Kyrgyz Crisis: Drug Mafia, Banker, Football, Spy – 1
by Ramtanu Maitra on 10 Jul 2010 0 Comment

After taking over as Interim President following the early-April uprising that ousted the Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Roza Otunbayeva had promised new parliamentary elections in October and a referendum on a new constitution. On June 27, the referendum was held successfully, with a convincing vote in favour of adopting a new constitution and parliamentary elections in the fall. Despite this clear boost for the process of reform launched by the government, the danger is not over.


The danger remains because the southern Kyrgyzstan where the riots took place is under control of the ousted Bakiyev administration’s family members and the drug mafia that the family handles. But beyond that, there exists the paw prints of bankers, business outfits and entertainment industry deriving financial benefits from the unaccounted-for stash of cash generated day in and day out by the drug cartel, and, in return, providing these criminal elements the necessary cover.


A little more than two weeks before the successful referendum, a riot broke out in Osh. The riot was neither spontaneous nor ethnic by nature. The criminal elements that organized the violence, said to be among the worst outbreaks in Central Asia in 20 years, did so in the hope that the alleged historical animosity between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the fertile Ferghana valley would draw the majority community of Kyrgyz into furthering their civil war plan. It is to the credit of the Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnic groups, who have lived next to each other for decades there, that they refused to take the bait. According to United Nations observers on the ground, groups of gunmen in ski masks were shooting at Kyrgyz and Uzbek alike. 


Although the June 27 referendum was held in a peaceful environment, the threat of fresh violence is very much in the air. Two days after her inauguration as President on July 3, Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva warned that the risk of further violence in the impoverished Central Asian nation remained. “There may be other outbursts,” Otunbayeva told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. It is widely admitted that the government under President Otunbayeva has struggled from the outset to extend its authority across the country, particularly in the Bakiyev family’s southern power base. 


Despite the threat of fresh violence, what is relevant to note is that the Roza Otunbayeva-led government since its inception as an interim government won the support of both the United States and Russia, the two most important foreign powers active in Kyrgyzstan. The other powerhouse in that area, China, as Xu Xiaotian, an expert on Central Asian studies at the high-profile China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), said, ‘No matter which party is in power, it will value China-Kyrgyzstan relations.’ But, as the April 9 China Daily noted, the upheaval may temporarily affect some of China’s projects in this region, such as large projects in power and mining. According to Dong Manyuan, an anti-terror expert at the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), who was also quoted in the China Daily, ‘Its geographically strategic location means Kyrgyzstan needs to strike a balance between great powers. It doesn’t want to offend Russia or the US, and it wants to maintain friendship with China.’


Both the United States and Russia have air bases in Kyrgyzstan. The US base at Manas airport is an important cog in the American-NATO machinery to provide an uninterrupted supply to their 150,000-strong force fighting in nearby Afghanistan. Yet despite the obsession with ‘Great Game’ theories in certain quarters, there is no evidence that the recent events have been driven by a power struggle between Washington and Moscow. And, to date, both have officially maintained their allegiance to the government.


In fact, struggles among the regional countries for control of the rich Ferghana Valley are not new in Kyrgyz history, and the US, Chinese and Russian governments are by no means the only global players in Central Asia. The spectre of a north-south partition of the country has been raised (and rejected) before. What is new and material to the current situation is the lure and power of the international drug trade to grease the wheels of corruption and fuel civil war. It is perhaps no accident that, among other things, the region around Osh is one of the principal conduits for the opium that flows out of Afghanistan.


A day before the Osh rampage, the first large public protest took place in Bishkek as hundreds of Bakiyev’s Ak Zhol party members and allied Communists demonstrated against the dissolution of parliament. When fighting broke out in Osh on June 11, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the fighting appeared to be ‘orchestrated, targeted and well-planned,’ and she urged authorities to act before it spread. The declaration bolstered Bishkek’s claims that hired attackers marauded through Osh, shooting at both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks to inflame old tensions. The observations of UN personnel on the ground point to the existence of an organized group that wants to destabilize southern Kyrgyzstan and plunge the entire country into a north-south civil war.


The April 2010 Uprising


Although the actual ouster of President Bakiyev took place in early April, the Voice of Russia in an article, ‘Kyrgyzstan: Second Edition of Tulip Revolution?’ on March 17 had already reported that 2,000 Kyrgyz opposition supporters were taking part in the People’s Congress, or Kurultai, which opened in Bishkek on that day. The Kurultai discussed the Bakiyev government’s backsliding on human rights along with the country’s skyrocketing utility tariffs and the sell-off of strategic energy and communication facilities. Ahead of the Kurultai, an array of independent news websites, including Russian-language ones, were blocked in Kyrgyzstan in a move that raised many eyebrows. The authorities quickly shut several web portals, which earlier had revealed information about possible murky deals between the Kyrgyz president’s son, Maksim Bakiyev, and his American business partner, Yevgeny Gurevich, former general director of the financial firm ZAO MGN Group and a businessman who is also widely identified as a Russian mafioso. Adding fuel to the fire were Yevgeny Gurevich’s alleged links to the Italian mafia, something that did not pre-empt Maksim Bakiyev from rubbing elbows with Gurevich.


The Russian embassy in Bishkek had expressed deep concern about these developments, urging the Kyrgyz authorities to immediately start grappling with the situation. In Moscow, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) expert Andrei Grozin endorsed the embassy’s move and said: it’s a good thing that the Russian diplomats moved on Wednesday (March 17) to warn Bishkek over closing the websites.’ Endorsing the move, Grozin pointed to the Kyrgyz opposition’s drive to caution the authorities against going ahead with state property privatization, an uncontrolled process that sees the country’s major infrastructure facilities purchased by offshore firms.  


The ongoing privatization plus ever-increasing utility bills continue to cause a wide public outcry, with opposition leaders already urging mass protest rallies in central Bishkek, Grozin said, drawing a parallel between the March 2010 events and those in March 2005, when the so-called Tulip Revolution took place. That event propelled Kurmanbek Bakiyev to power, Grozin explained, admonishing the Kyrgyz president for taking steps that may ultimately lead to his own overthrow. 


What Grozin was cautioning about was also identified by Venera Djumataeva in her June 13 RFE/RL article, ‘The Roots Of Kyrgyzstan’s Uprising,’ in which she said: ‘Despite the social and economic problems already wracking the country at the end of 2009 (hundreds of thousands of young people are forced to go abroad to seek work), Bakiyev’s government announced multifold increases in the prices for electricity, heating, and water. At the same time, a surcharge was imposed for each mobile-phone connection.’


Nepotism and other corruption within Bakiyev’s government were additional irritants. Bakiyev appointed his second son, Maksim, as chief of the newly created Agency for Investment and Economic Development. This agency accumulated most of the money coming into the Kyrgyz economy, including foreign investment and social and pension payments. Bakiyev’s eldest son, Marat, and several brothers were appointed to high government posts.


Maksim Bakiyev’s agency misused a Russian loan provided to the Kyrgyz government to bridge the state budget deficit, according to a representative of the Russian Embassy in Bishkek. And Maksim’s financial adviser, Yevgeny Gurevich, was accused by an Italian judge in March 2010 of embezzling some $2.7 billion from telecom companies, Djumataeva reported.


Further deep disappointment came in the form of unrelenting political and media repression. It was hard to tell whether organized criminal groups were involved in politics or whether politicians were involved in organized crime, Djumataeva observed. Since Bakiyev had become president, about 10 well-known public figures including five members of parliament have been murdered.


An even bigger shock came when the charred body of Bakiyev’s former chief of staff was found in a burned-out car with two other people. On top of that, three journalists were killed and numerous others beaten and threatened. About 20 politicians or journalists have fled the country and received political asylum in the West. In May alone, Djumataeva reported, three independent newspapers were shut down, and RFE/RL’s radio and television programs were banned from local stations.


Russia’s displeasure with the Bakiyev administration also became evident when Kyrgyz opposition leaders began visiting Moscow with greater frequency. Roza Otunbayeva visited Russia in March; Almazbek Atambayev was there several times over the span of a few months; and Temir Sariev was arrested at the Bishkek airport upon his arrival from Moscow on April 7, the day of the uprising that ousted Bakiyev. All three are leading members of the interim government.


Further, Russia did everything to make official Bishkek nervous in the last months of Bakiyev’s rule, imposing a new customs tax on all oil products exported to Kyrgyzstan which gets 95 percent of all of its oil products from Russia. It was obvious that Moscow was seriously disappointed in the Bakiyev government.


Drug mafia inciting riots


During the weeks that elapsed between the April ouster of Kurmanbek Bakiyev and the Osh riots, reports showed supporters of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Kyrgyzstan’s ousted leader, taking over the local government headquarters in the city of Osh. The protesters scuffled with guards and entered the government building during the unrest after holding a demonstration that drew about 1,000 people. The Kyrgyz government responded by saying it would take unspecified measures to restore authority in the area and have blamed the former president’s inner circle for igniting the unrest. 


Kyrgyzstan’s deputy security chief, Kubat Baibolov, provided details indicating that people close to Bakiyev’s family had hired gunmen from neighbouring Tajikistan, who drove around Osh in cars with tinted windows opening fire on both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz to inflame tensions. Some of the suspected gunmen have been detained and have told authorities they were hired by Bakiyev supporters to start the deadly rampages, Baibolov said.


The government claimed at the time that Bakiyev’s family instigated the violence to halt the June 27 referendum which, if approved by the population, could provide the new government legitimacy and lay the groundwork for the October elections. At the same time, it is likely that the gunmen in ski masks have a much broader plan than simply scuttling the proposed referendum. Osh, a city of 250,000, and its surrounds are a top conduit for heroin flowing out of Afghanistan and, thus, a hotbed for gangs and guns. 


Some observers say the violence could have been rooted in the fight for control over drug trafficking. Evidence has appeared suggesting that a nexus comprised of the Kyrgyz drug mafia controlled by the deposed president’s family and his son Maksim Bakiyev being the kingpin, and international bankers and drug money-infested British soccer clubs, would like to keep control of southern Kyrgyzstan where drugs from Afghanistan and opium produced in the Ferghana Valley flow like water, even if that leads to a civil war and partition of Kyrgyzstan. Maksim Bakiyev’s June 14 flight to Britain, where he was promptly arrested and muzzled by British authorities, is a pointer to what the criminals are planning and where their outside support bases are.


It is likely that since the drug mafia, and its benefactors in southern Kyrgyzstan and beyond, did not succeed in instigating a spontaneous ethnic warfare between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz citizens during the June killings, they might seek next the help of the well-entrenched British-trained and Saudi-funded Wahabis, who function inside Kyrgyzstan under the Islamic garb of Hizb ut-Tahrir and the violence-prone Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) to achieve their goal. Again, the fingerprints of the old colonial power, Britain, and its Islamic comrade, Saudi Arabia, have begun to surface.


Central Asia-Caucasus analyst Joldosh Osmonov pointed out in a May 13 article, ‘Former President’s Supporters Call for Kyrgyzstan’s Partition,’ that supporters of the ousted President Bakiyev in southern Kyrgyzstan demanded a division of the country into two autonomous states almost three weeks before the same supporters allegedly unleashed the violence in Osh, Jalalabad and other southern Kyrgyzstan cities. The interim government condemned the partition initiative, pointing to the absurdity of the idea while law enforcement bodies promised to take harsh measures within the law against the instigators. Despite the fact that such a scenario is considered highly unlikely by Kyrgyz officials generally, it could conceivably gain wider support from the public in light of the new government’s failure to stabilize the situation in the southern region, according to experts cited by Osmonov.


The author is South Asian Analyst at Executive Intelligence Review News Services Inc.

User Comments Post a Comment
Comments are free. However, comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate material will be removed from the site. Readers may report abuse at
Post a Comment

Back to Top