Bakiev's Stay in Minsk May Further Isolate Belarus

The world has recently witnessed the overthrown Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev descend from the ominous volcanic clouds in Mink, ending the rumors over his whereabouts and further damaging Belarus' international image.

Ousted in an April 7 uprising, Bakiev first fled to Kazakhstan and on April 19 was safely delivered to the Belarusian capital by Alyaksandr Lukashenka's personal security services.

While Bakiev's flight to Belarus was hardly the bold stunt Lukashenka described, Kyrgyz president indeed had good reasons be fleeing as in his home country. In Kyrgyzstan, he faces trial for allegedly ordering police to open fire on protesters and causing 85 deaths. It is more difficult to see any good reasons why Minsk will may have had for sheltering Bakiev. This may further alienate it both from Russia and the West.

On the one hand, alternating clashes with Russia and with the West against each other could one day turn out to a smart move on Lukashenka's part. After all, Belarus was able to get cheap gas and oil from Russia, enjoyed generous IMF loans as well as some money from Moscow, and was invited it to join the Eastern Partnership.

On the other hand, from the usual "annoying either/or" Minsk's game is turning into "annoying both," as both the West and Russia are no longer on Bakiev's side. And the consequence of annoying both is further increasing Belarus' isolation and risking to one day wind up between Scylla and Charybdis.

So why is Minsk sheltering the Kyrgyz leader? Perhaps because Lukashenka and his "dearest guest" have a lot in common.

To start with, both have been playing the West and Russia against each other to achieve their foreign policy goals. Just last year, Bakiev has skillfully manipulated the issue of the US military base in Manas.

Of course, there is much more the two leaders share. Like Lukashenka 11 years earlier, Bakiev came to power promising to wipe out corruption and improve the economy. Initially elected democratically, Bakiev and Lukashenka have grown authoritarian with time starting to crack down on the media, suppress the opposition, and rig elections. Both presidents used referendum results to amend the constitutions of their countries gaining more power as a result.

Having retracted his letter of resignation, Bakiev insists that he is a legitimate president of Kyrgyzstan just as Lukashenka has for the past decade insisted that he is a legitimate president of Belarus despite the discontent of some. But if "legitimate president" is the one approved generally by those who are subject to his authorities, then Bakiev clearly does not qualify. He has failed to acquire legitimacy by being fairly elected, or by operating under democratic principles, or at least by fostering high living standards and ensuring economic growth.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabaev, who currently chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He had hinted that Bakiev's departure from Kyrgyzstan would help ease tension. Busy earning international acceptance, the state that is all over Washington D.C. billboards as the champion of the nuclear weapon-free world, would not want to tarnish its reputation by hosting someone who could be one day be searched for by the Interpol, as Kyrgyzstan's interim leader Roza Otumbayeva warned.

Minsk could clearly care less about tensions as those do not exist in Belarus. However, tensions with the outside world cannot be ignored and Belarus is already experiencing enough international isolation.


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