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Why Russia's Medvedev is blasting ally Kyrgyzstan

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev unexpectedly criticized a government reform vote in Kyrgyzstan that passed Sunday with 91 percent support.

By Correspondent / June 28, 2010

Kyrgyzstan's interim leader Roza Otunbayeva (front l.) greets a group of ethnic Kyrgyz citizens at a polling station on the day of a referendum in the city of Osh Sunday.

Sagyn Alchiyev/Kyrgyz Presidential Press/Reuters



Turbulent Kyrgyzstan's weekend referendum on reforming its political system has won overwhelming support from the population. But Russia, Kyrgyzstan's closest ally, has unexpectedly criticized the effort.

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Speaking to journalists at the G-20 meeting in Toronto, President Dmitry Medvedev poured cold water on the referendum's goal of changing Kyrgyzstan's Constitution from a president-dominated system into one in which a popularly-elected parliament holds the lion's share of power. He also warned that the tiny central Asian country faced the "threat of breaking up" and being overrun by "extremists."

The referendum passed Sunday with 91 percent of voters backing the government's reform plan. International observers, led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, praised the polling. Others in the international community have expressed hope that the referendum, to be followed by parliamentary elections in October, would help Kyrgyzstan recover and rebuild after devastating ethnic riots killed around 2,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands in the country's volatile south earlier this month.

Experts say the vote marks a major step toward legitimizing the fractious interim government in Bishkek, which came to power in a Moscow-backed coup d'etat that was thinly disguised as a popular revolt in April. Now Moscow is expressing disenchantment with the government's big win.

"Taking into account the fact that even now the authorities are unable to impose order, that the legitimacy of the authorities is low and its support creates a host of questions, I do not really understand how a parliamentary republic would look and work in Kyrgyzstan," Mr. Medvedev said.

"Will this not lead to a chain of eternal problems – to reshuffles in parliament, to the rise to power of this or that political group, to authority being passed constantly from one hand to another, and, finally, will this not help those with extremist views to power?" he said. "This concerns me."

Analysts confused by Russian move

Analysts say they are unsure what Medvedev might have been hoping to achieve by trashing the plan, since Russia's only hope of restoring stability in the region appears to ride with interim government head Roza Otunbayeva, whom it has supported since she came to power in April.

But Russia dithered while riots shook Kyrgyzstan this month, and then decided against intervening in the turmoil, despite Kremlin assertions that the former Soviet Union constitutes a Russian "sphere of influence."

Some analysts say Medvedev was voicing his frustration with what Moscow sees as a deteriorating situation in central Asia, which it seems increasingly incapable of dealing with.