On April 7th a social revolt left over 80 deaths, hundreds injured and ended the government of Kurmanbek Bakiyev in Kyrgyzstan. As a result of that, the opposition led by former Foreign Affairs Minister Roza Otunbayeva, took over on an interim basis.
This has provoked immediate reactions from Russia and the United States as both nations have military bases in Kyrgyzstan. For Washington it is a strategically important state because its military base located in Manas supports the troops in Afghanistan. The now former President Bakiyev had tried to maintain a balance between Russia and the United States to assure the former that he would close the US base in exchange for economic aid, whereas at the same time offered to the latter to extend the contract in exchange for more money than that offered by Moscow.
The day after the riot, Washington said that the US government deplored the violence and called for respect for the law, while Moscow denied it had anything to do with the crisis. However, days later, the United States has changed its mind and decided to support the new de facto administration. Otunbayeva has stated that her government will guarantee the contract extension of the US base in Manas.
This twist has created suspicion in the Russian media as a glimpse of an article in the Asia Times by MK Bhadrakumar, a former career diplomat in the Indian foreign service. It lets slip that the drug mafia would be behind the popular uprising, which would have been covertly supported by the US government after Bakiyev was demanding payments in exchange for the loyalty of his government. The article quotes a Russian commentator who stated to the Ekho Moscow Radio that the revolution in Kyrgyzstan was organised by the drug business. The area of poppy cultivation - essential ingredient for making heroin - has increased exponentially and can be compared to what is currently produced in Afghanistan, from where derives almost all of the heroin used in Russia.
But this link has also been collected by the Chinese press which would relate the US military base in Manas with drug barons, whereas the Iranian intelligence claimed to have caught the leader of the terrorist group Jundallah when he allegedly went to a meeting in Manas.
For its part the Russian government has taken itself away from the new government and called for elections to legitimise it. It is said that the coalition led by Otunbayeva is much more inclined to partner with the West than Russia. In fact, the current administration has already received a visit from US Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia Robert Blake, who has said that what happened in Kyrgyzstan is an unique opportunity to create a democracy that is an example for the rest in the region.
The battle for influence in Kyrgyzstan is a reflection of the rivalry between the US and Russia. The hypothesis that the US government turned a blind eye to any action carried out by the drug mafia to overthrow Bakiyev can not be discarded. For the United States the important thing is to secure its military presence in Central Asia and not stop the heroin trade as the heroin that enters the United States comes primarily from Mexico, not from Afghanistan or Kyrgyzstan. That is a Russia’s problem.