Crisis Grips Kyrgyzstan as Protesters Oust the Prime Minister
Anger over last weekend’s election results has boiled over into violent clashes between protesters and police, sparking another crisis in Russia’s backyard.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Kyrgyzstan faces its worst political crisis in years, regional powers lift sanctions on Mali, and international powers trade barbs over Nagorno-Karabakh.
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Protesters Storm Government Buildings as Russia Looks on
Kyrgyzstan has been thrown into crisis over the results of last weekend’s parliamentary elections, representing the latest in a string of post-Soviet republics to be rocked by political turmoil. The elections saw strong performances for two pro-government parties but were marred by allegations of electoral fraud. Opposition figures quickly took to the streets to protest the results, storming government buildings on Tuesday and forcing the resignations of top government officials.
How did we get here? Protests erupted in the capital of Bishkek on Sunday after initial tallies suggested that the country’s two largest pro-government parties, Unity and My Homeland Kyrgyzstan, were slated to win a commanding 107 of the 120 available seats, despite securing just under 50 percent of the total vote combined. Crucially, only two of the other 14 parties that contested the election surpassed the 7 percent threshold needed to take seats. Supporters of the 12 parties that didn’t win any seats led the demonstrations after the results were revealed, which eventually led to clashes with police.
What have protesters gained? Under intense pressure from protesters, the country’s Central Electoral Commission chose to annul the results of the election and promised to hold a new vote, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov. “The decision aims to prevent an escalation of tensions in the country,” Nurzhan Shaildabekova, the head of the commission, said on Tuesday. The parliament, now under the control of opposition leaders, elected Sadyr Zhaparov to fill the role of interim prime minister. Zhaparov is a leading opposition figure who had been serving a prison sentence for taking a government official hostage in 2013. He was released from prison by protesters on Tuesday.
How did the government respond? Authorities initially responded to the outbreak of unrest with force, using tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters, which led to one death and 686 injuries. President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, however, ordered security forces to stop short of opening fire on protesters and called for calm. The strong-arm tactics used by the security forces did little to restore order and prevent the takeover of government buildings.
Where is Russia? The unrest enveloping Kyrgyzstan represents the latest in a string of crises to grip Russia’s so-called near abroad, and much of the international community will look to see how Russia responds. “Russia is interested in maintaining internal stability in Kyrgyzstan, its strategic partner and ally,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. “We call on all political forces in this critical moment to be wise and responsible in order to preserve internal stability and safety.” The former Soviet republic houses a Russian air base and maintains close relations with Moscow, but Russian officials have stopped well short of offering support to the embattled government.
What We’re Following Today
Brexit talks progress. The United Kingdom and European Union have made some progress in Brexit talks even as public speculation about an eventual no-deal Brexit continues. Sources told Reuters that the two sides were close to agreement on social security rights for their citizens after Brexit, a key issue that signals a broader consensus on a more comprehensive agreement is still possible.
But there is still much progress to be made. An intensive round of negotiations last week produced no agreement on the three most contentious issues—fisheries, fair competition guarantees, and ways to settle future disputes—and the EU recently launched legal action against the British government over its effort to override parts of last year’s Brexit withdrawal agreement. As Laurence Blair wrote in Foreign Policy, fishing is a vital issue for the United Kingdom and an inability to reach an agreement on that issue could sink the negotiations.
War of words. International powers have joined the fray as fighting continues between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey has stood firmly behind Azerbaijan, offering strong words of support on the international stage as it stands accused of sending militants to the region.
In a visit to Azerbaijan on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticized efforts at a ceasefire and condemned Armenia. “Let’s have a cease-fire, OK, but what will happen after that? Will you be able to tell Armenia to immediately withdraw from Azerbaijan’s territory? Or are you able to draw up a solution for it to withdraw? No,” he said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose government has been fighting Turkish-backed troops in the northeastern part of Syria, has also thrown himself into the mix, accusing Turkey of being “the main instigator and the initiator of the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Mali sanctions lifted. The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) lifted sanctions on Mali on Tuesday, demonstrating the regional bloc’s support for the country’s new transitional government. In a statement, the ECOWAS heads of state said the move was due to “significant advances” in the country’s return to civilian-led democracy following an August military coup—a reference to the appointment of civilians to lead the transitional government.
ECOWAS initially said that the removal of sanctions rested on the junta appointing civilians to interim leadership positions. The future of the country was thrown into doubt after the junta named a retired colonel as president and one of its own coup leaders as vice president, but ECOWAS ultimately accepted the appointments after interim President Bah Ndaw selected a civilian with no military background to serve as prime minister.
Keep an Eye On
Fallout in Russia over journalist self-immolation. On Tuesday, the heads of several rights groups in Russia called on authorities to stop using house searches to intimidate opposition figures after the self-immolation of a journalist last week. The journalist, Irina Slavina, set herself on fire in front of an interior ministry building in Nizhny Novgorod a day after police raided her home in search of material linked to the opposition group Open Russia. In a Facebook post before the self-immolation, Slavina blamed Russian authorities for her death.
The events come at a time of heightened international scrutiny of Russia over the use of strong-arm tactics to eliminate political threats. Since his discharge from hospital after being poisoned last month, opposition leader Alexei Navalny has taken to the airwaves to blame Moscow and, in particular, Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his poisoning. “I assert that Putin is behind this act, I don’t see any other explanation,” he said in an interview last week.
Far-right extremists in the German police. A report published by the German government’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution on Tuesday documented more than 370 cases of right-wing extremism in the country’s police and security agencies, a disturbing trend in a country that often receives praise for the way it has handled its Nazi past. The report suggested that the problem was far more prevalent at the state level; federal agencies accounted for only 58 of the total number of cases.
The publication of the report follows a series of controversies involving state and federal police officers. Last week, 25 Berlin officers were put under investigation after it emerged that they were allegedly involved in a group chat that shared racist jokes and far-right ideas. The report also follows recent blowback against the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD). On Monday, the party fired an official after he was caught on film suggesting officials could “shoot” or “gas” immigrants coming to the country.
Odds and Ends
Scientists Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel, and Andrea Ghez won the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for their work on black holes. Penrose won his share of the award for using mathematical constructs to prove that black holes are a consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, debunking a claim by Einstein that black holes did not exist in reality. For their part, Genzel and Ghez observed the motions of stars at the center of the Milky Way and determined that a supermassive object at its center could only be a black hole. “This year’s laureates have uncovered secrets in the darkest corner of our universe,” said Ulf Danielsson, a professor of theoretical physics at Uppsala University in Sweden.
That’s it for today.
Dan Haverty is a former editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty