The popular uprising that overthrew President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan was sudden and unexpected. In the capital, Bishkek, dozens of people were killed and hundreds injured in a violent governmental attempt to quell the revolt. In the provincial towns of Naryn and Tokmak, protesters seized government buildings, and in Talas thousands assembled in the main square after attacking the regional government headquarters. In Bishkek, parliament was ransacked, central government buildings were set ablaze, and hotels and shopping complexes looted. The immediate cause of the uprising was the jacking up of the fuel, water, and gas prices. But resentment had been building for a long time. The government of Mr. Bakiyev, who was elected in 2005 after the so-called tulip revolution, had become increasingly corrupt, nepotistic, and repressive. Significantly, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took the lead in signalling support to the leader of the interim government, Roza Otunbayeva, by assuring her of cooperation.
Kyrgyzstan faces enormous problems. Mr. Bakiyev has been running nothing less than a kleptocracy, in which he and his family have done the plundering. In fact, Ms Otunbayeva says the government has only $80 million left. As the Kyrgyz economy crashed in the global recession, between a third and a half of its five million population descended into poverty. The political problems, for their part, are daunting. Russia, the United States, and China have an intense interest in the country and the region. Russia has offered aid in the current crisis but is justifiably disturbed over the U.S. airbase at Manas, which was established in 2001 and remains a major transit point for troops and matériel on their way to Afghanistan. The U.S. rents Manas for $60 million a year and has further plans to set up a military training centre in the south of Kyrgyzstan. Moscow has been less than pleased with Mr. Bakiyev for playing the two nuclear superpowers off against each another; he acceded to Russian demands to evict the U.S. in return for loans, but then allowed the base to remain when the Obama administration offered a higher rent. It is significant that Ms Otunbayeva, a former senior Kyrgyz diplomat, has promised elections within six months, though she has said existing commitments will be respected. Kyrgyzstan's leaders would do well to recognise that their country's interests would be best served by maintaining good neighbourly relations, above all with Russia — and not by embarking on an adventurist course through cosying up to a distant power that has its own agenda for the region.