The Putin Pantomime

Australian Herald correspondent Paul McGeough writing on The Age website:

To better understand the geopolitical dynamic of upheaval in the remote central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, it is instructive to look to Georgia, 2500 kilometres and five national borders to the west.

Both are former Soviet satellites. In the face of clumsy efforts by their leaders to tango with the West, the Kremlin is increasingly agitated by a new American presence on a sprawling dance floor it considered its own.

As the bullet-riddled bodies of protesters were collected from the streets of Bishkek last week and the President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, fled the capital, the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, was pure pantomime: ”Neither Russia, nor your humble servant, nor Russian officials have any links whatsoever to these events.”

That reading does not describe recent events accurately.

In the weeks before his ouster, Bakiyev was portrayed as a repugnant dictator on Russian television channels beaming into Kyrgyzstan; $US1.7 billion ($1.8 billion) in soft loans from Moscow to Bishkek was put on hold; Moscow axed the generous subsidies on the petrol it exports to Kyrgyzstan; and little was done to dampen speculation that almost a million Kyrgyz migrant workers, whose remittances account for about a third of their country’s economy, might be expelled from Russia.

“This [crisis] would have happened sooner or later … but I think the Russian factor was decisive,” Omurbek Tekebayev, a senior figure in Kyrgyzstan’s new interim leadership, told The Washington Post.

Can Moscow get away with all that? Yes – with confidence, if world reaction in the aftermath of Russia’s incursions into Georgia in 2008 is anything to go by.

In all the diplomatic excitement in Washington and Moscow about negotiating nuclear arms control and maybe even getting Russia to back sanctions against Iran, the Georgian crisis of two summers ago seems all but forgotten.

Like missing scenes from the Peter Sellers film The Mouse that Roared, the Georgian region of Abkhazia declared itself to be independent late in August 2008 – to be recognised only by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru.

Abkhazia is a postage-stamp parcel of land on the Black Sea coast. Its population is about 200,000; its area less than 8500 square kilometres. Up to 60 per cent of its budget is funded by Moscow and an estimated 80 per cent of all consumer goods originate in Russia. More than two-thirds of the ethnic Georgian population is estimated to have fled or been driven out, and Moscow hands out Russian passports like confetti.

The reality is that Moscow, in effect, annexed a chunk of its southern neighbour – and is getting away with it.

Russia is estimated to have more than three times as many troops stationed in Abkhazia as allowed by the terms of a ceasefire agreement mediated by the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. It is eyeing what was the Georgian port of Ochamchire as a new base for its Black Sea fleet in the event Ukraine cuts or refuses to renew Moscow’s lease on strategically sensitive Sevastopol to the north-west.

In one of the throwaway lines at which he excels, Putin declared during a visit last year: “[Abkhazia] doesn’t need to be recognised by any country other than Russia.”

Kyrgyzstan’s geopolitical weight lies in Russian anxiety at its suitability as a platform for NATO troops and eavesdropping on Russia’s southern flank and on China’s western border.

But Kyrgyzstan also serves as a transit route for Islamist militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan, a centre of Islamic radicalism, and, Moscow fears, on to Russia’s Muslim enclaves in the Caucasus, Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.

“Like Georgia, Kyrgyzstan’s significance lies not in its natural resources such as oil or natural gas, but in its extraordinary geographical location, which enables it to modulate regional politics,” M. K. Bhadrakumar, a former Indian ambassador to the region, wrote this week, before speculating Washington’s only option might be an awkward appeal to Moscow to protect its grip on the Manas air base, near Bishkek.

Despite the Kremlin’s anxiety about the American presence in the region, Bhadrakumar’s rationale was that the Afpak war and the attempt to put a lid on militant Islam in the region are a grave common interest for Russia and the US.

Needless to say, Moscow would seek to barter. It might not be so crude as to put a tourniquet on the Americans’ northern supply lines to Afghanistan, but it would probably demand assurances on one of its greatest strategic worries – NATO’s eastwards expansion through the Caucasus and on to central Asia, which Washington justifies with rising urgency on the grounds its presence is needed to tackle a likely al-Qaeda threat in the region.

If this big picture is perplexing, the little picture is fraught too.

About two months after the ”Tulip Revolution” in 2005 swapped one thuggish regime for another in Bishkek, an eruption of popular dissent across the border in the Uzbek city of Andijan, in the Ferghana Valley, was brutally and bloodily suppressed – with the dead counted in the hundreds.

This is why the Bishkek crisis is explosive. For Kyrgyzstan to find itself under Moscow’s boot is one thing, but with the country’s deposed president threatening to spill more blood there could be a chain reaction across the so-called ”stans”.

Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan all might be stirred into wanting what Kyrgyzstan is having.

19 responses to “The Putin Pantomime

  1. Meanwhile the former president of Kyrgyzstan received asylum in the so-called “Union of Russia and Belarus”. (He was apparently spirited out of his country by Lukashenka’s private security service.)

    • Back to your brilliant demagoguery, Robert?

      Precisely which country offered him asylum? Russia or Belarus?

      And if he were offered asylum by Russia, why would he want to go to Belarus? Who would want to live in Pinsk or even Minsk if you can live in Moscow?

      • Nwever heard of this union? Seriously?

        No, of course you just pretend. You can’t be THAT stupid.

        Btw, Lukashenko “the last dictator” is much less a dictator than Putin. And by dictator I mean Stalin. And by being Stalin I mean the thousands of political murders by state-run death squads. There are just no recent mass graves anywhere in Belarus.

        • Yes, Robert, I have heard of this “Union”. It is a mere formality. Certainly not nearly as binding as the European Union, which has its own currency, parliament, laws, etc.

          And yet, if the President of, say, Greece does or says something, it would never occur to me to blame this on, say, the Prime Minister of UK.

          Do you understand this concept, Robert, or is this too complicated for your brain?

          • @Certainly not nearly as binding as the European Union, which has its own currency, parliament, laws, etc.

            I wrote:

            “Meanwhile the former president of Kyrgyzstan received asylum in the so-called “Union of Russia and Belarus”. (He was apparently spirited out of his country by Lukashenka’s private security service.)”

            And this was all.

            “And yet, if the President of, say, Greece does or says something, it would never occur to me to blame this on, say, the Prime Minister of UK.

            Do you understand this concept, Robert, or is this too complicated for your brain?”

            What was “too complicated for your brain” in my very short message, so you gave me such a weird in(s)ane comment?

            • Look, Turkey has jailed and killed an Armenian journalist, exterminated many Kurds, and committed numerous other crimes against human rights. But if I wrote “Armenians and Kurds have been exterminated in the so-called NATO”, that would be a Goebbels-like demagoguery, wouldn’t it? Same with your arguments here.

              The reality is that Lukashenko has provided asylum to Bakiyev precisely in order to spite Putin. And you know it.

              • That’s seriously amazing. I wrote:

                “Meanwhile the former president of Kyrgyzstan received asylum in the so-called “Union of Russia and Belarus”. (He was apparently spirited out of his country by Lukashenka’s private security service.)”

                and you keep telling me about how I allegedly wrote something (anything) about Putin. What can I say? Just wow.

                And then once again something about your BFF Nikita. Geez, why won’t you just let go this guy off the hook already? It’s not like he’s even coming coming here since then anyway. You must seriously have an obsession with this poor crazy fellow.

                Now, NATO is not “so-called NATO”. It actually exists and is not merely a circus show like the so-called “Union State of Belarus and Russia”.

                Also I actually kind of sympathise with the PKK. When it’s a bunch of guys (and gals) in baggy pants vs Cobra helicopters I root for the underdogs, and also their grievances are very real (no “extermination” though). But I guess you hate them because the PKK are “Islamist terrorists” (like what you repeatedly wrote about the Black September, even repeating this claim after I already ridiculed you on this).

  2. “Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva on Wednesday gave orders for security officers to use “deadly force” on a wave of rioting and looting that has threatened her fledgling government’s grip on power. That followed an appeal from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who on Tuesday expressed “deep concern” for the safety of ethnic Russians, who have been the victims of targeted attacks and illegal property seizures in recent days.”

    Lukashenko is probably “safekeeping” the fellow dictator just in case the Rooskies need him again. Never know when Roza could betray the Mascals and become a real revolutionary.
    Just like when Lenin was shipped from Germany to Roosha as their “Secret Weapon” during WWI.

    • “No matter how Lukashenko tries to describe this as an independent move of his own, it is absolutely clear that without [Kazakh president Nursultan] Nazarbayev and Medvedev’ s consent, it wouldn’t have happened,” says Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the official Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow.

      In his rambling press conference Tuesday night, Lukashenko depicted Bakiyev’s escape from temporary exile in Kazakhstan as if it were a daring escapade carried out by Belarus’s KGB spy service – he called them “my eagles” – who plucked the ex-Kyrgyz president and his family from imprisonment and lofted them away to safety in Minsk.

      “I doubt this tale very much,” says Mr. Zharikhin. “To imagine Lukashenko’s ‘eagles’ acting on their own, secretly entering Kazakhstan and then crossing Russian territory somehow against the will of Medvedev, is out of the question. This is not a James Bond story; it sounds more like the Pink Panther.”

      • This Zharikhin guy is an idiot. We all know that currently, Lukashenka is doing everything to irritate Russia, like when he spat in Putin’s face when Putin came to Belarus last time, by demonstratively going to Venezuela to replace Russian oil with Venezuelan oil. Clearly, Lukashenka’s invitation to Bakiyev is aimed at further irritating Putin and Medvedev, by giving asylum to a man whom Moscow despises and whom it demonstratively refused to help during his ouster.

        Lukashenko snubs Putin fore Venezuelan oil
        Monday, March 22, 2010

        Union with Belarus: political surrealism?

        By Konstantin Simonov, director general of the National Energy Security Foundation

        Alexander Lukashenko is intentionally fighting back against Russia with everything he’s got. First, there was the scandalous agreement whereby Belarus would import around four million metric tons of oil a year from Venezuela. Of course, this doesn’t measure up against the more than 20 million tons Belarus imports from Russia, and even if Belarus paid full price for Russian oil, the Venezuelan equivalent would still be more expensive. But the public relations impact was monumental. The louder the better.

        Furthermore, in an interview with one Argentinean newspaper, Lukashenko revealed that Venezuela could perhaps be involved in the privatization of Belarusian oil refineries, which, in light of the fact that Russian officials have long tried to persuade the Belarusian president to sell these refineries to Russian companies, means the situation has become absurd.

        Russia plans to invest $12 billion in Venezuela’s Junin 6 project, while at the same time Venezuela plans to buy assets that Russia has long had its eye on. And let’s not forget the scandalous lawsuit in the Economic Court of the CIS regarding the legality of customs duties on Russian exports of oil products and petrochemical raw materials to Belarus. It is clear that the lawsuit is groundless, and moreover many people only heard of the court’s existence after this incident. Nevertheless, the lawsuit has caused quite a commotion.

        And the latest news is that Alexander Lukashenko has instructed his First Deputy Prime Minister to begin negotiating with Ukraine to connect Belarus with the Odessa-Brody pipeline, a move clearly intended to give Minsk access to Venezuelan oil.

        • @This Zharikhin [deputy director of the official Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow] guy is an idiot.

          And who is this “RTR” guy?

  3. Check out the original article’s comments section for utterly retarded russophile claptrap. Ingenious.

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