Coup in Kyrgyzstan: Developments and Implications
CRS Report for Congress
Coup in Kyrgyzstan:
Developments and Implications
April 14, 2005
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Coup in Kyrgyzstan: Developments and Implications
Kyrgyzstan is a small and poor country that gained independence in 1991 with
the breakup of the Soviet Union. It was long led by Askar Akayev — who many
observers warned was becoming increasingly autocratic — but the country was still
considered “the most open, progressive and cooperative in Central Asia,” according
to the U.S. Agency for International Development. The United States has been
interested in helping Kyrgyzstan to enhance its sovereignty and territorial integrity,
increase democratic participation and civil society, bolster economic reform and
development, strengthen human rights, prevent weapons proliferation, and more
effectively combat transnational terrorism and trafficking in persons and narcotics.
The significance of Kyrgyzstan to the United States increased after the September 11,
2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The Kyrgyz government permitted the
United States to establish a military base that trans-ships personnel, equipment, and
supplies to support coalition operations in Afghanistan.
Many people both inside and outside Kyrgyzstan were hopeful that the national
legislative election on February 27, 2005 would strengthen political pluralism, easing
the way for a peaceful handover of executive power in late 2005 when President
Akayev was expected to step down. The legislative race proved highly contentious,
however, and necessitated a second round of voting on March 13. The Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe tentatively concluded that serious
irregularities took place in the first round. After the February 27 vote, protestors
occupied government offices in the southern part of the country, and protests spread
throughout the rest of the country after the second round of voting. On March 24,
thousands of protesters stormed the presidential and other offices in the capital of
Bishkek and Akayev and his family fled. He resigned as president on April 4.
Acting president Kurmanbek Bakiyev has pledged to focus on combating corruption
that siphons away investment capital, and stressed that foreign policy would not
change, including Kyrgyzstan’s close relations with Russia and the United States.
Looming challenges to Kyrgyzstan’s stability include a planned presidential election,
possible legislative by-elections to fill seats under dispute, and a possible referendum
to adopt democratic changes to the constitution.
Indicating early support for democratization and continued security ties, Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld briefly visited Kyrgyzstan on April 14. Cumulative U.S.
budgeted assistance to Kyrgyzstan for FY1992-FY2004 was $749.0 million
(FREEDOM Support Act and agency funds). Kyrgyzstan ranks third in such aid per
capita among the Soviet successor states, indicative of U.S. government and
Congressional support in the early 1990s for its apparent progress in making reforms
and more recently for anti-terrorism and border protection. Of this aid, 14.6%
supported democratization programs. While this aid has bolstered the growth of civil
society in Kyrgyzstan, the Administration also has stressed that the United States did
not orchestrate the coup. As Congress and the Administration consider how to assist
democratic and economic transformation in Kyrgyzstan, several possible programs
have been suggested, including those to buttress civil rights, construct a federal
government, and bolster private sector economic growth. (See also CRS Issue Brief
IB93108, Central Asia, updated regularly.)
The Coup and Its Aftermath..........................................1
Implications for Kyrgyzstan and the Region.............................4
Implications for Afghanistan.....................................7
Implications for Russia and Other Eurasian States....................7
Implications for China..........................................9
Implications for U.S. Interests....................................9
Opposition Leaders in the New Government........................13
Coup in Kyrgyzstan:
Developments and Implications
Kyrgyzstan is a small and poor country that gained independence in 1991 with
the breakup of the Soviet Union.1 It was long led by Askar Akayev, who initially was
widely regarded as a reformer but in recent years appeared increasingly autocratic.
Despite this, the country was still considered “the most open, progressive and
cooperative in Central Asia,” according to the U.S. Agency for International
Development.2 The United States has been interested in helping Kyrgyzstan to
enhance its sovereignty and territorial integrity, increase democratic participation and
civil society, bolster economic reform and development, strengthen human rights,
prevent weapons proliferation, and more effectively combat transnational terrorism
and trafficking in persons and narcotics. The United States has pursued these
interests throughout Central Asia, with special strategic attention to oil-rich
Kazakhstan and regional-power Uzbekistan, and somewhat less to Kyrgyzstan. The
significance of Kyrgyzstan to the United States increased after the September 11,
2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The U.S. military repaired and upgraded
the air field at the Manas international airport for trans-shipping personnel,
equipment, and supplies to support coalition operations in Afghanistan and the3
region. In early 2005, the base hosted about 800 U.S. and 100 Spanish troops.
The Coup and Its Aftermath
Many people both inside and outside Kyrgyzstan were hopeful that the national
legislative election on February 27, 2005 would strengthen political pluralism, easing
the way for a peaceful handover of executive power in late 2005 when President
Akayev was expected to step down. Nearly 400 prominent politicians and
businessmen and 40 parties (many united in blocs) ran for 75 seats in the highly
contentious race. Many in Kyrgyzstan thought it unseemly that the president’s and
prime minister’s children were running for seats, along with many other family
1 It is small in terms of its population of 5.1 million and its size of 77,415 sq. miles (similar
to that of North Dakota), and poor in terms of many natural resources and its high rate of
poverty, estimated at 30-50% of the population. For background information, see CRS
Report 97-690, Kyrgyzstan.
2 USAID. Budget Justification to the Congress: Annex III, Europe and Eurasia, FY2005,
3 The State Department. Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations for
members and friends of high officials. Balloting resulted in the filling of less than
half the seats, with run-offs held on March 13 in districts where no one candidate
received over 50% of the votes cast. On March 22, the Central Electoral
Commission (CEC) announced that results for 71 districts were valid. Less than 10%
of seats were won by opposition candidates, although there reportedly were many
close races where they “lost” only by a few votes. These results incensed many in the
opposition camp, who alleged massive vote fraud. An initial report by election
observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and
the European Parliament fueled this discontent by stating that serious irregularities
had taken place, including the questionable exclusion of several opposition
candidates from running, biased state-controlled media and other heavy government
use of administrative resources, and problematic voter lists.4
After opposition candidates won only two seats in the first round, opposition
party-led demonstrators called for a new election and for Akayev to resign. In
southern Kyrgyzstan, protestors stormed and occupied government facilities,
including in the regional centers of Osh and Jalalabad. Many of these southerners
(including a majority ethnic Uzbek community) viewed themselves as discriminated
against both economically and politically by a central government dominated by
northerners.5 Some counter-demonstrations in support of the government also were
reported. Protests widened throughout both the north and south in the wake of the
March 13 run-off. Akayev hastily convened the new legislature immediately after
the CEC announced voting results on March 22, and urged the public to focus on the
upcoming planting season rather than a past election. He blamed foreign NGOs and
religious extremists for the protests, and his spokesman warned that the unrest
marked efforts by drug lords and terrorists to take power.
Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek remained relatively calm until an opposition rally
on March 23 was successfully dispersed by police and armed Akayev supporters.
The next day, thousands of angry demonstrators converged on government offices.
According to one account, a violent attack on the protesters by some of Akayev’s
supporters enraged the demonstrators and they stormed and occupied the presidential
and other offices. Akayev fled the melee and he and his family soon flew to
Moscow. Akayev’s prime minister resigned. The protesters released opposition
party leader Feliks Kulov from prison, where he had been held on embezzlement
charges that many observers had deemed politically motivated. Going to the
occupied compound, he hailed the “revolution made by the people.”6
4 OSCE. Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Parliamentary Elections,
the Kyrgyz Republic: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, Feb. 27, 2005.
Observers from several members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (Armenia,
Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) declared the voting
“transparent, open, and legitimate.”
5 Ethnic Uzbeks constitute 13.9% of the population, according the Kyrgyz Statistics
Committee (2001 estimate).
6 The coup was variously called the “tulip revolution,” the “yellow revolution,” the “lemon
Indicative of the chaotic legal situation, the Kyrgyz Supreme Court on March
24 recognized the former legislature as still duly empowered. Deputies from the
former legislature met that night. They were shocked by rampant looting in Bishkek,
and appointed Kulov to oversee the Security, Interior (police), and Defense
ministries. They also appointed opposition figure Kurmanbek Bakiyev acting prime
minister, and the next morning named him acting president as well. Bakiyev quickly
proposed a provisional government composed of opposition politicians, most
prominently Roza Otunbaeva as acting minister of foreign affairs; Adakhan
Madumarov, acting deputy prime minister; and Azimbek Beknazarov, acting
prosecutor-general (for further information on selected politicians, see the Appendix).
The old legislature wrangled with Bakiyev over the appointments, perhaps spurring
him to decide to dispense with it and endorse the powers of the new legislature.
Over the weekend, the Constitutional Court, Bakiyev, Kulov, and a newly
appointed head of the CEC proclaimed that the new legislature was constitutionally
legitimate and should be empowered, although granting that twenty or more district
races might need to be held again. The new legislature met on March 28 and elected
Omurbek Tekebayev as speaker and reaffirmed Bakiyev as prime minister and acting
president. The interim government has announced that a presidential election will
take place on July 10, 2005.
Akayev’s formal resignation as president on April 4, 2005, was a major boost
to the legitimacy of the interim government. The resignation agreement called for
Akayev to foreswear running for president again and for the new Kyrgyz authorities
to respect existing law that grants retired presidents immunity from prosecution.
Russia pledged to assist the parties in honoring their commitments. The Kyrgyz
legislature accepted Akayev’s resignation on April 11.
Among early policy decisions, Bakiyev on March 29 stated that he would
combat corruption that siphons away investment capital and compromises the
educational and legal systems. He also announced that personnel in the former
government responsible for electoral fraud and attacks on demonstrators would be
prosecuted, and that some property belonging to the Akayev family might be
confiscated. Both Bakiyev and Otunbayeva stressed that Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy
would not change, including its close relations with Russia and the United States and
the presence of their military bases in the country.
revolution,” and the “pink revolution” by opposition groups and commentators.
Implications for Kyrgyzstan and the Region
Observers remain divided on prospects for Kyrgyzstan, with some suggesting
that it will continue to democratize because it has a relatively vibrant civil society,
compared to the rest of Central Asia. Others are less optimistic, pointing to the
economic development challenges facing Kyrgyzstan and the high level of
disaffection among its population. They also point to the social fragility of a country
where the north and south have differing interests and where even ground transport
back and forth is difficult during the winter because of mountainous terrain.
The main division among the groups vying for power and influence during the
late March events appeared to be between pro-Akayev regional, clan, and family
groups — which together constituted the political and economic elite — and other
regional, clan, and family groups that felt deprived of their share of political and
economic power. Ethnic issues appeared at least initially less significant, since many
ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan joined other southerners in toppling the
regime. However, ethnic tensions remain of concern. Beyond their anti-Akayev
stance and demands for redistributing political and economic power, the opposition
parties mostly lack well-developed policies and strategic plans for the future of
Kyrgyzstan. Some observers have raised concerns that interim government leaders
are engaging in nepotism and other corrupt practices rather than combating them.
Several commentators view the coup as involving two anti-regime groups, the
dispossessed and the political opposition. To some degree, the former are younger
and the latter are older. The former were the active agents in taking over government
offices, and reportedly were motivated more by poverty and unemployment than by
opposition politics. Otunbayeva stressed that “mainly poor people” rather than party
stalwarts stormed the government complex on March 24. These commentators warn
that if a new government fails to remedy economic distress, more violence could7
occur. Other analysts have placed less credence on the “poor people” theory,
suggesting that at least some of the political opposition may have planned to forcibly8
oust Akayev on March 24.
No one opposition leader appears to enjoy overwhelming public and elite
support, although Bakiyev’s influence appears to have grown in recent months.9 As
was the case in Georgia, some of the most influential opposition leaders appear at
least initially to be cooperating in running the government. However, the planned
July presidential election appears to be accentuating tensions within the opposition
camp, in particular between Bakiyev and Kulov.10 Bakiyev, representing southern
7 Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report (hereafter, FBIS), Mar. 28, 2005,
Doc. No. EUP-17; Mar. 29, 2005, CEP-19; Mar. 29, 2005, CEP-213.
8 Daniel Kimmage, RFE/RL Report, Apr. 4, 2005. The role that political youth groups such
as Kel-Kel played in storming government offices is uncertain, but their activism has not
resulted in notable representation in the government, as occurred in Georgia and Ukraine.
9 FBIS, Feb. 26, 2005, CEP-139.
10 According to a January 2005 poll of the Kyrgyz elite, Bakiyev was the most popular
interests, seeks to enlarge his power base by wooing northern politicians (such as
Otunbayeva and many of those elected to the new legislature). Such actions could
reduce Kulov’s strong appeal in the north. On the other hand, many of the
oppositionists remain outside the Bakiyev government, and at least some may unify
to support Kulov in a prospective presidential race. Kulov also is trying to woo
former Akayev supporters by endorsing Akayev’s immunity from prosecution.
However, some pro-Akayev and northern interests have created the Akyykat (Justice)
political movement to challenge opposition candidates in the election.
Some observers raise the specter of a highly contentious and problematic
presidential election that may deepen civil disorder. Another source of likely
disorder may then come to the fore later in the year if the 15-20 or more disputed
legislative seats are re-contested, or if a new election of the whole legislature is
carried out. Unless these elections take place, however, the legislature will remain
illegitimate in the eyes of many Kyrgyzstanis. Calls by some in Kyrgyzstan for
rewriting the constitution to remove what are viewed as illegitimate changes made
during Akayev-orchestrated referenda create still more uncertainties about
Kyrgyzstan’s stability during the next few months. Some optimistic observers
suggest that the relatively bloodless March coup (3 deaths were reported) and
reduced public passions after Akayev’s ouster may bode well for the avoidance of
violence or political instability in the near term.11
Other observers who caution that political disorder may deepen suggest that
Islamic extremists could bid to take power. They maintain that Hizb ut-Tahrir and
other Islamic extremist groups have gained members in Kyrgyzstan in recent years,
and warn that such groups are anti-American and anti-Russian.12
Before the coup, there appeared to be some cooperation among ethnic Kyrgyz
and Uzbeks in protests in Kyrgyzstan’s south, in contrast to inter-communal violence
there in the early 1990s. Many ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz joined in supporting ethnic
Uzbek opposition leader Anvar Artykov in Osh. The emergence of such cooperation
appeared buttressed by region-wide parades and other celebrations to mark Akayev’s
overthrow. However, while some ethnic Uzbeks have supported Bakiyev, others
have criticized him for appointing people to leading government posts whom they
regard as Kyrgyz nationalists and for not appointing enough ethnic Uzbeks.13
politician in the country. Otunbayeva was among the top ten and Kadyrbekov among the
top twenty. FBIS, Feb. 26, 2005, CEP-139. Since he was freed from prison, Kulov has been
depicted by the Kyrgyz media as a prominent opposition figure, and his prison record may
make him appear more genuine to many disaffected Kyrgyzstanis.
11 FBIS, March 28, 2005, CEP-106; ITAR-TASS, Mar. 28, 2005.
12 Zeyno Baran, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 29, 2005.
13 AFP, Mar. 24, 2005; FBIS, Mar. 27, 2005, CEP-98; Eurasia Insight, Mar. 31, 2005.
The coup in Kyrgyzstan appears to have belied the views of some who asserted
that the relatively authoritarian regimes in Central Asia would endure for the
foreseeable future. The coup has galvanized opposition throughout the region and
caused palpable unease among regional elites, who unanimously condemned it as a
bloody putsch. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, for example, told his
citizenry that the coup was the work of 5,000 convicts who had escaped from jail and
were looting Kyrgyzstan.
Some observers suggest that Kazakhstan might be the most likely candidate
among the remaining Central Asian states where the opposition could influence
political change, because Nazarbayev has not completely crushed civil society.
However, he appears to be taking measures to head off a Kyrgyz-type coup. He has,
for example, raised salaries and pensions. Among security measures perhaps inspired
by the Kyrgyz coup, the legislature quickly approved electoral law changes banning
political rallies immediately after an election. Zamanbek Nurkadilov, a leader of a
newly formed opposition bloc, called in late March for Nazarbayev to step down
when his term expires in 2006, so that a democratic and non-violent leadership
transition may occur.14
In late 2005, Tajikistan faces a planned presidential election which the
incumbent authoritarian leader Emomali Rakhmanov is expected to win. Although
some political opposition parties were legalized as part of the 1997 settlement of
Tajikistan’s civil war, they have faced increasing harassment. The OSCE and the
Tajik opposition have criticized the Rakhmanov government for gross interference
in past elections, including the February 2005 legislative race, but the opposition has
not reopened the civil war. Following the events in Kyrgyzstan, however, the Tajik
opposition may consider the conduct of the 2005 presidential race as a decision point
for its future cooperation with the government.15
In Uzbekistan, the government strictly censored news about the Kyrgyz coup,
restricted public gatherings in regions near Kyrgyzstan, and closed the border.
President Islam Karimov harshly condemned the coup as an illegal act. Some Uzbek
opposition leaders hailed events in Kyrgyzstan as a call to arms in Uzbekistan, but
most of the major opposition leaders are in exile and little political expression is
allowed within the country.
The coup in Kyrgyzstan at least temporarily set back the already limited
cooperation among the Central Asian states, with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan putting
restrictions on cross-border trade and travel, some of which remain in place. The
regional presidents have contacted the interim leaders of Kyrgyzstan to establish
working relations to replace initial strains. These strains at times appeared to be
exacerbated by statements made by the interim Kyrgyz leadership. While
Otunbayeva at the end of March assured the regional leaders that “the guidelines of
14 Le Monde, Mar. 28, 2005, p. 4; FBIS, Mar. 31, 2005, CEP-53; Eurasia Insight, Apr. 1,
15 Baran, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 29, 2005.
our diplomacy will not change,” it appeared that she may have been advocating the
export of revolution when she added that “I hope that our neighbors will experience
the same thing ... that the other countries in central Asia will follow our path.”16
While opposition forces in the region include those espousing democratic
principles, they also include Islamic extremists and ultra-nationalists. It appears
unlikely that Islamic extremists soon could come to power, many observers argue.
More likely, Islamic extremists could use a weakened Kyrgyzstan as a base to support
affiliated groups throughout the Fergana Valley (which is shared by Kyrgyzstan,
Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan), thereby enhancing threats to the regimes of these
countries.17 Another possibility could be the rise to power of an ultra-nationalist
regime. It such a regime came to power, many observers suggest, there might well
be increased discrimination against ethnic Uzbeks, Russians, and other minorities
that could lead to violence. Kyrgyzstan’s foreign relations with neighboring
countries could also suffer if it pressed sensitive border claims or stopped
cooperating as a critical source of water supply for the downstream countries of
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
Implications for Afghanistan
The coup does not appear to have affected the operations of the U.S. base in
Kyrgyzstan in support of coalition actions in Afghanistan. A more democratic and
stable Kyrgyzstan might be considered for longer term pre-positioning of military
supplies or other enhanced use. The change of government in Kyrgyzstan could
result in greater efforts to combat cross-border criminal, terrorist, and drug smuggling
activities that conceivably could have a positive effect on Afghanistan. Drug
traffickers, however, could switch to other routes out of Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan
and Afghanistan might also cooperate in bolstering democracy in each other’s
countries and throughout the region.
Implications for Russia and Other Eurasian States
Some analysts view the coup in Kyrgyzstan as a harbinger of political
transformations in other Soviet successor (Eurasian) states. Others view it as
prompting tougher repression by authoritarian leaders intent on retaining power.
Russia quickly shifted in late March from harsh criticism of the Kyrgyz opposition
to offers of aid to the interim government. This volte face was made easier after
Bakiyev and others pledged that Kyrgyzstan would remain Russia’s “strategic
partner.” Some observers suggested that Russia had realized that its heavy-handed
approach to political liberalization in Ukraine and Georgia was only making these
countries more determined to gravitate toward the West. Putin reflected this stance
when he allowed that while “it is regretful that once more in a country in the post-
Soviet area, political issues are decided by unlawful means,” he hoped that he could
16 FBIS, Mar. 29, 2005, EUP-68.
17 Luc Perrot, AFP, Mar. 24, 2005; FBIS, Mar. 30, 2005, CEP-229.
work with the new leaders, many of whom he had amicably worked with in the
Although Putin appeared to be putting the best face on the impact of the coup
on Russia’s regional influence, others in Russia raised concerns that the coup marked
a further decline in Russian influence in other former Soviet successor states.
Nikolai Bordyuzha, General Secretary of the Collective Security Treaty Organization
of the Commonwealth of Independent States,19 raised concerns that the CSTO had
proved impotent, since Akayev had refused an offer of help from the CSTO in the
days before the coup, and the interim leaders of Kyrgyzstan also were ignoring it.
Perhaps portending greater tension in U.S.-Russia relations, some state-owned
television commentators in Russia alleged that the coup was simply another example,
after similar coups in Georgia and Ukraine, of U.S. meddling in Eurasia. Reflecting
an ultranationalist perspective, one private Russian newspaper even darkly warned
that the U.S. goal was “direct control over Eurasia,” including Russia, and that
Russia appeared to lack the political will to resist.20
Other authoritarian states in Eurasia have followed Uzbekistan’s example and
cracked down on civil society rather than liberalizing. In Belarus, President
Aleksandr Lukashenka ordered military exercises on March 28 that he stated would
“make sure [that people] are afraid of replacing the authorities” by attempted force.21
In Azerbaijan, the government moved even before the Kyrgyz coup (perhaps in
response to democratization events in Ukraine) to restrict youth participation in
future electoral campaigns. Azerbaijan’s opposition Musavat Party head Isa Gambar
hailed the Kyrgyz coup as proving that Muslim countries could roll back dictatorship,
and called on opposition parties to unite in bringing a “democratic revolution” to
Azerbaijan by winning legislative elections scheduled for November 2005.22 Leaders
of Moldova’s Transnistria and Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions in
April appeared concerned about Russia’s seeming impotence in influencing events
in Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps uncertain about Russia’s continued de facto support for their
separatism, they pledged to help one another militarily if they were attacked.23
18 FBIS, Mar. 28, 2005, CEP-202.
19 The Collective Security Treaty was signed by several Soviet successor states in 1992.
They pledged to consult in the event of a threat to one or several members, and promised
mutual aid if attacked. The members agreed in 2002 to set up a permanent secretariat.
Current members are Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
20 Izvestia, Mar. 29, 2005, pp. 1 - 2; Rossiya, Mar. 31, 2005, p. 4. Indicating a minimalist
rationale, Putin has argued that the CIS has served mainly to ease the “divorce” of the
republics of the former Soviet Union. Interfax, Mar. 25, 2005.
21 FBIS, Apr. 1, 2005, CEP-234.
22 FBIS, Apr. 1, 2005, CEP-138. The Chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee,
Konstantin Kosachyov, likewise blamed Russia’s loss of influence in Ukraine on its
exclusive focus on ties with existing Ukrainian leaders, rather than blaming it on U.S. and
Western efforts to overthrow these leaders. Arkady Orlov, RIA Novosti, Apr. 6, 2005.
23 AFP, Apr. 4, 2005.
In contrast to these leaders, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili hailed the Kyrgyz coup and dispatched their
foreign ministers to Bishkek at the end of March to offer advice and support to the
interim leadership. The ministers proposed that Kyrgyzstan join a “Democratic
Choice Coalition” just formed by the two presidents to cooperate on democratic
reforms. Reportedly, democratic activists from both countries had traveled to
Kyrgyzstan before the coup to give advice to activists there.24
Implications for China
China is concerned that the coup could lead to a more democratic Kyrgyzstan
that would inspire Chinese democrats and embolden some ethnic Uighurs (a Turkic
people) who advocate separatism in China’s Xinjiang region bordering Kyrgyzstan.
Groups such as the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM; designated by
the United States as a terrorist group) have bases in Central Asia. Akayev had
reached agreement with China in 2003 to step up cooperation in combating these
groups, and China is anxious that such cooperation continue. China may also be
concerned that peaceful Uighurs within a democratic Kyrgyzstan might become more
politically active in advocating for their kin in Xinjiang.25 Apparently, there were
some attacks on Chinese businessmen in Kyrgyzstan during the coup that might be
classified as hate crimes. China is also concerned that instability in Kyrgyzstan could
result in increased cross-border smuggling and other crime.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeman on March 29 stressed China’s paramount
concern that law and order be re-established with Kyrgyzstan and that “good
neighborly relations” continue, including cooperation in combating terrorists.26 The
latter includes work within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO; formed
in by China, Russia, and most of the Central Asian states), headquartered in Bishkek.
Matching in some respects Russian concerns about the CSTO, the coup reportedly
raised questions in China about the effectiveness of the SCO’s emergency
Implications for U.S. Interests
The U.S. Administration has considered Akayev’s government as less
objectionable than others in Central Asian, and hoped that a planned late 2005
presidential race would become “a model for peaceful, democratic transfer of27
executive power in the region.” In line with these hopes, the Administration and
others were focusing on civil society aid to facilitate a free and fair presidential
24 See also CRS Report RL32845, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and U.S. Policy.
25 For background, see CRS Report RL31213, China’s Relations with Central Asian States,
Oct. 7, 2002.
26 Asia Pulse, Apr. 5, 2005; Hong Kong AFP, March 29, 2005; Matthew Oresman, Central
Asia-Caucasus Analyst, April 6, 2005.
27 Department of State. Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations for
election late in the year, so Akayev’s ouster caught the United States and virtually all
observers by surprise.
Cumulative U.S. budgeted assistance to Kyrgyzstan for FY1992-FY2004 was
$749.0 million (FREEDOM Support Act and other agency funds). Kyrgyzstan ranks
third in such aid per capita among the Eurasian states, indicative of U.S. government
and Congressional support in the early 1990s for its apparent progress in making
reforms and more recently for anti-terrorism and border protection. Of this
cumulative aid, 14.6% supported democratization programs, including legal and
judicial training, legal support for NGOs, advice on party and electoral legislation,
training for political parties, support for independent media, and the dissemination
of civics textbooks.28 Estimated aid for FY2005 (FREEDOM Support Act and other
foreign aid, excluding Defense and Energy Department aid) was $36.4 million. The
Administration requested $35.7 million for FY2006, and on March 24 stated that it
would “continue to support economic and democratic reform in Kyrgyzstan,
including elections, humanitarian assistance, law enforcement, and security, and will
carefully watch for emerging needs” as political developments there unfold.29
Reportedly, opposition leaders Tekebayev and Otunbayeva have stated that U.S.
democracy assistance was helpful to their endeavors. For example, both were
participants in the International Visitors Program to observe the 2004 U.S.
presidential election. Other aid included a printing press operating since November
2003 that prints all opposition newspapers, which earlier had faced obstacles in
obtaining services at state-controlled facilities. In the run-up to the legislative race,
one opposition newspaper did an expose on the alleged wealth of the Akayev family.
Akayev denounced the article as libelous. A few days later, electricity mysteriously
was shut off to the press. The U.S. Embassy strongly protested and lent generators
to continue operations until power returned a week later.30
Although accepting some credit for the role U.S. democratization aid has played
in facilitating the development of civil society in Kyrgyzstan, the Administration has
been careful to stress that it did not “mastermind” the coup. Secretary Rice also has
tried to reassure Russia that the United States and the West are not attempting to
“encircle” Russia by instigating democratic “revolutions” throughout Eurasia, but
that these are indigenous developments that will benefit Russia as these countries
become more stable and prosperous.31
The Administration at least initially appeared to follow the European Union and
other international institutions and governments in cautiously assessing developments
in Kyrgyzstan during the chaotic period leading up to the coup. Concerns that
disorder and violence might increase were foremost and the Administration urged
28 For Eurasia, democratization programs accounted for 10.5% of all cumulative aid,
indicating that slightly more attention was placed on such programs in Kyrgyzstan.
29 Department of State. Office of the Spokesman, Mar. 24, 2005.
30 Steve Gutterman, AP, Apr. 1, 2005.
31 Department of State. Office of the Spokesman. Interview, Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice with the Washington Post Editorial Board, Mar. 25, 2005
peaceful negotiations between the Akayev government and opposition forces.
Reportedly, U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Stephen Young soon after the coup told
Bakiyev that the United States would provide added aid to bolster a democratic
transition. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick on March 29 endorsed a
significant role for the OSCE in facilitating talks among pro-Akayev and opposition
leaders to ease the transition of power and in facilitating support for the transition
among regional OSCE members, including Russia.32
Some in the Administration have suggested that the Kyrgyz coup is part of a
worldwide trend of democratization, following in the footsteps of those in Georgia,
Ukraine, and elsewhere. Secretary of State Rice stated on March 24 that “the Kyrgyz
people have a desire and an aspiration for freedom and democracy, as do people
around the world. The responsibility of the international system … is to help people
when they express this to channel this into a set of processes that then lead to stable
institutions.” Deputy Secretary Zoellick similarly asserted that the Kyrgyz, like
“people in very diverse parts of the world, whether it is Ukraine, Georgia, Iraq,
Afghanistan or the Palestinian elections ... desire to be free....”33
Indicating support for democratization and continued security ties, Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld briefly visited Kyrgyzstan on April 14. He thanked the
interim leadership for Kyrgyzstan’s support for the Global War on Terror and stated
that he told them that “the United States is wishing them well in the important work
that they’re engaged in building a stable and modern and prosperous democracy.”
Bakiyev assured Rumsfeld that U.S. basing rights would be upheld.34
While the Kyrgyz interim government has pledged to continue Akayev’s
foreign policy of good relations with both the United States and Russia, it is
uncertain whether this might change in the future. The interim leadership appears to
support important U.S. interests in the region. Kulov seems to be strongly pro-U.S.,
but he also has argued that up to one million Kyrgyz (20% of the population) may be
working in Russia, that their repatriated earnings constitute a major portion of the
Kyrgyz budget, and that Russia provides oil, so “we cannot quarrel with Moscow.”35
Some observers suggest that even if Kyrgyzstan endeavors to maintain close relations
with China, Russia, and the United States, a strong Kyrgyz state would serve U.S.
interests in the region by more effectively combating terrorism and drug and human
trafficking emanating from Afghanistan.
32 FBIS, Mar. 31, 2005, CEP-136; AFP, Mar. 29, 2005; Department of State, Regular News
Briefing, Mar. 31, 2005.
33 The State Department. Office of the Spokesman. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
And Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis After Their Meeting, Mar. 24, 2005; AFP,
Mar. 29, 2005. That same day, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli stressed that “our
overall approach ... is to support the efforts of the Kyrgyz people to build a stable and
prosperous democracy.” He argued that where “you’ve got election fraud,” that is “not dealt
with openly, transparently and consistent with commitments that the government has to its
people, then there is going to be a negative reaction” by the public, and “what we’re seeing
in Kyrgyzstan is a reflection of that....” Daily Press Briefing, Mar. 24, 2005.
34 American Forces Press Service, Apr. 14, 2005.
35 FBIS, Mar. 28, 2005, EUP-17.
The United States has been building twenty troop barracks at the U.S. airbase
at Manas to replace tents, anticipating that the base will continue to be a major
transhipment point for personnel and equipment for operations in Afghanistan.
According to a March 2005 report by Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry (later denied by
both U.S. and Kyrgyz authorities), the government had received requests from the
United States and NATO regarding the possibility of deploying airborne warning and
control systems planes (AWACS) at Ganci. The government denied the requests,
however, ostensibly because of its commitments to the CSTO and the SCO.
Although the interim government has stated that it will uphold the existing balance
of security ties with Russia, China, and the United States, a more Western-oriented
government might eventually reassess such ties.
As Congress and the Administration consider how to assist democratic and
economic transformation in Kyrgyzstan, several possible programs have been
suggested by observers in Kyrgyzstan, the United States, and elsewhere. At the same
time, these observers have cautioned that developments in Kyrgyzstan remain fluid
and that a democratic transformation is not assured. These observers suggest that one
sign that the new leaders are committed to democratization would be a free and fair
presidential election. Among possible programs, former Kyrgyz foreign minister
Muratbek Imanaliyev has called for the creation of an advisory group of international
experts to examine how Kyrgyz politics might become more inclusive of both
northern and southern interests and how Kyrgyzstan might step up its pace of private
sector economic transformation. In Congress, the newly established House
Democracy Assistance Committee is examining possible inter-parliamentary
technical assistance to Kyrgyzstan. Other observers have called for Kyrgyzstan to
soon be designated a country eligible for aid from the U.S. Millennium Challenge
Corporation. The International Monetary Fund views Kyrgyzstan as making
important recent progress in fiscal reforms, GDP growth, and poverty reduction, and
calls for international financial institutions to continue to support the country in
36 International Monetary Fund. IMF Country Report No. 05/119. Kyrgyz Republic: Sixth
Review, Mar. 29, 2005.
Opposition Leaders in the New Government
Kurmanbek Bakiyev, prime minister 2000-2002. Then-President Askar Akayev
blamed him for a government crackdown on a protest in the south that led to several
deaths, and he was forced to resign. He became head of the opposition People’s
Movement of Kyrgyzstan (PMK) bloc in late 2004. He lost his bid for a legislative
seat in the March 2005 run-off.
Azimbek Beknazarov, head of the nationalist Asaba Party. In 2001 he harshly
criticized President Akayev for agreeing to border adjustments deemed favorable to
China and Kazakhstan, allegedly contributing to his arrest in 2002. In late 2004, he
became deputy head of PMK. He won a legislative seat in the March 2005 run-off.
Murtabek Imanaliyev, foreign minister 1997-2002. He heads the Jany Bagyt (New
Direction) Social and Political Movement.
Feliks Kulov, head of the Ar-Namys (Dignity) Party. He was imprisoned in 2001 on
corruption charges that some observers viewed as politically motivated. His party
is prominent in the north but has members all over the country. He was released
from prison during the demonstrations on March 24, 2005, and the Supreme Court
threw out all charges against him on April 11.
Adakhan Madumarov, co-head of the Ata Jurt party bloc and For Fair Elections
Movement. He contested his “loss” in the March 2005 run-off and was declared the
winner by the CEC.
Roza Otunbayeva, former deputy prime minister, foreign minister, ambassador to the
United Kingdom and the United States, and U.N. emissary. In late 2004, she became
co-chair of the Ata-Jurt party bloc. The CEC refused to register her as a candidate
in the recent legislative election.
Omurbek Tekebayev, heads the Ata Meken Party. He won a legislative seat in the
March 2005 run-off.
Figure 1. Map of Kyrgyzstan