SPEAKING FREELY Russia navigates uncertain Kyrgyz waters
By Ryskeldi Satke
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
BISHKEK - An ongoing political crisis in Kyrgyzstan resurfaced once again in recent weeks when simultaneous protests in two provinces halted major economic activity.
The republic's leading foreign business entity, Kumtor gold mine, situated in the northwestern province Issyk-Kul, was sabotaged by a local mobster while a second anti-government demonstration in
the southern city of Jalal-Abad blocked northbound shipments of goods for a few long days.
In both instances, local power brokers showed an open disregard to the central apparatus in Bishkek, which is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the provinces. President Almazbek Atambayev, in a desperate bid to show confidence in his government, has however launched construction of the hydro projects in the upper stream of Naryn river. The Kremlin-owned enterprise "RusHydro" oversees the projects in Kyrgyzstan as agreed between Russian President Putin and Kyrgyz leader Atambayev.
In his address to the local population at the construction site, Atambayev accused ousted Bakiyev family members of stoking unrest in the country while implicating his opponents role in the standoff. 
Atambayev blamed the leader of southern political faction "Ata Zhurt", Kamchy Tashiyev, who the president said was manipulated by Bakiyev clan. It is true that Bakiyevs never lost their contacts in the southern provinces. Nevertheless, their influence over fresh disturbances is questionable given intensifying tensions between Atambayev and the provincial elite.
It is prominent Kyrgyz political clans more often associated with known criminal figures who are "de facto" managing the very daily life in the regions of the republic, as has been observed in the crisis around Kumtor mine. But Moscow has also taken a controversial approach to Kyrgyz politics after "Ata-Zhurt's" failed "coup" attempt in October 2012.
Russians prefer to have an open channel with opposing factions as means to insure the Kyrgyz president will not back out of critical arrangements worked out from Moscow. 
Atambayev has met the Kremlin's demands, according to some opinions in Bishkek, in exchange for a debt write-off, construction of hydro stations and military aid. Regional experts believe Moscow's double-edged dealing with the Kyrgyz government and its domestic opponents underlines the Russian leadership's mistrust of the Kyrgyz political elite.
Undeniably, the Kremlin was humiliated by the ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2009 when he promised a shutdown of the US-NATO base Manas only to change tack after negotiating a larger rent. Since then political situation in Kyrgyzstan became more unstable, obviously with Russia's help.
Presently, the Kyrgyz state is governed by multiple layer of provincial clans with mix of local mob groups. The current domestic political configuration in the country explicates Kremlin's concern of "Afghanization" of the Kyrgyz Republic.
Some analysts in Bishkek believe Russian President Vladimir Putin's choices in the country are limited, making present Kyrgyz government more suitable than any other political faction. Still, Moscow's polemic efforts remain fragile given the dynamics of the Kyrgyz political field.
Between the growing presence of Chinese business in the country and a timely Uzbek-Kazakh accord on water resource disputes in the Ferghana Valley, Russian President Putin is facing a prospect of fierce trial of his aggressive push to build the Kambar Ata 1 hydro station. The Kyrgyz president's platform has been profoundly reliant on the Kremlin sponsored water dam projects that are devoted as Atambayev's sole initiative in the domestic arena.
Concurrently, the southern province of Osh is under rebellious Mayor Myrzakmatov, who was able to successfully fend off his removal directive from the central authorities and is now is seen as powerful political figure in the south. The Osh mayor, despite his current standing, dwells on objectives driven by sizable inflow of Chinese capital into the city. According to various reports, Myrzakmatov is well accepted in Chinese business circles out of Xinjiang province. Sources in the Kyrgyz government indicated that he is favored by affiliates of the Chinese government for deepening ties with southern Kyrgyzstan.
Osh has been a surveillance hub for the Russian intelligence service, FSB. The service had opened its office in 2010 after Moscow staged coup in April that year and the massive ethnic conflict in the south. Russia insisted on the necessity of FSB subsistence to combat drug trade in the region. Osh is a known conduit for raging heroin trafficking from Afghanistan, according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime annual reports. Although available information from Osh does not reflect on the level of Kyrgyz criminal organizations' significance in heroin trafficking, there is a clear discrepancy between the facts on the ground and Western assumptions on the role of local drug cartels. Domestic intelligence experts share an assessment that describes criminal syndicates in South Kyrgyzstan as not typical of multi-billion-dollar drug-smuggling organizations.
Regional political experts were skeptical of Russia's official line on the effectiveness of its presence in South Kyrgyzstan, characterizing Moscow's move as an act aimed at Uzbekistan. From the get go, Tashkent was a vocal opponent to the Russian foothold close to its borders in the Ferghana Valley and still remains against the Kremlin's military bases on the perimeter. Likewise, the subject of territorial conflict between two states is a matter of prior concern in Bishkek that reappears with every casualty report from the cross bordering areas. It is widely believed in Bishkek that Uzbek security agency SNB operates a considerable network of intelligence gathering activity (HUMINT) inside the southern provinces of Kyrgyzstan.
A cocktail of mounting pressure from unresolved issues between the authorities in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan can be seen as catalyst for a looming interstate crisis. While, Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations have been having a rough ride, Moscow skillfully adjusted its priority by strengthening status of the Russian military bases in the Kyrgyz Republic.
An agreement signed by Vladimir Putin and Almazbek Atambayev  stated that Russian military forces stationed in Kyrgyzstan will be on duty to protect the republic's sovereignty from the outside aggression. Regional analysts presume that Bishkek has one headache that can be classified as threatening and that is progressing encounter on the southern borders. Shooting incidents on both side of the fence have become an ordinary occurrence for nearby villagers. In most cases, fatalities take place on disputed lands igniting dual sporadic protests on the border.
Whether the Russian leadership is seriously apprehensive about its potential conflict-driven agenda in the region or not, the Kremlin has not offered any clarification yet. Moscow officially claims Russian interests in the region are purely focused on concerns over security issues after the US-NATO troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. Still, Russia's counterproductive policy of fueling factional domestic split in Kyrgyzstan, combined with conflicting steps to control water resources of the region, points in the opposite direction. That has forced two heavyweights, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, to take exception to unwelcome developments in the neighborhood. 
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
1. Official site of the Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev; Ceremony of opening construction site of the hydro station on Naryn; President's address to province residents; June 12, 2013
2. The Journal of Turkish Weekly; How "Divide and Rule" works in Kyrgyzstan; Author - Ryskeldi Satke; August 27, 2012.
3. Official site of the Russian President Vladimir Putin; Signing the law on ratification of the Kyrgyz-Russian agreement on conditions of stationing unified military base in the Kyrgyz Republic; May 8, 2013.
4. Uzbekistan Today news agency; Outcome of the meeting between President Nazarbayev and President Karimov in Tashkent; June 20, 2013.
Ryskeldi Satke is a freelance contributor with research institutions and news organizations in the US, Central Asia, Caucasus and Turkey. Author's contact e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org