US to exploit Kyrgyz prison crackdown?

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev defends his use of force to put down unrest in the country’s prisons, which cost four lives on Nov. 1. “Police did the right thing when they demanded that suspects and other inmates leave the prison for interrogations,” said Bakiev. “[The inmates] refused to come out. [Law-enforcement officers] approached them to meet and they [the convicts] started shooting. Should they have been presented bagels in response?” (BBC, Nov. 2)

The incident was sparked by the removal of a high-profile inmate, Aziz Batukayev, who is suspected of involvement in the killing of MP Tynychbek Akmatbayev during a tour of a prison last month. Deputy Prosecutor-General Abibulla Abdykaparov said Batukaev had occupied a whole floor of his prison. That included 16 rooms, where he kept three mares and 15 goats. Abdykaparov explained that the convict used to drink the domestic animals’ milk to heal his ulcer. His wife and daughter-in-law as well as a bodyguard—not convicts themselves—were with him when the troops burst into the prison building. (RFE/RL, Nov. 4) Batukaev is named by MosNews as a “Chechen ganglord.”

The crackdown may come at a convenient time for Washington, which habitually exploits human rights concerns in wresting concessions from Central Asian despots. The Pentagon is now rejecting demands by Kyrgyzstan to pay for the past use of Manas air base, a key military facility for US aircraft flying missions to Afghanistan.

President Bakiev wants the Pentagon to pay about $80 million to compensate for previous payments that it alleges were siphoned out of the country by fuel supply companies closely tied to the former regime of President Askar Akayev, ousted in a popular uprising earlier this year. (Financial Times, Oct. 29)

Bakiev had better be careful with the references to bagels, lest the Internet conspiracy theory set smell a Jew.

See our last post on Kyrgyzstan and the Great Game for Central Asia.

  1. Okay…
    Why should the Pentagon compensate the current Kyrgyz government for corruption under the previous administration? It’s not even clear that the current government is all that much more honest, so I think there’s nothing underhanded about the DoD’s position being that Kyrgyz corruption is a Kyrgyz matter and that the US will not pay twice for services rendered.

    It’s quite apparent that the US isn’t trying to take advantage of the situation in terms of base payments. Negotiations over new payment terms got underway yesterday in Bishkek, and it’s been fairly obvious that the US will end up paying more for use of the base.

    From a more… what’s the word? … oh yes, objective and informed point of view, it’s clear that it’s Bakiev that is taking advantage of the US need for an airbase in the region. He’s been pretty clear and on the record about milking the base for all it’s worth in lieu of aggressively pursuing economic development. At almost every opportunity, he’s tried to squeeze more and more money out of the base.

    1. I think the exploitation is pretty mutual
      You don’t think the US exploits the human rights issue to wrest concessions from Central Asian despots? You don’t think the State Department poured money into Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution precisely because Akayev was bilking the Pentagon? You don’t think State has been urging on the Uzbek opposition since Karimov gave US forces the boot? Of course Washington was happy to underwrite his torture state as long as US troops were welcome there… We make no claims to “objectivity,” but we submit that you are the one who could be better informed.

      1. Actually…
        No, I don’t think the US routinely exploits human rights concerns for concessions. That the US is often criticized for not making enough of these issues should make that quite clear.

        Rice papered over Kazakh human rights issues recently, the State Department often seems loathe to even bring up Uzbekistan (and is typically playing catch-up to others’ doing so), and the Pentagon never wants to worry itself with human rights issues. In fact, it has even stymied State Department efforts to pressure for reforms. You’re speaking of money and strategic concessions when all that’s trying to be wrested away are political and economic reforms.

        How exactly was Akaev bilking the Pentagon again? That’s an interesting one. He may have done funny things with the money, but the Pentagon didn’t lose anything in the deal. They paid what they agreed to pay and Akaev bilked the Kyrgyz government. In fact, the US knew it had a pretty good deal under Akaev, so I find it odd that you charge that the State Department poured in money to foment the revolution because the Pentagon was being hurt. (The money being “poured in” was not some last minute thing unless you believe the forged memo from the embassy.)

        And on the general charge of US support for opposition groups not just in Uzbekistan but the region, I’m sure I could ask those whom I know what level of support they’ve received. I’ve not explicitly spoken about it with those in the Sunshine Coalition, but my impression is that their mosts significant support has come from Congress. There are, of course, the meetings with embassy officials in Tashkent from time to time, but those are rather routine. They surely have their cheerleaders in the State Department, but that doesn’t translate into much on the ground.

        I find it odd that you’d accuse me of being ill-informed when you are the one making an argument about US policy that’s sole innovation is that you know enough about the region to confidently speak of it. There’s no substance, just pedestrian accusations based on particular assumptions about the way the US government operates. If, for example, you were well-informed, you wouldn’t go around sloppily asserting that $20 million is all it takes to “underwrite” the Uzbek government.

        1. Well, actually…
          No less an authority than the New York Times reported that the US was underwriting the Kyrgyz opposition before and through the Tulip Revolution, as we have noted. Yes, these funds were approved by Congress, but administrated by the State Department. Let’s not split hairs. Nor do I mean to imply that the opposition was only a creation of US imperialism—although I do think US influence played a role in Bakiyev consolidating power and outmaneuvering his rivals. Washington is happy to overlook rights abuses in regimes it can play ball with (Uzbekistan pre-Andijan) and equally happy to exploit such abuses in order to domesticate or destabilize regimes it can no longer play ball with (Uzbekistan post-Andijan). I thought this was pretty obvious. By “bilking” I meant too-blatant corruption which can result in disputes of exactly the type we are now witnessing. But probably Akayev’s equidistant stance between Washington and Moscow was more unacceptable to the hubristic neocons, with their dreams of remaking the world. Ditto Karimov in Uzbekistan. By the way, the Council on Foreign Relations puts US aid to Uzbekistan at $160 million a year, so I don’t know what your $20 million figure refers to.

          Anyway, thanks for the link on your blog, even if it came with large doses of condescension. I’m curious why you think the fact that I write about Latin America or host an anarchist radio show delegitimizes what I have to say about Central Asia…

          1. Please elaborate
            I don’t quite see the methodology that you’re suggesting the US government is taking. Even though he was overthrown, Akeyev was still the most liberal of the Central Asian despots, and even more he was largely pro-America… at least to the extent of being happy with an airbase in Bishkek. So, you’re suggesting that Washington was for some reason unhappy with Akeyev’s attitude towards the Pentagon (please elaborate further what you mean by ‘bilking’) so they decided to foment a revolution in Kyrgyzstan. But because Bakiev has ended up being a rather less reliable pro-US ally (during his rule the SCO stated they want the US out of Central Asia and he has more than once suggested that a long-term American presence isn’t welcome) you’re suggesting that America didn’t have anything to do with installing him as president?

            Seems pretty far-fetched. If anything, the islamophobic US government would probably have been reluctant to instigate a revolution for fear of the latent islamists siezing some power. It seems rather trivial now, but it was somewhat surprising that the Kyrgyz islamists didn’t exploit the instability in any meaningful way.

            What I see you doing is trying to fit your theory to the reality even though it’s unlikely to be valid.

            1. You seem to forget…
              that the US has been using Islamists against Moscow’s influence in Central Asia at least since the Mujahedeen war in Afghanistan in the ’80s. That’s sort of how we got into this whole global mess we’re in today, remember? The Karimov regime is blatantly portraying the unrest in Uzbekistan as an imperialist-jihadi conspiracy (with what degree of accuracy is open to speculation). It has also been argued (‘tho not by me particularly) that the same alliance existed in Bosnia.

              I think over the past year there has been a shift in Washington from a policy of “sharing” Central Asia with Moscow to one of decoupling the “stans” from Moscow’s orbit altogether. I think this is largely because Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and Georgia’s Rose Revolution fueled confidence in such an agenda. It is also pretty obvious that this has merely driven Karimov (and Akayev before him) back towards the open arms of Moscow—so these two tendencies have fueled each other in a sort of feedback loop. Did you happen to notice that the shit hit the fan in Uzbekistan immediately after it withdrew from the US-aligned GUUAM group? Coincidence? Could be. But I’ll bet Karimov doesn’t see it that way.

              I’m frankly surprised at the reaction here. I didn’t think I was saying anything that radical.

              1. radical?
                You didn’t think you were saying anything that radical, because you were just repeating the ill-researched opinions that pass for foreign policy commentary in the US on both sides of the political debate. For some reason, Central Asia particularly suffers from ‘experts’ sounding off despite the fact they have never been within a million miles of these places. For those of us who have spent a lot of time in the region, it gets annoying.

                US policy in Central Asia has been often extremely ill-advised, but they did not fund the Kyrgyz revolution. The NYT article is simply wrong. In fact, the vast bulk of US money that went into the country went straight to the Akaev family through payments for the base and fuel for US aircraft (all controlled by the presidential clan). The US also funded various NGOs in Kyrgyzstan, but none of them had any substantial impact on what happened in March 2005, whatever they may say in their subsequent grant applications.

                Nor is there any connection between the unrest in prisons and the negotiations over the base. Its just that the government wants to increase the money its getting, and make sure its allies have control over the lucrative fuel contract to the base. Its pure economics – Bakiev is under a lot of pressure from Russia to kick the Americans out. The only thing that’s keeping them there is the money. Paradoxically, Akaev was probably more instinctively pro-western than Bakiev, which rather undermines the whole US-inspired plot thing.

                And finally, not everything that happens in the world has to be viewed in terms of what the US thinks or does. There are such things as local political dynamics, which actually account for most of what really happens in Central Asia. But understanding those dynamics, well, that would take a bit more research wouldn’t it?

                1. I agree David, people who hav
                  I agree David, people who haven’t been there often think that America is undeniably the pre-eminent influence in the region… economically, politically and culturally. For all three of those I would say, no, no and no. Even in pro-USA pre-Andijan Uzbekistan, Russia was the dominant force on the table economically (practically every family has a member working illegally in Russia) and culturally (most people still speak Russian and there are still many ethnic Russians in Central Asia) and it is now politcally. In Kyrgyzstan it’s the same or more… Russia has huge business contracts in the country and prime minister Kulov speaks only Russian, his Kyrgyz language skills are so bad that it might disqualify him from being president!

                  So why not blame Russia for the coup? They seemed to have gained the most in Central Asia over the past year.

                  I’m not writing this now with any particular loyalty to the US government. America has made its mistakes, and continues to make some awful foreign policy mistakes… and looking at this website there are a lot of things I agree with. But America isn’t always the puppetmaster of the world.

                  1. Russia…
                    …gained from the Tulip Revolution? That’s an absurd notion. The only thing Russia has gained is a new degree of coziness with Karimov in response to his fear that Uzbekistan could be the next domino in what he doubtless perceives (at least) as a wave of US-sponsored regime change beginning with Georgia two years ago. I certainly never argued that “America is always the puppetmaster of the world.” But if you guys (or is it one person posting under different names?) want to caricature my views to set yourselves up as the Sole Voice of Authority—please, enjoy. However you get your jollies.

                    1. Georgia isn’t Central Asia
                      I didn’t mean to caricature your views… I just think that America’s influence in the region is more limited than in other places in the world.

                      Russia has definitely gained in Central Asia this year. Uzbekistan has cozied up to Russia (indeed Russian troops recently landed on Uzbek soil for the first time in over a decade) and kicked-out America, Russia just signed a long-term base agreement with Tajikistan shortly after Tajikistan publically discounted basing American troops there, the Russia (and China) dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization was able to push through a statement saying that America’s long-term presence in Central Asia isn’t welcome. Kazakhstan refused to host a base to replace the loss of the one in Uzbekistan. Even Turkmenistan has closed some big gas contracts with Russia this year.

                      In any case, I wish we’d have more influence in the region. America certainly doesn’t always take principled stands on issues, but in this case Russia (and China) are _completely_ turning a blind eye to massive human rights violations in Uzbekistan, for instance, for pure political gain. In this case, America/Europe certainly has been acting as the less evil power.

                    2. Go split your own hairs
                      Georgia is in the post-Soviet sphere and a part of the same political dynamic, and many of the same political groupings (CIS, GUUAM). Georgia’s Saakashvili, on the very eve of the Uzbekistan unrest in May, openly called for “a third wave of revolutions

          2. $20 million
            Is sloppy on my part. I’m in the middle of a nasty cold right now, and if I had to guess, I’m referring to the figure that got cut in 2004 and was “all” of the aid. It’d be nice to know where CFR got their number. Talking about aid to Uzbekistan is always murky because what is and isn’t aid is up to debate. The 2004 budget allocated $50.6 million and the 2005 budget allocated $91.6 million. But, the 2004 number looks like it tallies security support differently. The point I’m trying to make is that “underwrite” is too strong a verb to use.

            I don’t think your background delegitimizes what you have to say on Central Asia, but I do think it’s relevant in the context of your calling into question of my credentials.

            1. Excuse me, sir?
              Who first accused whom of being “uninformed”?

              2002 seems to have been the peak year for US aid to Uzbekistan, with a total of over $200 million. I’d say that gets into the “underwriting” range.