the German international radio broadcaster Deutsche Welle which provided insightful background information regarding the current crisis in Kyrgyzstan:

“Bakiyev’s installation as president in 2005 with US backing may have provided Washington with a friendly government with whom to do business with but it also gave the US a significant foothold in a country that some strategists believe is paramount to its plans for regional dominance.”

“The inclusion of Kyrgyzstan and three other central Asian states in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 1994 was seen as a major step toward increasing US military presence in the region which eventually led to the US base at Manas, outside Bishkek in the north, being established.”

“While Manas remains a key hub for US operations in Afghanistan, it is also used as a NATO base – a situation which angers and concerns Russia which fears the eastern enlargement of its former Cold War opponent, putting Kyrgyzstan at the center of a power struggle for regional influence….Russia is also concerned about the possibility of being encircled by NATO member states should the alliance go ahead with its provocative eastern enlargement.”

“The Chinese see increasing US influence as not only a threat to its plans for Eurasia, which along with promoting its emerging market policy also includes energy security and supply, but also a threat to the People’s Republic itself….Beijing [is] more concerned that the porous nature of the border is allowing US intelligence agencies to run covert destabilizing operations into the strategically vital and politically fragile [Xinjiang] province. Beijing believes the flow of people across the border gives US operations a perfect cover.” [26]

Small and seemingly insignificant Kyrgyzstan is the country most vital to U.S. and NATO for the reinforcement and escalation of the war in Afghanistan, even more than Pakistan where NATO supply convoys are routinely attacked and destroyed.

The transit center in the country is the only base the Pentagon has in Central Asia after it was evicted from the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan five years ago.

Kyrgyzstan is Washington’s military outpost in a region where the interests of several major nations – Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran among them – converge. U.S. stratagems in the nation, whether attempts at the maintenance of a permanent military presence or rotating governments through the use of standard “regime change” maneuvers, will have consequences far more serious than what the status of the diminutive and impoverished Central Asian nation may otherwise indicate.

1) Itar-Tass, June 14, 2010
2) UzReport, June 14, 2010
3) Daily Times (Pakistan)/Agencies, June 14, 2010
4) Kyrgyzstan And The Battle For Central Asia
Stop NATO, April 7, 2010

http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/kyrgyzstan-and-the-battle-for-central-asia

5) Russian Information Agency Novosti, April 14, 2010
6) Agence France-Presse, May 11, 2005
7) 24.kg, March 27, 2008
8) Agence France-Presse, March 4, 2010
9) Interfax, June 15, 2010
10) Russian Information Agency Novosti, February 20, 2009
11) Itar-Tass, March 6, 2009
12) Reuters, June 15, 2009
13) Voice of Russia, June 17, 2009
14) Stars and Stripes, June 16, 2009
15) Reuters, June 11, 2009
16) Russia Today, June 23, 2009
17) Ibid
18) Interfax, December 29, 2009
19) Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 10, 2010
20) U.S. Air Forces in Europe
American Forces Press Service
April 8, 2010
21) Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 15, 2010
22) Ibid
23) http://www.eurasianet.org/node/14733
24) EurasiaNet, June 8, 2010

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/61241

25) CNN, June 14, 2010
26) Nick Amies, Kyrgyzstan unrest adds new edge to global powers’ regional
rivalry
Deutsche Welle, June 14, 2010

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