October 16, 2020

USSR 2.0 Is Failing

A man holds a poster reading 'No to looting!' during a rally in support of Kyrgyzstan's former president Almazbek Atambayev in Ala-Too Square. Mass protests against the results of the 2020 Kyrgyz parliamentary election have been held in Kyrgyzstan since October 5; protesters seized the White House, with Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission canceling the results of the election.
A man holds a poster reading 'No to looting!' during a rally in support of Kyrgyzstan's former president Almazbek Atambayev in Ala-Too Square. Mass protests against the results of the 2020 Kyrgyz parliamentary election have been held in Kyrgyzstan since October 5; protesters seized the White House, with Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission canceling the results of the election.

On 4 October, the people of Kyrgyzstan went to the polls in parliamentary elections. As a result, four parties came to power, three of them directly related to the country’s incumbent government and declaring pro-Russian policies.

Oddly enough, not a single major opposition party crossed the 7% threshold required to win a seat. Twelve parties reported massive electoral fraud and bribery. Just one day later, large protests broke out in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, which were initially peaceful but immediately escalated into clashes between protesters and the police. As the confrontation intensified, the White House building (where the parliament and the presidential administration are located), the mayor’s office and the government building were occupied by the protesters. Demonstrators released from jail former president Almazbek Atambayev and a number of former officials who had been subjected to political repression. The current pro-Russian president, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, denounced an attempt to seize power, just as Lukashenko did in Belarus. But the Central Electoral Commission declared the election results invalid (new elections will be held within two weeks) and thus sided with the republic’s ordinary citizens.

It is thus clear that in just one day the protesters managed to achieve their key goal: the annulment of the election results. The people went further and demanded the resignation of the president and changes in the government. Over the past 15 years, Kyrgyzstan has now seen three revolutions (the previous two, in 2005 and 2010, overthrew the sitting presidents). Accordingly, people know exactly what they need to do and how to convey their messages to the authorities. Judging by the lightning speed of the latest revolution, nothing will stop the demonstrators, and impeachment of the president is only a matter of time. On 7 October, Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentarians launched impeachment proceedings and it was then up to the deputies, who either supported starting the process or would face the consequences of not doing so.

Representatives of 13 opposition parties created a People’s Coordinating Council to restore the country’s legal system, form a government of national unity and create equal conditions for all political parties. The widespread use of administrative resources, massive vote-buying and falsification of election results were the major reasons for the establishment of the Coordinating Council; the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights expressed concern about “credible allegations of vote-buying” in the elections (on 15 October, Jeenbekov resigned in an attempt to end the political unrest, saying he had no desire to go down in history as a man who brought bloodshed to his country, ed.).

For almost three decades, since achieving independence from the USSR, Kyrgyzstan has remained highly dependent on trade with the Russian Federation and, consequently, on Russian loans and other financial aid. This cooperation alone has had several major side effects: the weakness and instability of the economy, and massive poverty and unemployment. About one Kyrgyz in four lives below the poverty line. It is time for the Kyrgyzstan authorities to change their minds and think about the need for economic reforms and attracting new investors. China has already shown a strong interest in its western neighbour (the two countries have a common land border) and is ready to work with Kyrgyzstan rather than other international actors, including Bishkek’s main partner, Russia. Tired of low living standards, the Kyrgyz people will probably take a pragmatic position and start doing what is most useful for their economy. Of course, this will play into Beijing’s hands and weaken Russian influence, which is already in decline.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin’s ascent to power in the Russian Federation, the world was able to watch the policy of “reunification” of the former Soviet republics in a “USSR 2.0”, regardless of whether they wanted it or not. However, instead of the unhindered absorption of the post-Soviet republics, there was a “parade of colour revolutions” with a significant anti-Russian background. This is not the first tolling of the bell for the Putin regime: first Georgia, then Ukraine, now Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. This is just the beginning. The nations that were part of the USSR have fully tasted and have long since figured out what friendship and partnership with Russia is all about. This is both economic and political instability, encouraging the violation of human rights and freedoms, and, most importantly, the complete absence of any development. The situations in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan now clearly confirm that thesis. Those who deal with Moscow and receive the Kremlin’s promises (even guarantees) about ensuring stability and investment in industry often face crisis and devastation, because that is the only thing the Russian authorities need: micromanagement over post-Soviet republics weakened as much as possible (and therefore incapable of ensuring their sovereignty), which are expected to unite around “strong and fraternal” Russia.

In Belarus, mass rallies of thousands following the non-recognition of the presidential election results have already been going on for two months. Since the intervention of Russia—namely, comprehensive assistance for the illegitimate “president” Lukashenko—things are only getting worse. Atrocities against peaceful demonstrators have intensified, the number of detentions increased, the accreditation of foreign journalists was revoked, and torture became one of the main methods of intimidation. It is clear that Russia is not saving Lukashenko personally, but Moscow is offering a helping hand to his regime to realise Putin’s long-standing goal: Russian unification with Belarus and the creation of the Union State. Before the elections Lukashenko refused to fully integrate Belarus into Russia, but now he will have to do everything to stay in power.

In Kyrgyzstan, as in Belarus, the protests have no obvious leaders, people who are present and coordinate the popular movements. People are doing everything chaotically, without specific coordination. But the Kyrgyz people have shown clearly how to fight for their political rights. Everything needs to be done as quickly as possible and—more important—unexpectedly, even if there are no actual leaders in the crowd. It is worth noting the words of Galnara Dzhurabaeva, a member of the Central Election Commission of Kyrgyzstan: “I believe that with this election campaign we have discredited ourselves, and therefore the best and most correct decision in this case would be early resignation”. Unlike the analogous commission in Belarus, the Kyrgyz members have honour and a conscience and are able to admit their mistakes and follow the people.

A further “parade of revolutions” is inevitable. This means not only changes in a country itself but a weakening of the Kremlin’s sphere of influence, and an indicator that the Russians can no longer maintain a hold upon what has been in Moscow’s orbit for the last century. The Russian Federation is like the statue of the Colossus of Rhodes: its shadow is enormous but the structure itself is unstable and uncertain. But one thing is clear: every failed project to “reunite” and retain the sphere of influence brings us closer to a strong wind of change, which will bring the structure down—namely, Putin’s regime.