US ally Kyrgyzstan holds Soviet-style election
As host to a key US air base – used to support troops in Afghanistan – the country may feel little pressure to address electoral and human rights abuses.
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Mr. Bakiyev has proved adept at extracting cash from both Russia and the US as a consequence. Last winter he received over $2 billion from the Kremlin and shortly thereafter ordered the US to vacate its military base at Manas, near the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek. Last month, after the US agreed to triple the rent it pays for Manas to $60 million per year (with $120 million in additonal inducements on top of that), Bakiyev changed his mind. President Barack Obama had also courted Bakiyev's favor to retain the base.Skip to next paragraph
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Vital to Afghanistan mission
The airbase, which hosts about 1,000 US personnel and scores of aircraft, is considered to be a vital link in the resupply chain for NATO forces in Afghanistan, but Russia has been deeply suspicious of Washington's motives in maintaining a military presence on former Soviet territory.
At a summit in Moscow early this month, Presidents Dmitri Medvedev and Barack Obama buried some of their differences and agreed to work together to provide a resupply bridge to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
But Russia and China, who have few qualms about pairing with authoritarian regimes, remain actively interested in extending their influence in central Asia, including the construction of new military facilities, which leaves it doubtful that the US will jeopardize its fragile influence by criticizing Bakiyev's alleged democratic abuses.
Once the 'Switzerland of Central Asia'
It wasn't always this way. Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country of 5 million was known as the "Switzerland of Central Asia" during the 1990s under its corrupt Western-leaning president, Askar Akayev.
After Mr. Akayev was overthrown amid two days of rioting and looting in Bishkek, democratic politicians and civil society activists expressed hope that the country would carry out a democratic reconstruction. But within days of the revolution, it became clear to many that old-line officials – with Bakiyev in the forefront – were already moving to seize power.
Bakiyev was elected a few months later after a campaign that, like his reelection this week, focused on the tiny country's need to achieve "stability" and also featured multiple violations (PDF) of internationally-accepted electoral standards.