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New Kyrgyz leader: “The Russian press showed us the truth”

This morning I had the chance of attend a satellite roundtable with interim Kyrgyz leader Roza Otunbayeva organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Reuters’ Andrew Quinn has a good rundown of Otunbayeva’s comments on the writing of a new constitution and the status of Manas airbase.  I was struck by Otunbayeva’s answer to ...

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Kyrgyz interim leader Roza Otunbayeva gives a speech during mass burials of the victims at the Ata-Beyit memorial complex outskirts of Bishkek on April 10, 2010. Kyrgyzstan held funerals Saturday for 16 victims of bloody riots this week that saw the opposition seize control of the Central Asian nation and toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev flee south. Some 7,000 people gathered in a sea of flowers at a cemetery on the edge of the capital for Saturday's mass burials, as the country mourned 79 people who died in the uprising during which the government opened fired on protesters. AFP PHOTO / VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO (Photo credit should read VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images)

This morning I had the chance of attend a satellite roundtable with interim Kyrgyz leader Roza Otunbayeva organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Reuters’ Andrew Quinn has a good rundown of Otunbayeva’s comments on the writing of a new constitution and the status of Manas airbase. 

I was struck by Otunbayeva’s answer to a question on whether her new government’s foreign policy would be oriented more toward the U.S. or Russia. :

I want to assure you that we would make the right balance in the sake of national interest in my country and we would certainly underline and stress our geographical situation and our common cultural and language traditions, and economically we are very tied with Russia. I must stress that before the 7th of April, the Russian press showed us the truth. The right information would come from the Russian TV screens if everything in my authoritarian country was closed…. Yes, sometimes you might [say] there is a lack of democracy in our part of the world. But we offer hands to each other when we need each other’s support.

At the same time we didn’t get such support or any condemnation regarding very outrageous cases toward human rights defenders and killed journalists when we needed it. I think we would value the strong sides of both countries and learn from both countries and view both relations for the sake of my nation.  

The Russian media doesn’t often get praised for breaking through government censorship. (The U.S. government-sponsored Radio Free Europe was taken off the air by Bakiyev’s government.)

I didn’t get a chance to ask a follow-up and it wasn’t exactly clear if the "we didn’t get such support" line was directed at the United States, but it was similar to what Edil Baisalov, now Otunbayeva’s chief of staff, told me last week when discussing the U.S. State Department. It certainly doesn’t sound very good for State’s democracy promotion efforts, if the Kyrgyz opposition was reyling on Russian television for its unbiased information.

As an amusing aside to all this, one Foreign Policy editor overheard the following exchange in Washington last week between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and former Clinton administration Russia hand Toby Gati as they walked in to hear President Dmitry Medvedev’s speech at the Brookings Institution: 

Lavrov (walking in to hear Medvedev) to Gati: So, looks like we have a new "orange revolution."

Gati: But this time you are responsible for it.

Lavrov glances backwards, obviously expecting more criticism of Russian policy towards the near abroad.

Gati: And I meant that as a compliment.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake arrived in Bishkek this week to try smooth over relations with the new government and more high-level visits are reportedly on the way, but it does seem like there may be some catching up to do.

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