Welcome to Belarus, Kurmanbek!
Three days earlier, the Russian and some Belarusian media mistakenly announced that Bakiyev took flight to Minsk, but that was the result of rumors and the general ambiguity of the situation around the ousted Kyrgyz president. This time it is certain. Aleksandr Lukashenko has granted political asylum to Kurmanbek Bakiyev. During his annual address to the people and Parliament, the Belarusian leader said: “Bakiyev and his family, all in all four people, are in Minsk. He is here, under protection of our state and your President [Lukashenko] personally”.
The ousted Kyrgyz president, his wife and children came to Minsk by plane Monday night. “I instructed relevant services to organize the transfer of Bakiyev to Minsk on his request. He asked about it several times. Monday night he was in Minsk. We managed to take in four people”, said Aleksandr Lukashenko. “He asked not for himself, but for his family: Aleksandr, take the family, the poor children have no guilt. I said… don’t worry about the children and family, I will take you also. You are the president and I will accept you as a president, not like an outcast”.
He added that Bakiyev was the president of a friendly country and whatever it takes, he would do everything to save him and his family. “If he wants to play politics, let it be; if he doesn’t, if he wants just to live here, he may live. We have a place and work for everybody. There are many Kyrgyz people living here”, he said.
The first thing Aleksandr Lukashenko worried about was Bakiyev’s health and the health of his family. On Tuesday, all of them had medical examinations at a hospital. “I have appointed a medical board and an initial examination has been made. The situation is not encouraging. If he [Bakiyev] needs medical assistance, we will provide that”, Lukashenko said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko explained he had to take action since Russia and other CIS countries were silent: “No emotions, no attention. That is why I began reacting. If something like this happened within NATO or the EU, leaders would gather in Athens the next day to solve economic problems. Here we have a coup d’etat, the legitimately elected president has been ousted. Squeezed somewhere in the mountains, shooting all around, nailed down… Little children and family with him… But those are pressing. There was pressure from all around. Heaven forbid anybody be in such a situation”. The Belaruisan president said that providing asylum for Bakiyev was his personal decision as a president and his duty: “We do not interfere with this country, but Kyrgyzstan is a member of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), EurAsEC and CIS. We even have a military-political alliance. It means unity in some form. We signed all the treaties and claimed that faraway Kyrgyz land is not that far from us, and the needs and ills of the Kyrgyz people are our concern. You wouldn’t be pleased if I were quiet as a mouse and didn’t react to what was happening in a friendly country”.
Lukashenko the Fidei Defensor
The Belarusian president demonstrated his negative attitude towards the riots in Kyrgyzstan from their very outbreak. When he expressed his readiness to provide asylum to Bakiyev and his family a few days ago, Russian and other CIS media described the reasons for offering it as a funny case of “authoritarians’ solidarity” or even as a sign of weakness and Lukashenko’s fear of the same fate.
But even a shallow look at the whole story shows that there is much more to Lukashenko’s responsiveness to Bakiyev’s appeal than illusionary “ideological solidarity”.
The Belarusian leader used the conflict to once again position himself (and his country) as Fidei Defensor of post-Soviet conservatism and the status quo. Besides criticizing Russia for its policy in the CIS, Lukashenko bitterly attacked his western partners a couple of days before his address. “Neither Americans, nor the West on the whole, can be trusted” were the words of Belarusian president. Moreover, he publicly expressed regret over the absence of nuclear arms in Belarus and stated that Minsk still owns a couple of hundred kilograms of highly enriched uranium, which he once more confirmed during Tuesday’s address. This was considered by analysts as no less than an attempt to blackmail the United States.
Afterwards, speaking on the Kyrgyzstan issue, Lukashenko hit another of Washington’s weak spots by criticizing the US-led operation in Afghanistan. “Instead of waging a war nearby in Afghanistan, wasting billions of dollars and killing people, Americans could help the Kyrgyz people and restore this country”, said the Belarusian leader.
Yury Tsarik, the head of the Belarusian pro-government think-tank, Belarusian Development Group, says that Lukashenko’s conduct in the situation was forward-looking. “Taking into account that the Kyrgyz opposition will not be able to hold onto power and will probably surrender it to the radicals, the Belarusian leadership’s position on this problem looks reasonable”, he says.
Another expert, the head of the Center for the European Integration Problems’ Yury Shevtsov, believes that Lukashenko’s efforts to help Bakyiev are a way to provide Belarus with an access point to become involved in Central Asian affairs. “Bakiyev’s family is one of the strongest regional clans in Kyrgyzstan. As it is a southern clan from the Ferghan Valley, it can provide access not only to Kyrgyzstan, but also to the Ferghan Valley on the whole”, he says. Yury Shevtsov also does not write off the scenario of pro-Bakiyev groups taking their revenge.
It is worth saying that the ambiguity of the situation is well understood by all the regional actors. For example, at his Tuesday meeting with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, Uzbek president Islam Karimov expressed anxiety over the situation in the neighbouring country: “The unrest in Kyrgyzstan could become permanent”. The Russian leader’s estimation of the situation was also much less certain than a couple of days ago when he accused president Bakiyev of corruption. This time he specified that Russia would cooperate with the new Kyrgyz government only after elections and the creation of legitimate government institutions. “Strong economic ties can be built only after the state power institutions in Kyrgyzstan are reestablished”, he said.
It seems that the Belarusian president managed to choose a very promising course in this difficult situation. His support of the status quo is in line with political traditions of Central Asia, while his decision to send humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan will strengthen his standing in the region even more.
It could become a diplomatic triumph but, on the other hand, it may lead to a deterioration of relations with Russia. The political issue of Bakiyev’s family could easily become another discrepancy in the uneasy interaction of the two allies. While Lukashenko treats Bakiyev as an acting president, the Russian leadership puts its hopes in the interim government. The differences in the two countries’ attitude towards the situation in Kyrgyzstan could lead to greater conflict. Yury Shevtsov notes that the CSTO could be paralyzed by this issue, which would widen the spiral of mutual mistrust.
It seems that Lukashenko is well aware of that threat. In his address to the Belarusian parliament and the nation he said that “breaking away from dependence and the dictate of monopolies, first of all of the Russian Federation” is one of the major objectives for the country at the moment. But he also expressed his readiness to “turn the page” and go back to the drawing board in Russia-Belarus relations.
Darya Sologub for RT