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Revolution in Central Asia: Who's Next?

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Message James Stafford

On April 7, 2010 the President of Kyrgyzstan Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled the capital city of Bishkek that was under a state of emergency after antigovernment protesters started clashing with security forces following incidents that started in the Northern city of Talas, close to the Kazakhstan border. By the end of April 7, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty was reporting 40 dead and 400 wounded, numbers that have over doubled since. In this context, one can only wonder which country in Central Asia could be next, if any, and which Central Asian leader could find himself out of a job and possibly on an airplane.

The ongoing events are monitored very closely as Central Asia is a very sensitive region: it is rich in natural resources, notably energy (oil & gas and a large hydropower potential), and as Kyrgyzstan hosts two military based on its soil - one U.S., the Manas Air Base (now called the "Transit Center at Manas International Airport"), and one Russian, the Kant Air Base. The U.S. base plays a critical role with operations in nearby Afghanistan and will stay in place according to Kyrgyz interim leader Roza Otunbayeva.

Manas constitutes a financial bonanza of tens of millions of dollars in addition to all the jobs created around the daily operations of the base. In 2009 the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan signed an agreement, renewing the right for the U.S. to use the facilities for $60 million/year, which is over three times more than what was paid before.

These events are also closely monitored inside the presidential palaces of neighboring Central Asia countries as this revolution, like some that took place in Eastern Europe and Eurasia since 2000, did not take much to topple the government.

All Central Asian leaders where elected through elections that the OSCE considers as failing at different levels to meet international democratic standards which prevents the development of a pluralistic political system. In this context, there is no real way for the opposition, or the people espousing the view of the opposition, to express utter dissatisfaction other than by demonstrating in the streets.

Protesters can be shot at and quieted temporarily like in Andijan, Uzbekistan in May 2005, or they can succeed in ousting their government like in Kyrgyzstan. The fact that the people can go down in the streets to voice their discontent with their government is a dire reminder that a silent or silenced public opinion is not one without an opinion and a that a little spark can launch an entire sequence of events, even more so as there are many worms in the Central Asian apple, fruit which is supposed to have originated from Central Asia.

Why Kyrgyzstan?

The events in Kyrgyzstan do not come as a surprise, except for those who wondered why news about the return of Tiger Woods was occasionally being bypassed in prime time news by events in a mostly unknown country. What was a true surprise is the speed at which events unfolded. They were triggered by an increase in fuel and electricity rates but the spark came in an explosive climate of latent and massive dissatisfaction with the regime in place.

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I have an interest in the financial markets, commodities and Geopolitics.
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