Patrick Cockburn: Where US and Russian interests collide

Kyrgyzstan Analysis
Click to follow
The Independent Online

American officials have been quick to claim that the overthrow of the regime in Kyrgyzstan was not an anti-American coup with Russian sponsorship.

But the speed with which Vladimir Putin, Russia's Prime Minister, was on the phone to the head of the interim government, Roza Otunbayeva – giving her a measure of recognition – shows that Moscow wants to see the back of the previous leadership.

The popular insurrection may not lead directly to increased friction between Russia and the US. But it demonstrates that Russian assertiveness in former Soviet central Asian republics is both continuous and effective.

In the days before rioting broke out, Russia was raising fuel prices and putting economic pressure on Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The Kremlin has reinforced the message that the governments of former Soviet states identified as anti-Russian, such as Georgia and Ukraine, cannot expect to have an easy life.

The most obvious US concern is the safety of Manas air base, which plays a crucial role as a transit point for US troops on their way to Afghanistan. The interim government says it has too much on its plate trying to secure itself to seek a change in the base's status. But it will also want to cancel the sweetheart deals between the US military and the family and friends of Mr Bakiyev, under which they supplied fuel and other services worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Manas.

The ousting of Mr Bakiyev and the discrediting of the 2005 Tulip Revolution was hastened by his attempt to play off the US and Russia over Manas. Last year he accepted a large Russian aid package and announced that the base would close, but then allowed it to stay in return for a substantial hike in rent.

The Russians were additionally annoyed by cheap fuel that they were supplying to the local market being resold at international prices by Mr Bakiyev's associates.

Although Kyrgyzstan is sometimes described as a gateway to the oil- and gas-rich states of central Asia, its political significance is limited. Its importance might increase if the anarchy of the last few days becomes permanent.