Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Were Drugs Behind The Kyrgyzstan Revolution?

It’s clear that Russia was putting pressure on the regime of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the weeks and months before his government collapsed – Russia held back several billion dollars worth of foreign aid, while coverage of the Bakiyev government turned decidedly negative in the Russian press (something that likely would not have happened without an official blessing from the Kremlin), and the catalyst for the April 6 uprising that drove him from power was Russia’s decision to enact a tariff on gas and oil imports, something that caused a dramatic spike in fuel prices in Kyrgyzstan. So far the conventional wisdom has been that Russia pushed Bakiyev out because he was trying to develop a relationship with the United States. But could drugs be the real reason Russia soured on Bakiyev?

It is a question worth pondering. On Monday Russia’s RIA Novosti reported that along with rampant corruption and human rights problems, Bakiyev’s regime also had close ties to drug lords operating in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan (not coincidentally a stronghold of support for Bakiyev). These connections were also part of a feature story on the drug trade in Central Asia in the current issue of the World Policy Journal. Currently, Russia is dealing with an utter epidemic of heroin abuse in many of their major cities, causing a public health crisis across the country. The heroin is flooding into Russia from the poppy fields of Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan has been cited as one of the major transshipment points for the drug. According to RIA Novosti, fear that Bakiyev and his supporters could gain control over the Osh region in southern Kyrgyzstan and turn it into a quasi-independent narco-state is the reason why Moscow was so quick to offer its support to the interim government in Bishkek. Of course you can take that logic a step further and wonder if Moscow didn’t try to force Bakiyev out in the first place as a way of trying to stop the flow of cheap Afghani heroin into Russia?
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