Yes, that’s right: Let’s wish Otunbaeva, the former communist functionary who was one of the coup leaders who overthrew her predecessor and has since cozied up to Vladimir Putin in Russia a truly long life. May it be as long as Muammar Qadhafi’s will be.
One of the “coup leaders”? It’s true that her predecessor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was overthrown in what could fairly be called a coup, and she was instrumental in organizing opposition to Bakiyev, but under the circumstances Otunbayeva and her allies have done a reasonably good job of preparing Kyrgyzstan for its transition to a more accountable, elected government. A large number of people in post-Soviet politics throughout the old USSR and eastern Europe were at one time or another communist functionaries. Some genuinely changed to become democrats, others simply adopted the right rhetoric without believing it, and others have chosen to pursue some more recent form of authoritarian politics. By all accounts I have seen, Otunbayeva is one of the first group.
Bakiyev was a corrupt authoritarian ruler, and his seizure of power was one of the worse examples of the “freedom agenda” in action, and he precipitated his own loss of power with a brutal crackdown on protests. If that had happened this year, we would probably be reading overwrought commentary about the “Central Asian Spring.” Bakiyev’s downfall was a welcome development, and the incitement of his supporters to carry out attacks on the Uzbek minority in the country was a reminder of why Kyrgyzstan was better off without him. For her part, Otunbayeva has promised to step down from her interim position after the next presidential election.
Kyrgyzstan’s “cozying up” to Moscow is a reflection of basic political and economic realities: Kyrgyzstan is heavily dependent on the Russian economy in the form of remittances and trade. The relationship with Russia is simply far more important to Kyrgyzstan, and it would be absurd to expect any Kyrgyz government to pretend otherwise. The use of Manas air base has been the main U.S. concern in Kyrgyzstan for the last decade, and Kyrgyzstan will honor the existing, Bakiyev-era contract to let the U.S. use it through 2014, which is when the bulk of U.S. forces is supposed to be out of Afghanistan anyway. Despite the unpopularity of the U.S. use of Manas, and the association of the U.S. with Bakiyev’s rule, Otunbayeva did not end U.S. access to the base. This would have been very popular at home and satisfactory to hard-liners in Moscow, but she didn’t do it. Are there other cooperative foreign leaders whose early deaths Rubin desires?