Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia

By Alexander Cooley | Go to book overview

7
Geopolitical Competition and Political
Stability: Kyrgyzstan’s Base Bidding War

Even as Washington, Moscow, and Beijing have differed in their strategic goals and in their support of democratization and political reform in Central Asia, all the outside powers publicly agree that they have a common interest in promoting “political stability.” But the term is overused and poorly defined, having become inextricably entangled as a rationalization for upholding local rules. The Central Asian regimes themselves justify their hard-line tactics and survival strategies in such terms, playing to outside fears about the security threats posed by looming state collapse, fragmentation, and militant Islam.1 Similarly, along these lines, external actors have funded projects to develop state capacity or have supported these regimes’ self-styled anti-terrorism efforts and political crackdowns. Over the course of a decade, political stability—initially understood as an “outcome”—has morphed into a reason to validate the political status quo.

The dramatic events of 2010 in Kyrgyzstan challenged the external consensus about the fundamental durability of the Central Asian regimes and their patrimonial structures. The sudden collapse of the Bakiyev government in Kyrgyzstan in April 2010 and the outbreak of mass ethnic violence two months later emphasized the fragility of Kyrgyzstan’s political institutions. The regime collapse was preceded by intensifying U.S.-Russia rivalry over the fate of the Manas military base, leading some analysts to speculate that Moscow had deliberately sought to take down Bakiyev to punish his disloyalty to Moscow.2

This chapter focuses more closely on the role played by external competition in destabilizing the Kyrgyz government during the Bakiyev era (2005–2010). On the surface, the Kyrgyz case appears to challenge some of the arguments made in this book about the importance of “local rules” in structuring the interactions among the great powers in Central Asia. But even in this dramatic, and perhaps exceptional, case of geopolitical push and pull, a closer examination reveals that local actors played a pivotal role in driving these external dynamics; President Bakiyev and his ruling circle actively drummed up a bidding war

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