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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Russia of Central Asia

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Kyrgyzstan is rarely the focus of the world's media attention. But all eyes turned in that direction when President Kurmanbek Bakiyeva announced the closure of the U.S. military air base in Manas following his talks with President Dmitry Medvedev in February.

Meanwhile, there is a deeper and more disturbing trend unfolding in the country. After the so-called Tulip Revolution in 2003 raised hopes that democratic changes were imminent, Bakiyev has turned the country into an autocracy.

The Manas closing and the end of Kyrgyzstan's democracy are closely connected. Moscow, deeply entrenched in a geopolitical rivalry with Washington, has been fulfilling the Shanghai Cooperation Organization mandate of 2005 -- to push U.S. military bases out of Central Asia. Uzbekistan was the first to implement that decision in July 2005 with the active support of Russia. Now it is Kyrgyzstan's turn.

Since 2007, Bakiyev has taken calculated steps to increase his autocratic powers. First, the Constitutional Court annulled the more democratic constitution of the Tulip Revolution. This turned the clock back to the pre-revolutionary legal state of affairs, in which the head of state had virtually unchecked authority. Immediately after that, a decision by Bakiyev's court disbanded the "revolutionary parliament," announced early elections for deputies and pushed through a referendum calling for changes to the Constitution to further strengthen presidential authority. Bakiyev brought the new parliament under his absolute control, with his ruling Ak Zhol party holding 71 of the 90 seats. The Communists hold 11 seats, and the Social Democrats have just 8 seats.

Moreover, television has been placed under the control of the executive authority. Now the president essentially appoints the heads of the country's television stations. A host of opposition leaders have been arrested on dubious criminal charges and then slapped with a new set of charges in addition to the first. Parliament is also considering a new law that would give the state far greater control over nongovernmental organizations. In addition, attacks against journalists are common.

Moreover, the authorities frequently use force to stop opposition rallies. At a recent meeting of 600 Social Democrats at a theater in Osh, the electricity to the entire building was mysteriously turned off. In the runup to the presidential election, opposition leaders anticipate that the regime will clamp down even harder and might resort to mass arrests of opposition members and the use of force to halt their activities.

The only thing that could theoretically hinder Bakiyev's political plans is if the crisis gets out of control and results in a popular protest. A steady flow of Kyrgyz citizens who have lost jobs in Russia and Kazakhstan are returning home, which is making Kyrgyzstan's unemployment rate -- already high before the crisis -- even worse. Power outages lasting up to 14 hours have become common across the country.

This is where the Kremlin stepped in to help. Russia recently announced it would give Bakiyev's government $150 million in aid and extend an additional $300 million in credit at low interest rates. Thus, Russia practically paid off Kyrgyzstan's accumulated debt and created conditions for both stabilizing the country's budget and holding successful presidential elections. In addition, the Kremlin promised $2 billion for major projects, primarily in infrastructure. Moscow's largesse far exceeds the $100 million to $150 million Kyrgyzstan had been receiving annually from the United States for the Manas base.

The Kremlin's assistance is a huge boost to Bakiyev and his authoritarian regime. Many people in Bishkek told me that for more than one year, political strategists from Moscow have been traveling to Bishkek to share valuable know-how on how to construct a "sovereign democracy" in Kyrgyzstan.

Not long ago, Kyrgyzstan was considered a showcase of an open society in a former Soviet republic -- "the Switzerland of Central Asia." Now, with the generous support of Moscow, the Kremlin model of authoritarian government is being transplanted to Bishkek. As a result, Kyrgyzstan is sinking ever deeper into the quagmire of traditional Asiatic despotism, joining the ranks of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007, hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.