The twenty-four hour period around August 7, 2019, was one of the most interesting periods in recent memory for the people of Kyrgyzstan. The fallout from these events will have a long-lasting impact as well not just for Kyrgyzstan but possibly for Central Asia as well.
The issue in question was an initial raid by Kyrgyz Security Forces upon the home of the former President Almazbek Atambayev after the former leader failed to appear as a witness after being summoned to appear in front of a panel investigating allegations of corruption and abuses of power committed during his term in office. During this first effort, one officer was killed and six others were taken hostage by the supporters of Mr. Atambayev who took up arms to defend their leader.
A second raid resulted in the hostages being rescued and Mr. Atambayev being taken into custody and taken to the Capital of Bishkek. Reports indicate that he is being held at the Interior Ministry where he is being questioned about the botched raid. This is the point where events become more interesting. Addressing a Special Session of Parliament the current President Sooranbi Jeenbekov told the lawmakers that the former leader “had been summoned to appear as a witness, now we will summon him over a grave crime.”
There are now reports of clashes between Security Forces and supporters of Mr. Atambayev. It should be noted that on August ‘8th a rally was planned by Mr. Atambayev. That has now been cancelled and he urged his supporters to defend his home. One ally of Atambayev who still sits in the Parliament was quoted as saying that the supporters of the former President “were ready to defend the President to the end.”
There are some interesting geopolitical factors at play as well. There are reports that in recent weeks that Mr. Atambayev had met with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The questions that arise from this meeting will have analysts wondering if Mr. Putin offered any protection to the former leader. If so why wasn’t it delivered? Or even more chilling could be when will it manifest to rescue Mr. Atambayev. The silence of Russia so far is an issue to consider. When Moscow is silent for an extended period that can be seen as they have taken some form of action in their best interests.
Contrast that to the relations with the United States. As the war in Afghanistan continues to be scaled back the importance of Kyrgyzstan has decreased to the point that in 2018 the Commander of Central Command testified in front of Congress that he felt that the Country preferred to have ties with both Russia and China. The US would focus more on improving relations with the region as an entity than just focusing on one specific country.
When President Jeenbekov became President in 2017 after a peaceful transfer of power there were no indications at that point of time of any falling out between these two leaders would take place. After all, Mr. Jeenbekov was the handpicked successor to Mr. Atambayev. It appears that these elections, in essence, kicked the can down the road and delayed any potential violence in the country for two years.
One thing is for certain. This is a political squabble. Currently, the average citizen has not taken to the streets yet to support either leader. It appears that a wait and see attitude has taken hold and people are wishing to see how the situation evolves before any crucial decision is made. In fact, a popular blogger in the country recently posted: “ Don’t be fooled that we’re choosing between Atambayev and the current government, they’re from the same flesh”. Having this attitude on the street is not a good omen for either side in this dispute.
A dispute that led to the falling out of two former allies, no popular support currently on the street. This is a recipe that could lead to some unknown parties with outside backers to make a play for power if they can garner some support.