Kyrgyzstan coup sparks unrest among Russia's allies
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

The State, SC
Posted on Sat, Mar. 26, 2005

The Associated Press


MOSCOW - Russia could see many of its closest allies topple like
dominoes and its own regional clout shrink inexorably after the
swift overthrow of the man who ruled Kyrgyzstan for 15 years, an
event that has turned up the heat on other autocratic rulers across
the ex-Soviet landscape.

This week's overthrow of the government in Kyrgyzstan was the third
uprising in Russia's sphere of interest in less than two years. Unlike
Georgia and Ukraine, however, the tussle between the government and
the opposition had nothing to do with a wider, East-West competition
for influence.

Instead, it centered on a previously weak and divided opposition
capitalizing on the deep unpopularity of an increasingly autocratic
president. Russia has depended on such leaders to promote its strategic
interests.

Already, the ripples of revolution have been felt far beyond the small,
mountainous nation of 5 million people in Central Asia.

Friday, in Belarus, on Russia's western edge, riot police clashed with
demonstrators calling for President Alexander Lukashenko's resignation,
beating them back with truncheons.

And in tightly controlled Uzbekistan, which borders on Kyrgyzstan,
opposition leaders from various movements issued a joint statement
of admiration for the Kyrgyzstan coup.

A domino effect would have deep ramifications for Russia.

Moscow wants desperately to form a free-trade zone that could restore
some of its Soviet-era economic power, but that requires cooperation
from Kazakhstan and Belarus. Today, those countries are in safe hands
from Moscow's point of view, but the opposition might not see such
an alliance in their nations' interest.

The fourth partner in the project, Ukraine, has suggested it could
pull out if new President Viktor Yushchenko's government decides it
is not in the national interest.

Moscow needs oil- and gas-rich Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan
to help maintain its status as a top energy transporter, and Tajikistan
and Armenia, which both host Russian bases, as outposts for its
military in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

New, opposition-led governments in any of those nations could cut
into Russia's strategic sway.

After losing its stake in last fall's political battle in Ukraine,
the Kremlin has taken a careful approach to Kyrgyzstan, making no
visible effort to help keep its longtime leader from losing power.

Meanwhile Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against
placing excessive hopes in the Commonwealth of Independent States,
a loose alliance of 12 former Soviet nations that Moscow has sought
to dominate.

With surprising candor, Putin said the CIS was merely a forum created
for the "civilized divorce" of the former Soviet republics, in contrast
to the European Union, which was built to foster real cooperation.

"All disappointments come from excessive expectations," Putin said.