Medvedev Demands Defense of Russians Caught in Infectious Kyrgyz Violence
President Dmitry Medvedev demanded the protection of Russians in Kyrgyzstan as the leader of neighboring Uzbekistan warned that instability may “infect” other Central Asian states.
Medvedev yesterday ordered Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov “to take measures” to protect Russian citizens and property as incidents of looting increase, the Kremlin said on its Web site. Earlier, Medvedev met Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who warned the unrest may spread in the region.
The Kyrgyz opposition ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in a violent uprising this month in which as many as 85 people died. The provisional government of Roza Otunbayeva, recognized by Russia and the U.S., is struggling to maintain order. Five people were killed and 30 injured in rampages by looters outside the capital Bishkek, broadcaster Rossiya-24 reported last night.
“There’s a serious danger that what’s happening in Kyrgyzstan will take on a permanent character,” Karimov said. “The illusion is created that it’s easy to overthrow any lawfully elected government.”
Russia and the U.S. have air bases in the former Soviet republic, which underwent its second popular uprising in five years. More than 12 percent of the Kyrgyz population, or almost 700,000 people, are ethnic Russians, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.
There is no need yet to evacuate the families of Russian military personnel, Rossiya-24 reported today, citing Nikolai Makarov, chief of the General Staff. Besides the Kant air base, where there are 400 servicemen, Kyrgyzstan hosts a Russian military communications hub and naval testing center on Lake Issyk-Kul, the broadcaster said.
Russia changed legislation after its 2008 war with Georgia, providing for the military to protect Russian citizens living outside the country’s borders. The Defense Ministry deployed 150 paratroopers to reinforce the Kant air base in the aftermath of the April 8 uprising.
The U.S. relies on the Manas air base outside Bishkek to support operations in Afghanistan after Uzbekistan evicted the American military from its Karshi-Khanabad airfield in 2005. Otunbayeva last week pledged to keep Manas open for another year after the contract signed with Bakiyev expires in June.
The deposed Kyrgyz president is now in Minsk, Belarus, after fleeing Bishkek, first to his hometown in the south of the country and then to neighboring Kazakhstan. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on his Web site that he met Bakiyev today and pledged to afford him “all necessary support.”
Bakiyev denied that he’d stepped down as president and appealed to the international community not to recognize the provisional government, according to Rossiya-24. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin became the first world leader to give the new government de facto recognition when he called Otunbayeva the day after Bakiyev fled the rioters.
Karimov, the first Central Asian leader to visit Moscow since the Kyrgyz unrest, has guarded his independence against Russian attempts at closer integration. While Uzbekistan belongs to the Moscow-based Collective Security Treaty Organization, it isn’t participating in the group’s rapid-reaction force to fight drug trafficking and Islamic extremists.
Kyrgyzstan’s first popular uprising in 2005 became a “precedent” for this year’s uprising, Karimov said. The Tulip Revolution was followed two months later by the Uzbek government clampdown in the eastern city of Andijan, which New York-based Human Rights Watch called a “massacre.”
Uzbekistan kicked out the U.S. military after the Bush administration led international calls for an investigation into the crackdown.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lucian Kim in Moscow at email@example.com.