Who’s next? The Russian press started a frantic search for the answer to that question as soon as news reports from Kyrgyzstan showed the rider carrying a yellow banner.
The Izvestia newspaper quoted US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose analysis of events in Kyrgyzstan emphasized the “fundamental fact” that “the territory around Russia is changing, and changing dramatically.” She added: “This is only the beginning.”
Moreover, according to Ms. Rice, “there is no question of Russia controlling” events in the former “near abroad.”
It’s worth noting that the Kyrgyzstan events – the third “color revolution” in the CIS – followed the familiar script, though with “some adjustments for local specifics” (as Profil magazine points out).
This is rather odd, since although there had been some discussion of this possible scenario (mostly in December, during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution), as Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections drew closer the tone of “commentators who understood the situation” became, as Profil puts it, “more and more calm.”
There were constant assurances that President Akayev was in control of the situation, with no unexpected developments predicted – and for good reason, according to Profil: “The Americans, who have bases in Kyrgyzstan, clearly told Akayev that they would prefer to see Kyrgyzstan stable and controlled by its current leadership.”
Indeed, it’s entirely obvious that neither America nor Russia wanted a revolution in Kyrgyzstan – “a ‘tulip’ revolution, a ‘lemon’ revolution, or any other kind of revolution.” Both Russia and the United States have military bases in Kyrgyzstan. Neither Moscow nor Washington had protested against the Akayev regime.
Most importantly, says Profil: “It would be sheer madness to play at revolutions in Central Asia, where it’s virtually a miracle that the growing influence of radical Islamists is still being kept under control.”
Straight after the Kyrgyzstan events, Izvestia advised any Central Asian countries that wish to avoid being swept by a wave of “primitive looting revolutions,” as in Kyrgyzstan, to keep the socio-economic situation under control, take account of the “democratic opposition factor,” and be able to handle radical Islamist movements.
“The influence of such movements on the mob is more substantial there,” says Izvestia. “These countries have no experience of building a democratic society of the type promoted by the United States. But they have practised Islam for centuries.”
Therefore, according to Izvestia, Russia and the United States were agreed on one thing: Kyrgyzstan’s revolution could be any color other than green.
Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, made a substantial statement to the effect that “internal changes in Kyrgyzstan pose no threat to the security of Russia or the United States as long as Kyrgyzstan remains within our field.” However, even Margelov was forced to admit that “Islamic fundamentalism in the region – this is the question that still remains open.”
The Argumenty i Fakty weekly claims that developments in Kyrgyzstan could well take a dangerous turn in the event of secession by southern Kyrgyzstan – part of the Ferghana Valley, severed from Uzbekistan as recently as 1924.
Argumenty i Fakty says: “Straight after the change of government, large group prayer sessions began in southern Kyrgyzstan’s towns. The next stage might involve Islamic radicals crossing the Uzbekistan border to meet up with their ‘brothers’ in the Ferghana Valley.” This might be followed by a joint march on Tashkent to bring down President Karimov’s regime.
“Uzbekistan is the key country in the region,” Argumenty i Fakty explains. “If the situation there is destabilized, this would clear a path to creating a large Islamic state extending across the territories of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and part of Kyrgyzstan.”
On the other hand, Konstantin Zatulin, director of the CIS Countries Institute, told Argumenty i Fakty that the events in Kyrgyzstan were not aimed directly against Russia. Zatulin said: “Akayev cooperated with both Russia and America – allowing both to have military bases in Kyrgyzstan. However, while being cautious in his foreign policy, he neglected domestic policy.” Zatulin drew a vivid parallel: “It took only six years for the Soviet people to lose their liking for Gorbachev – but Kyrgyzstan had 15 years of a big-talking leader who spoke of democracy while his cronies took over government and property. The people tired of that.”
Then again, other experts approached by Argumenty i Fakty don’t rule out external influence at all.
Igor Bunin, director of the Political Techniques Center, told Argumenty i Fakty that a network of American charity organizations had long been operating in Kyrgyzstan. However, their work with the opposition was aimed at the presidential election scheduled for this autumn. But the opposition’s rather unexpected defeat in the parliamentary elections exacerbated internal conflicts in Kyrgyzstan, so instead of the planned velvet revolution, a premature “sandpaper” revolution took place. Bunin says: “The Americans haven’t benefited from it at all.”
Ekspert magazine has its own point of view on this situation: “At present, America is only learning to rule the world; it is only developing its mechanisms of imperial domination. The State Department and the Pentagon are by no means the only places where this is being done.” Ekspert goes on to discuss a “curious document” entitled “Political transition in Kyrgyzstan: problems and prospects.” This was published in August 2004 by ICG (Crisis Group), an independent international organization.
According to Ekspert, this is nothing other than “a justification for a budget plan to carry out a revolution in Kyrgyzstan,” including “training observers, candidate representatives, and political parties; legal consulting and support for political activists; creating temporary technical centers in regional cities to support non-government organizations,” and much more.
Ekspert notes: “In the wake of the Georgia and Ukraine revolutions, it’s easy for us to interpret such documents – we understand quite well what they are really talking about.”
Ekspert also points out that the document was not addressing the US government, but the “international community,” and the sums involved were relatively small, only a few million dollars, since Kyrgyzstan is not a wealthy nation (according to media reports, most of its people earn the equivalent of four dollars a month).
As for the Russian and American military bases in Kyrgyzstan, Ekspert points out that the Russian and US governments were faced with a choice: “Either a revolution and the manageable rule of the ‘tamed opposition’ – or, in the event of force being used to suppress the opposition’s activities, war and complete lawlessness, with the Islamic fundamentalists becoming drastically stronger.”
Eventually, says Ekspert, American and Russian assistance to the deposed Akayev went no further than demands to avoid using force at all costs.
Ekspert goes on to say that the mysterious Crisis Group is not connected with the White House. Rather, it has links with “senior circles” of the Democratic Party and influential non-government organizations in Europe.
The organization was formed in the late 1990s for the purpose of resolving the Kosovo crisis, “which still hasn’t been resolved, as everyone knows.” However, says Ekspert, the Crisis Group “wasn’t really created to resolve crises – its aim is to organize them and direct them into the required channels.”
According to Ekspert, the Bush Administration, with its reliance on “American hegemony and direct military force,” did not want a change of regime in Kyrgyzstan, a quarrel with Russia, or stronger radical Islamists. But the “other America,” which relies on “the international community, non-government organizations, and managed regime change techniques,” did favor bringing down the Akayev regime – “primarily in order to add impetus to the wave of democratic revolutions which is supposed to sweep all the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.” There is a specific objective here: once the post-Soviet elites have been replaced in these countries, Russia will be pushed out of the region.
Ekspert adds: “But this isn’t their main goal either. They consider it far more important to demonstrate their influence and capacities in the confrontation with White House ideologues.”
Thus, according to Ekspert, this power-struggle in American domestic politics largely determines developments around the world.
“The United States is a player, and the United States is winning easily, everywhere,” says Alexander Tsipko in Literaturnaya Gazeta. Meanwhile, in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia remains “a country without a national elite, without specialists capable of defending its national interests.” And to be honest, says Tsipko, “neither the United States nor the West in general are to blame for that.”
Nevertheless, says Tsipko, “it is time to say out loud that the way the new masters of the world are exploiting revolutionary violence and the discontent of the masses for their own strategic purposes” is dangerous for the whole of modern civilization.
Tsipko says: “It’s impossible to ignore that the current US practice of ‘exporting democracy’ bears a great resemblance to ‘exporting revolution’ or ‘exporting socialism,’ as the Bolsheviks used to do.”
Tsipko points to Iraq as the most vivid example: “In terms of civilization and morality, is the process of exporting democracy to Iraq in any way different from the class warfare unleashed by the Bolsheviks in Russia and the way they dealt with those who held power before 1917?”
According to Tsipko, the West fails to take into account that “with its ‘color revolutions’ it is entrenching the legitimacy of mobs in the streets – their power to override the law and make the judgements of history.” All of these revolutions – in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan alike – “corrupt the younger generation with the temptation of anything and everything being permissible.” According to this reasoning, if it is possible to “cancel the work of the government and the president, and cancel the Constitution” by gathering a few thousand or tens of thousands of people in the streets, then it becomes pointless to speak of law.
“If the discontented have the right to do anything they want, then there’s nothing to stop a new group of discontented people doing the same tomorrow to the regime created by the discontented of today.” In the process, “the constant risk of bloodshed and violence” becomes inevitable.
The events in Kyrgyzstan seems to have generated some predictable panic in many other CIS countries.
In neighboring Kazakhstan, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta, judging by the statements of opposition leaders and state officials alike, no one has any doubt that their country is next in line.
Most of the experts approached by Nezavisimaya Gazeta share that opinion, saying that the Kyrgyzstan events could be repeated in Kazakhstan during the presidential election which is likely to take place in December 2005 or December 2006.
Moreover, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta, conditions for Kazakhstan’s opposition are far more favorable than in Kyrgyzstan: Kazakhstan is rich in natural resources and would require practically no foreign investment over the next 10-15 years. Living standards are gradually rising – although corruption in the state bureaucracy and judicial system causes concern among international observers, along with the essential absence of free speech and free elections.
The public mood varies greatly across different regions of Kazakhstan; according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, if pro-government and opposition parties become more active, “the preconditions for a civil war would arise.”
In any event, Nezavisimaya Gazeta is certain that “a revolution will at least be attempted in Kazakhstan.”
In contrast to Kyrgyzstan’s President Akayev, the authorities of Kazakhstan seem inclined to take a firm stand.
The Agrarian Party and Civic Party, both pro-government, have already announced the formation of a “popular-democratic front” with the aim of preventing a revolutionary explosion. Moreover, the leaders of these parties say their members are prepared “to take up arms” in defense of “national sovereignty and citizens’ freedom of choice.”
The sources of Nezavisimaya Gazeta say that each and every statement made by these pro-government parties is approved in advance by President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration. Therefore, we can assume that the authorities of Kazakhstan are stating openly that a coup is possible, and that they are prepared to use force against demonstrators.
Newsweek Russia says: “More and more frequently, regime change in the former Soviet Union starts with elections and ends with crowds surrounding government buildings and occupying offices. Only in the Central Asian East there are pogroms, bloodshed, looters, and the real prospect of a civil war between different clans.” An anonymous Kremlin official told Newsweek Russia: “The next flare-up will happen wherever the next election is scheduled.”
Elections are due in Azerbaijan in November, says Newsweek Russia: “The opposition is confident of victory; it’s trying on orange colors, and it’s inspired by events in Kyrgyzstan.”
Next, with elections in 2007, is Armenia: “The parliamentary majority leaders there have already accused the West of masterminding the disorder in Kyrgyzstan.” The problems in Armenia are identical to the problems everywhere else: “A corrupt elite that is alienated from the people and pays no attention to them.” Alexander Krylov, a researcher from IMEMO at the Russian Academy of Sciences, says: “Well, a country can endure such conditions for five years, or maybe ten, but not forever.”
Or take the apparently stable regime of the Turkmenbashi. Whatever happens, there seems to be no reason for Russia to lament the fate of a classic tyranny. However, as Argumenty i Fakty notes, if the regime of the “Sun-God-like” Saparmurad Niyazov is brought down, the American flag would be raised in Ashkhabad, and Washington would gain control over Turkmenistan’s natural gas: “And that’s a more substantial strategic resource than Kyrgyzstan’s peach orchards.”
One way or another, says Newsweek Russia, “post-Soviet managed democracy” has its standard operating procedures: in every country, the authorities strive to keep control of elections, the courts, and the major media outlets, while pushing the opposition to the sidelines. In such circumstances, any national election becomes a “crisis point,” while the Kremlin can do nothing but “look on passively as regime change happens in other CIS countries.”
Actually, President Vladimir Putin openly admitted during last week’s visit to Yerevan that “the CIS was created for the purpose of a civilized divorce. Everything else is only the husk.” (Quote from the Vremya Novostei newspaper.)
Fedor Lukianov, chief editor of “Russia in Global Politics” magazine, comments: “That statement may be viewed as putting an end to the heated debates over the future of the CIS and whether Moscow needs it.”
According to Vremya Novostei, Putin’s statement draws a line beneath the era when Russia aspired to head a process of political integration across the former Soviet Union. If there was ever any chance of that, the opportunity has long since been missed – about a decade ago.
For just as long, it has been clear that the CIS “would not survive a change of generations in the former Soviet republics.”
All the same, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the Kyrgyzstan events ought to make the Russian leadership think about the fate of Russia itself.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta warns that “echoes of the Color Revolutions parade in the CIS can already been heard in Russia.” It is important to learn some lessons from them: “The events in Ukraine show that regime change by radical means is approved by the West; but Kyrgyzstan’s experience teaches something quite different. A regime can be toppled even without a strong opposition, an iron-clad ideology, or mass support from the populace.” And that “if the regime is rotten,” it is bound to collapse if put under pressure by even “a small but determined crowd.” All that’s required is “the belief that the regime is corrupt, weak, and ineffective – against the backdrop of widespread poverty.”
And this, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta, is exactly the situation that’s taking shape in many regions of the Trans-Volga federal district and the North Caucasus.
Andrei Piontkovsky, director of the Strategic Studies Center, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Russia’s political scientists have already coined a new term: “an Akayev situation.” This includes two factors: vast social stratification, along with other clans tiring of one clan being in power for many years. According to Piontkovsky, the second factor is clearly visible in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan; the first factor can be seen in the North Caucasus regions, with “widespread poverty, high birth rates, youth unemployment, pervasive corruption of the secular authorities, and ethnic conflicts.”
As Nezavisimaya Gazeta observes, it’s no coincidence that “Russia started shaking all along the perimeters of Islamic regions (let alone the permanent war in Chechnya)” long before the Kyrgyzstan events.
In this context, it’s revealing to note an admission made by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov. At a recent congress of his Party of Life, he revealed “an important state secret” by saying that three-quarters of federal budget subsidies go to only three regions: Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, and Chechnya.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta comments: “Needless to say, this relates to the usual practice of extinguishing flares of social unrest in problematic regions by means of financial intervention.”
However, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the recent events in Bashkortostan and Ingushetis clearly demonstrate that the federal treasury might not suffice to put out all the fires: “The pathogen zone includes practically all of the Caucasus, and the Muslim regions of the Trans-Volga federal district.”
The Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper asked some experts the following question: “Where will the wave of velvet revolutions end?”
Leading pollster Yuri Levada replied philosophically: “Allah alone knows where the wave will go. Why Allah? Because there is unrest in Central Asia…”
President Vladimir Torlopov of the Komi Republic replied confidently: “Revolution is the consequence of the authorities’ indifference to their own people. Of course, all the former Soviet republics have similar development problems. However, in the countries where national and regional governments are striving to solve those problems, and the people can see their efforts – like in Russia, for example – there cannot be any revolutions.”
Auditing Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin was even more definite: “I wouldn’t describe all of these cases as velvet revolutions. What happened in Kyrgyzstan does not fall into that category. In general, the best ‘remedy’ against revolutions is to have a strict hierarchy of governance, and for the nation’s leaders to treat the people with respect.” According to Stepashin, “both of those conditions apply here in Russia, thank God.”
In the same issue of Komsomolskaya Pravda, Alexander Tsipko speaks out quite revealingly about the threat of a revolution in Russia.
According to Tsipko, “color revolutions” aren’t being staged solely in order to oust pro-Russian elites from post-Soviet countries. They are intended to “destabilize and weaken Russia itself.”
These days – “when everything is permitted” – those who storm government buildings risk nothing by doing so: “They know that the authorities will not defend themselves.”
In Tsipko’s view, the Russian leadership ought to bear in mind how the West, especially the United States, behaves under such circumstances: “It would never occur to anyone there to occupy the White House or Capitol Hill. That’s because everyone understands that the US authorities would use weapons against a mob.”
Therefore – “in order to prevent a tragedy and bloodshed in Russia itself” – the Russian authorities must “warn hotheads” that “any and all means” will be used to defend the Constitution – “including the use of force.”
Otherwise, Tsipko warns that “if the authorities in Bashkortostan and Ingushetia behave like Leonid Kuchma in Kiev and Askar Akayev in Bishkek,” similar revolutions will inevitably spread to Russia, since “impunity not only corrupts – it is also amazingly tempting.”
In the Kommersant newspaper, Natalia Gevorkian points out that something similar has been said by the very man responsible for all the recent fears: Askar Akayev, now the ex-president of Kyrgyzstan.
Akayev said: “Our democracy is weak and cannot defend itself. It needs to be defended… With the use of force, if necessary.” This is what he sees as the lesson to be learned from the “velvet” revolution in his country.
In Gevorkian’s view, this lesson is questionable.
Gevorkian maintains that post-Soviet countries can hardly be said to have any democracy in need of defense: “All across the CIS, democracy began and ended with the introduction of direct presidential elections. That happened back at the start of perestroika.” After that, “all these charming individuals, elected by the people,” started behaving like Communist Party general secretaries or even monarchs.
More like monarchs, actually, “given that they developed quite a liking for choosing successors, sometimes even choosing their own children.”
And Akayev’s argument that authorities should not hesitate to use force is an argument typical of a general secretary or a monarch.
According to Gevorkian, it’s no coincidence that Akayev used that phrase: “It’s a signal that in the event of the ‘velvet plague’ spreading any further across the CIS, there could be shooting.”
And if that does happen, “it would be the final brushstroke on the portrait of regimes that reproduce the Soviet system in the trappings of democracy” – since in normal democracies, leaders are regularly replaced, being restricted to two consecutive terms at most.
As post-Soviet experience shows, this is no mere whim: “A country can’t play at democracy once, then permanently restore the Soviet system of sham elections and never-changing leaders.”
Alexei Venediktov, chief editor at Echo of Moscow Radio, told Komsomolskaya Pravda that the wave of revolutions “will not stop until the authorities stop manipulating elections. Stop stealing the votes of citizens! Start sharing power! And then there will be no wave of revolutions.”
In any event, says Natalia Gevorkian in Kommersant, “it’s no longer possible to convince the outside world that by defending Nazarbayev, for example, troops are defending democracy.” And this is the point that Akayev, driven out of his homeland, fails to understand: “But the situation becomes far worse and more dangerous if those who have provided Akayev with a Moscow region residence also fail to grasp that point.”