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Elite confrontation in Kyrgyzstan: cause and effect analysis - interview with Kazakh expert Aydar Amrebayev

In recent days, the situation in Kyrgyzstan has been the focus of attention of regional and world media: in the village of Koi-Tash, the Special Forces "Alpha" of the National Security Committee of the country 7 in August tried to storm the residence of ex-President Almazbek Atambayev, and force to deliver him for testifying on a number of criminal cases in which he is accused. As a result of the special operation, the deputy head of the Alfa Special Forces Usenbek Niyazbekov died, another 45 man was injured.

Atambayev's supporters resisted, disarmed and captured special forces troops. However, as a result of the second assault, further negotiations and the use of special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Atambayev surrendered and was taken to the investigative bodies of the country's security service. According to the incumbent President Sooronbai Zheenbekov, if formerly the former president was involved as a witness, then after the above events, he is charged with a number of accusations: corruption, abuse of power, cooperation with criminal structures, resistance to law-enforcement agencies and more.

The confrontation between Atambayev and incumbent President Sooronbai Zheenbekov has continued since the beginning of 2018, when the formerly elected ex-President Atambayev, voluntarily loyal to him, Zheenbekov, after the victory in the presidential election, consistently began dismantling the vertical of power. Atambaev cadres were removed from the corridors of power, and criminal cases were instituted on a number of them. Within a few months, they were replaced by the head of the president's office, advisers, the prime minister, half of the government members, deputy prime ministers, the head of the State Security Service, the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor General and a number of judges. The dominant party in Jogorku Kenesh (Kyrgyz Parliament) has undergone changes. In fact, Atambayev was ousted from the country's official political field. The last drop in the "breakup of relations between the two former associates" was the deprivation of the former president's integrity at the end of June 2019, which gave the "green light" to the Prosecutor General's Office for the start of Atambayev's trials.

One of the catalysts for the events that have taken place was Moscow's informal participation in these events. Both leaders visited the Kremlin and, apparently, enlisted the personal support of Vladimir Putin. Moreover, Almazbek Atambayev “strangely” used the services of a military airfield in Kant, where the Russian military base is located, for a trip “to a friend of Vladimir Vladimirovich”… By the way, this fact was considered by many experts in Kyrgyzstan to be extremely negative, as an aspiration to fashion of this confrontation by the Kremlin, ”and ignoring the principles of national sovereignty.

It must be said that the words of the Russian president that “Kyrgyzstan has been through several serious shocks and that the country needs political stability” were perceived by each of the leaders in their favor. Atambayev probably perceived Putin's personal audience as a "reinforced concrete" guarantee of his security, despite the fact that in Kyrgyzstan itself, the meeting was perceived as Russia's interference in the internal affairs of the country. At the same time, Zheenbekov read Putin's messages about "the need for the Kyrgyz people to rally around today's power" as support for their actions.

Despite the resonant nature of the events and, at first glance, the Kremlin's interest in resolving the situation peacefully by finding political consensus, Zheenbekov made a decision to force Atambayev to court to testify. The latter acted contrary to the current legislation, gathering his supporters at his residence in Koi-Tash village. The actions of the special forces of 7 in August were planned very unprofessional, as a result of which the task was not fulfilled, in addition, people were eventually injured. And just the next day, on the eve of the meeting of the Intergovernmental Council of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), as a result of repeated storming and negotiations, Atambayev surrendered and was taken to Bishkek. "The detention of Atambayev is an internal affair of the country, but Russia cannot relate to what is happening in a timely manner," Dmitry Medvedev, the head of the Russian government, said when he arrived in Cholpon-Atu, where the EAEU Council was held, which actually supported the actions of the Kyrgyz authorities.

The Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies talked with Aydar Amrebayev / Kazakhstan /, the head of the Center for Applied Political Science and International Studies on the causes of conflict, strengths and weaknesses of its participants, the consequences for the further development of the situation in the country's internal politics, the possibility of intervention of foreign forces.

- What are the prerequisites and true causes of the conflict between Sooronbai Zheenbekov and Almazbek Atambayev?

- In short, the cause of permanent instability in this country lies in the pathological insolvency of the Kyrgyz authorities and the limited resources that the inter-war war is constantly under control. I am referring to the events that preceded the erupting after the so-called "democratic transit" of the confrontation - these are the "Color revolutions of 2005 and 2010 years". The influence of such external players as Russia, China and the USA has aggravated the situation. To this day, they continue to have constant intrigues with each other, making promises to one another and "punishing" other political players in this country ... I believe that both Atambayev, and Zheenbekov, and several other politicians, for example, Babanov, have become "dolls in this game. ». With unsettled political ambitions and an irresistible desire at all costs to "disrupt the limited resources of this mountainous country", these people, who call themselves politicians, became involved in a "fight without rules." Unfortunately, the ordinary citizens of the country became hostages to this "war of all against all". The socio-economic situation of citizens and the capacity of state institutions, to put it mildly, left much to be desired. Corruption, criminalization of business, enormous foreign debt, not commensurate with the economic potential of the country - were the factors that pushed Kyrgyzstan to the brink of civil strife. Unlike a number of expert assessments, I do not consider the political processes in the country to be a manifestation of democracy. Rather, we can call it a model of "clan, criminal confrontation with the involvement of large populations." The politicians there are modern ambitious "buy-manaps" (ie, nouveau riche, clan authorities or their henchmen), who view power as an opportunity for profit. The lack of centralized management traditions in Kyrgyzstan's history exacerbates the situation. There, the regional clans themselves managed a confident territory and rarely came to an agreement among themselves, as a rule, only in the presence of a strong external threat or through some significant external project…

Returning to the figures of Atambayev and Zheenbekov, it should be noted that during the elections in 2017, they carried out a "political maneuver between the clans", the hostage of which became the people of Kyrgyzstan. In this case, the first person involved in power, the ex-president lost his "sense of reality" and paid for it. Now he is supported only by "his native village" and his closest associates. And even his notorious "friend Vladimir Vladimirovich" left him, because for him the military presence of Russia in Kyrgyzstan is more important than any friendship ... manages. He is known as a good performer, but not a creator who does not have a creative "team of technocrats" who are "under the press" of clan obligations. Thanks to the short-sighted and exalted tactics of Atambayev, who called himself an irrefutable authority and even the "father of democracy in Kyrgyzstan", Zheenbekov suddenly found himself in power and many. Now he has little idea what to do about it. It is simply in power without actually solving any serious problem. I think he acts on intuition and tip-toeing outside. Thus, Kyrgyzstan is at the perilous line of external governance. Russia's political elites consider Kyrgyzstan a zone of their exclusive influence. The attitude towards China in the majority of the population is extremely negative, fueled by the powers of the rivals of the Celestial and Chinese "debt holes" in which Kyrgyzstan turned out as a result of ineffective policy of the authorities. Atambayev's distorted relations with the United States hardly allow one to hope in the near future that America will have a significant constructive influence on the improvement of socio-economic status and political stability in Kyrgyzstan. On the contrary, the intensification of competition for external projects can exacerbate the already complicated configuration of internal political forces in the country, especially in the run-up to parliamentary elections. I think that the instability of Kyrgyzstan's political space will not end with the detention and even possible "landing" of the ex-president. On the contrary, irresponsible actions of politicians of this level, low competence and efficiency of state structures against the background of social apathy of the population create a situation of political turbulence, in which various destructive scenarios of the country's development are possible.

In what spheres and how big is Atambayev's influence?

- He no longer has any constructive potential to influence the political process in Kyrgyzstan. However, the value of the ex-president's destructive and exalted "antics" will have some effect on the situation. For example, the deterioration of relations with Kazakhstan initiated by Atambayev, through which Kyrgyzstan can be "released into the world", can for a long time reduce the investment attractiveness of the republic, complicate the processes of labor migration, reduce the pace of bilateral trade and, in general, the business climate in the country, also the tourist attraction of the country for Kazakh tourists. The suspicions of a number of Kyrgyz politicians in affiliation with Kazakh political circles maintain a certain tension in relations between the countries and force the new leadership of Kazakhstan, despite the brotherly nature of our peoples, to distance themselves somewhat from the Kyrgyz problems.

- What are Zheenbekov's trump cards (support of parliament, security forces, elites, external players)?

- Zhenbekov - a convenient figure for outside players. Parliamentary power in the current "postatambayev" is unlikely to become the basis for a positive development of the country in the near future. The executive power in Kyrgyzstan, in my opinion, should create in the country all opportunities for holding "clean" and transparent elections in Jogorku Kenesh, and consolidation on this basis of healthy social forces in order to develop a strategy of improving the socio-economic situation in the country and constructive interaction of all political forces for the benefit of Kyrgyzstan's development. The immediate tasks, in my opinion, are to overcome the corruption of state bodies, clan and behind-the-scenes nature of decision-making, and to increase public confidence in the state.

What is the role of external players in the confrontation? Can Russia give real support to Atambayev? How?

- There is no confrontation between these former associates now. Atambayev's political biography spells the last lines ... And Russia, though famous as a "refugee abode", is unlikely to participate in its further fate this time.

How do you assess the likelihood of a sharp destabilization of the internal political environment and the ignition of internal conflict?

- The probability is high, but not because of the confrontation between Zheenbekov and Atambayev. There are a number of factors contributing to destabilization in the country: clan contradictions; social disparities; the growth of chinaphobia; criminalization of the weak economy; bankruptcy of state power; competition from outside players for influencing the decision-making process; the rise of religious radicalism, etc.

What an opportunity for outside players to intervene, especially the CSTO, in the event of a sharp destabilization of the situation in the country?

- High. In fact, Kyrgyzstan is now in the conditions of active "hybrid intervention" by Russia. In this connection, the most significant political forces of the country are pro-Russian in one way or another. Influential nationalist-oriented clans control the situation in a number of regions, virtually in a position independent of the center of the enclaves. In military-political and information terms, Russia's dominance is absolute. This is done in both bilateral and multilateral formats. At the same time, the CSTO, being a kind of "umbrella of Russia", protects other members of the organization from "excessive sovereignty". It does not carry out the collective security of the participating countries de facto. This was clearly demonstrated during the well-known Osh events… At the moment, the CSTO is a “Russian tool” for restraining China and limiting the field for maneuver on the part of the United States, but in no way is the format of equal collective security for member countries of the organization. Moreover, the CSTO is far from solving the internal problems of Kyrgyzstan.

- What are Russia's interests in this situation and the role of Dmitry Medvedev's visit to the country?

- Frankly speaking, Russia is fed up with the obsessively unpredictable Atambayev. They need an obedient "local vassal" who will do what they are told to do and remain silent, and calm their own, without "left movements" to the East and to the West. They think Zheenbekov could be that way.

Interviewed by: Yuri Poita, Head of CIAAC Asia Pacific Section