Otunbayeva draws on diplomacy to seal Kyrgyz rule

By Robin Paxton – Analysis

MOSCOW (BestGrowthStock) – She has spoken to Hillary Clinton about U.S. troop flights to Afghanistan and to Vladimir Putin about Russia’s role in Central Asia.

Roza Otunbayeva is drawing on her diplomatic prowess to secure her authority as interim leader of Kyrgyzstan, having achieved recognition of sorts from two world superpowers within days of toppling the regime of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

If the 59-year-old former foreign minister has designs on becoming the first female president in ex-Soviet Central Asia, she must also face down rivals from within the provisional government now largely in control of Kyrgyzstan.

“She is the face of the country now,” said Erica Marat, a Central Asia analyst and author currently in Bishkek. “But they are calling it a provisional government and more changes can be expected.”

Otunbayeva, Moscow-educated and fluent in English, has taken the helm of a nation balancing the interests of Russia, China and the United States, which runs an air base key to supplying U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan.

It was the fate of the Manas base that prompted U.S. Secretary of State Clinton to call her on April 10, three days after an uprising that toppled the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Otunbayeva gave assurances on the base to Clinton, although some in the new Kyrgyz leadership have called for Washington’s lease to be shortened. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake will travel this week to Bishkek for meetings with Otunbayeva.

Otunbayeva was foreign minister under post-Soviet leader Askar Akayev before becoming the first Kyrgyz ambassador to Britain.

A vehement opponent of corruption, she was an ally of Bakiyev and helped bring the president to power five years ago in a “Tulip Revolution.” She later accused Bakiyev of nepotism and switched allegiance to the opposition.

Less than 24 hours after government troops opened fire on protesters in the capital, prompting Bakiyev to flee to his stronghold in the south, Otunbayeva dissolved parliament and formed a government to run the country for six months.

The swift reaction led some analysts to suspect a Russian hand in the coup. Omurbek Tekebayev, an ex-opposition leader who took charge of constitutional matters in Otunbayeva’s government, said Russia “played its role” in ousting Bakiyev.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied involvement but he was the first foreign official to recognize Otunbayeva. He rang her soon after she said she was in charge to discuss the possibility of financial aid from Moscow.

“The fact that he called, spoke nicely, went into detail, asked about details — generally, I was moved by that. It is a signal,” Otunbayeva said after the telephone call on April 8.

EX-FOREIGN MINISTER

Born in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, Otunbayeva was educated at Moscow State University and graduated in 1972 from the philosophy faculty.

She established herself among Kyrgyzstan’s diplomatic elite in the decade after the Soviet Union’s collapse and became the country’s first ambassador to the United States in 1992.

Otunbayeva’s role in ousting Akayev earned her the post of acting foreign minister when Bakiyev came to power in 2005, but she failed to get parliamentary approval for her job in the new cabinet. She later ran in parliamentary by-elections and lost.

Though born in the south, Otunbayeva is viewed as being closer to the north in a country split along geographical lines by clan and ethnic rivalries. This is due to her Moscow education and her role in the early post-Soviet government.

Bakiyev, by contrast, has roots in the more conservative south of the country.

Otunbayeva’s longevity will depend to a large degree on the international response to her rule, especially as rival contenders to the presidency are expected to assert themselves within the interim leadership.

But analysts said the reverse could also be true: that she will win wider international recognition only when she secures her position at home.

China, the other major power vying for a stake in Central Asia’s mineral wealth, has been circumspect in its reaction to the political situation in Kyrgyzstan, restricting its comments to “deep concern” about the violence.

“Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors are playing the role of observer and will recognize the victor, just as it was when Bakiyev came to power,” said Kazakh political analyst Dosym Satpayev.

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Otunbayeva draws on diplomacy to seal Kyrgyz rule