Kyrgyzstan opposition takes over in Bishkek. What happens to Manas?
With opposition leaders claiming they've formed their own government in Bishkek and reports that Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has left the country, What will happen to the US use of the Manas air base?
Violent protests in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan – a vital US ally that hosts Manas, the only American air base in Central Asia – appear to have pushed the regime of Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to the brink of collapse.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Bakiyev was reported to have flown out of the country on Wednesday, and Russia's state-owned news agency Ria Novosti reported that the opposition is declaring victory over the president, who was widely perceived as corrupt and authoritarian.
"We went into the government building for talks; [Prime Minister Daniyar] Usenov wrote a declaration stating the government's resignation," opposition spokesman Temir Sariyev told Russian journalists. "Bakiyev left the building. It is not known where he went. He is not in Bishkek," he said.
Earlier on Wednesday the government declared a state of emergency.
Bakiyev rose to power in the so-called Tulip Revolution of 2005 amid high hopes that he would bring democratic governance and a stronger economy to the former Soviet republic. But in the years since, opponents claim his family and friends have siphoned off hundreds of millions in foreign aid and US payments for its military bases, even as the economy and basic living standards have steadily declined. Some analysts say the last straw was an increase in electricity prices earlier this year. Many Kyrgyz citizens believe that the Bakiyev family controls the electric company and much of the revenue that flows through it.
"I think this is the end of the government," says Alexander Cooley, a politics professor at Columbia University in New York who studies central Asia. "The speed of this has caught everyone off guard. But it really shouldn’t have, given how quickly the government collapsed in 2005."
Mr. Cooley, whose 2008 book "Base Politics: Democratic Change and the US Military Overseas" looked at the politics behind the US Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, argues that Bakiyev's corruption, alienation of important donor and neighbor Russia, and the taking of an increasingly large chunk of Kyrgyzstan's small economic pie for his family left the regime on extremely shaky footing.
US rent for base tripled
In 2009, Bakiyev threatened to shut Manas – something that would have pleased Russia, since it has an air base of its own in the country and views the US military presence as impinging on its sphere of influence. After US protests, the base was allowed to stay open with its name changed to the Transit Center at Manas and with a more than tripling of US rent for the facility, to $60 million annually. Recently, Russia pulled $2 billion in loan guarantees from Bishkek.
"Everyone knows that electricity is controlled by the ruling family and the government was getting a lot of negative publicity in the Russian media, in part because Moscow felt it had been double crossed over Manas," Cooley says. "At the end of the day, there was no one willing to to go to the mat for Bakiyev. There weren’t sufficient numbers of troops and they weren’t sufficiently committed to putting down the protesters, who themselves were pretty well-armed."