Potential Revolution In Kyrgyzstan As China’s Belt & Road Frays At The Edges

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Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

In echoes of recent events in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan has been thrown into chaos as anti-government protesters stormed several government buildings in Bishkek, the capital city yesterday and through the evening. The President’s office was also targeted after a parliamentary election which protesters say was rigged.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the protesters but they appear to have been overwhelmed. A correspondent in Bishkek said that the sound of gunshots and tear grenades rung out through the night. Local news reports have reported 120 injuries, while protesters also released former president Almazbek Atambayev from prison. He was jailed earlier this year for various financial crimes protestors have said were trumped up charges.

It is not clear where the current President Sooronbai Jeenbekov is or whether he intends to try and hold on to power.

This latest uprising has the potential to become the third revolution in Kyrgyzstan in the past 15 years, making it one of the most revolution-prone countries in the world.

The question now is how does President Sooronbai Jeenbekov react? This may come down to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kyrgyzstan, despite having a 1,063km border with China and receiving billions in Chinese investment, is more politically aligned with Moscow than Beijing, being a member of the Russian backed Eurasian Economic Union.

It is telling that yesterdays and last night’s unrest resulted in a loss of control for the Army, suggesting that at least in part they may not be fully supportive of Jeenbekov. Right now, however, this leaves Kyrgyzstan with a major power vacuum. Who is in charge? Who is running the country?

Both Russian President Putin and China’s Xi Jinping will be far from happy in the manner in which Jeenbekov and his allies handled what had initially seemed to be a fairly innocuous parliamentary election. China has become the largest source of foreign investment into the country, estimated to amount to some US$3 billion, although there have been problems with some planned investments – a super logistics hub set for the town of Al-Bashy was cancelled after local protests.

Bishkek was also the focus of several anti-Chinese rallies last year. In August 20 people were injured in fighting between villagers and Chinese gold mine workers in the east of the country, close to the Kyrgyz-China border. Many ordinary Kyrgyz complain that imported Chinese labor take most of the jobs created by their various projects. China’s reeducation camps in its Xinjiang province, which borders Kyrgyzstan, have also caused national unease as ethnic Kyrgyz have been swept up into them.

This latest development means that China and Russia both face unrest in countries that are important component parts of their political and trade sphere. Belarus, on the border with the European Union is also a recipient of much Chinese trade and investment, although its President Lukashenko appears to be holding onto power for now. With Kyrgyzstan, an important player for China in gas supplies, also falling into some degree of chaos, the Eurasian Road part of the Belt & Road Initiative is facing some political turmoil as established leaders are swept away in a growing technological based IT awareness creating unrest among local citizens. Presidents Putin and Xi will be discussing how to deal with this, however while Putin probably holds the key, a new open internet world is increasingly meaning that smaller, autocratic nations are crumbling at the edge of the China-Russia axis.

The central election commission of Krygyzstan has declared the results of the weekend’s parliamentary election invalid after mass protests erupted in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and other cities. Members of several opposition parties announced plans to oust the current President,Sooronbai Jeenbekov and create a new government. It has not yet been announced when new elections will be held. 590 people have been reported as injured during yesterdays unrest.

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Silk Road Briefing is written by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm has 28 offices throughout Asia, and assists foreign investors into the region. For strategic advisory and business intelligence issues please contact the firm at silkroad@dezshira.com or visit www.dezshira.com