By Arslan Sabyrbekov (03/19/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On March 11, Bishkek made its first official statement on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The Kyrgyz Ministry for Foreign Affairs says that the ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych can no longer be considered the country’s legitimate leader, as he continues to claim.
Bishkek reacted to Yanukovych's statement on March 11 that he is still Ukraine’s only legitimate President. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry stated that the current crisis in Ukraine was caused by widespread corruption and wrong decisions taken by the former authorities of that country. “The only source of power in any country is its people, a president who lost his people’s trust, who de facto lost his presidential authority and moreover, who fled his own country, cannot consider himself to be the legitimate leader,” the statement says. Furthermore, Bishkek described the people who died during the violent clashes in Kiev as “innocent people.”
The statement did not directly mention the critical situation in Crimean peninsula. But Kyrgyzstan expressed its concern over the development of the general situation in Ukraine and condemned all activities aimed at destabilizing the situation in the country, without specifying who it considers to be responsible for destabilization. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry also called on the country’s current political leadership and all other actors to use peaceful methods in resolving the crisis and adhere to national and international law, citing specifically the Charter of the United Nations. Thus, the statement implicitly recognizes the new Ukrainian political elite and power holders.
Bishkek's reaction immediately turned into a source of discussion among local political analysts. In the words of the Bishkek based political analyst Marat Kazakpaev, “even though the statement of the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry against Yanukovych seems to contain some sort of political attack on Moscow, it is in fact very tuned and precise.” According to the expert, the statement from the Kyrgyz MFA will not cause a negative reaction from the Russian leadership, especially taken into account its growing economic presence in the Kyrgyz republic, particularly in the form of gas, hydropower, and mining investment projects.
Based on this opinion, the statement seems to be directed primarily to the domestic audience. On the one hand, it neutralizes a constant claim of the opposition that the current leadership is subordinated to Moscow. On the other hand, it would be illogical for the Kyrgyz authorities, who came to power by means of demonstrations and many casualties to express its support for Yanukovych, who has often been compared to ousted ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Like Bakiyev, the ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych had established a heavily corrupt authoritarian regime, used force against demonstrators, and also settled in a foreign country with continuous statements of his legitimacy. Even in terms of foreign policy, the ousted presidents resemble one another in terms of lacking a clear vision and playing with all the big actors in their efforts of maximizing dividends, which were often personal.
On the contrary, political analyst Mars Sariev believes that "the statement of the Kyrgyz Ministry for Foreign Affairs will negatively impact and cool down the Kyrgyz-Russian relations. As a response to this statement, the Russian Federation can and is in a position to block Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Customs Union under preferable terms and conditions asked by Bishkek." Sariev also recalled that in 2008, Bishkek took another position than that of the Russian Federation over the Ossetia-Abkhazia conflict in Georgia, which at that time did not cause a heavy deterioration but cooled down relations between the two countries.
In turn, the U.S. Embassy in the Kyrgyz Republic issued its own statement commending the Kyrgyz Ministry for Foreign Affairs “for its strong statement recognizing the new Ukrainian government. By condemning all acts that would lead to further destabilization in Crimea and elsewhere, and affirming that the legitimate source of power in any country is the will of its people, the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic has shown respect for the democratic aspirations of both the people of Ukraine and the Kyrgyz Republic.”
While it remains to be seen what this statement will bring, it has turned Kyrgyzstan into the first member of the Russia-led Commonwealth of Independent States with a view that largely contradicts the Kremlin’s.