Kyrgyzstan - at the Heart of Russian-US Rivalry

A few hours before the signing of the farcical “nuclear disarmament” agreement between Medvedev and Obama a violent revolt against the pro-American government of Bakiyev broke out. Almost a hundred dead and thousand wounded were left on the streets of the capital, Bishkek. The government fell and was immediately replaced by a “regency” in the person of Roza Otumbayeva, an ex-minister in the same government.

A proletarian mass took to the streets, arms in hand, in desperation not just because of chronic poverty and unemployment but also because the increase in energy prices has made them even poorer and ready for action. However, without a political guide to direct this anger against the capitalist system which is at the root of so much poverty and oppression, the revolt exhausted itself with a change of face in the government and there it stopped. In situations like this it is easy for the opposition who are already inside the system to turn the anger of the masses to their own ends, putting themselves forward as a new leadership which is more democratic and cares more about the needs of the country. But this is only the internal aspect of what is happening in this, the poorest and least rich in natural resources of all the ex-soviet republics.

There are lot of other interests which are putting pressure on the newly-installed Otumbayeva government. The old Bakiyev government came to power in the famous Tulip Revolution of 2005. A Washington product, was anti-Chinese and anti-Russian. Washington hoped that it would join a ring of states which would have allowed the USA to have military bases to logistically support its energy policy in Central Asia from Kazakhstan to Pakistan, i.e. from the Caspian to the Indian Ocean. The rival Russian imperialism replied in kind. From 2005 on, it has operated decisively and with a lot of muscle in those territories which used to belong to it. Together with China and for the first time in the history of both countries, it organised a military exercise on Asian soil with the participation and support of the ex-soviet Republics with declared aim of marking out the territory. At the same time, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was formed (including Kyrgyzstan) under Russian-Chinese control. In 2005 itself, Russia pressured the Karimov government in Uzbekistan in order to dismantle the US base at Karsi Khanabad. Both Russia (at Kant) and the US (at Manas) have military bases in Kyrgyzstan. The American base is particularly strategic because of its proximity to Afghanistan.

The “arrangement” worked like this. A month before the revolt Otumbayeva was in Moscow for talks with Putin. Putin had done everything in the preceding years to bribe the previous President, offering $2 billion to make life difficult for the American base there. Bakiyev was smart enough to know how to play the game. He got parliament to pass a law which decreed that the concession for the US base had ended but then went on to negotiate the lease which rose from $63 million to $170 million. The same “arrangement” saw the future head of government in Moscow again for talks with Medvedev on the future of Kyrgyzstan both in economic (billions of dollars have already been allocated to support a brother country) and military terms (150 paratroops have been added to the base at Kant). Furthermore Russia is the only country so far that has recognised the Otumbayeva government which, in its turn, has promised to renegotiate the terms of the lease on the Manas base with the US. Since 2001 this has been the home of the 376th Air Transport Corps , a body of 1000 soldiers and the last US military presence in the whole region. Russian imperialism has no scruples on what it considers to be its hunting ground. Two years ago it did not hesitate to use force against the Georgian government over South Ossetia. Then, as now, the energy resources of Central Asia as well as the trade routes for oil and natural gas, and the geopolitical supremacy of Russia and China are all part of the game. The Kremlin brooks no interference here whilst Washington, with its dwindling energy reserves, is fighting tooth and nail to control the energy business. The irony is that at the Prague Conference, where the “historic agreement” on nuclear arms was signed with its emphatic declaration that “the Cold War is now over” and that the world was a safer place, Obama and Medvedev were at daggers drawn over Kyrgyzstan. The Cold War is certainly over, an epoch of 40 years of indirect imperialist confrontation fought out on the backs of the world working class has ended. But the factors which cause new wars have not gone away, and, with new national tensions, civil wars etc. the current crisis can only make these episodes ever more pressing and decisive as part of the work in progress of the reforming of international imperialist alliances.

This is the black war for gas and oil for which Kyrgyzstan is paying the price, just like Iraq and Afghanistan, and as will all those countries further down the line who have the misfortune to be in a strategic area from the energy point of view. Amongst those who will once again have to “pay the price” is the world proletariat with whose desperation capitalist interests will play, as always, to obtain profits, energy sources, and the means to fight the wars necessary for their own survival.