“The Second Breakup of the Soviet Union”
That’s how one Kyrgyz analyst describes the recent flashes of people power:
The shock waves from Kyrgyzstan’s lightning revolution are spreading around the former Soviet Union — and into the heart of Russia — leading analysts to wonder which regimes might be next to face the peoples’ wrath.
Recent days have seen a spate of copycat protests launched by opposition groups that were perhaps hoping their own local authorities might fold and flee under pressure, as did Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev when demonstrators stormed his Bishkek complex last week.
About 1,000 people rallied last Friday in the capital of Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko runs the last Soviet-style dictatorship in Europe, to demand his resignation. Police quickly dispersed the crowd and dispatched the ringleaders to prison.
Two Russian ethnic republics, Ingushetia and Bashkortostan, have seen mass street demonstrations this week directed against Kremlin-installed leaders. Even in remote Mongolia, the former USSR’s Asian satellite, hundreds of protesters gathered last week to “congratulate our Kyrgyz brothers” and demand a rerun of last June’s disputed parliamentary polls.
The most interesting issue relates to the political implications within Russia itself. The Christian Science Monitor closes with the following:
Some argue that it’s only a matter of time before the revolutionary tide sweeps over Russia. Several of the country’s 20 ethnic republics have a similar political profile to Kyrgyzstan, with a long-time ruler monopolizing power and often extending corrupt tentacles into business. “Events around the former Soviet Union have raised the possibility that similar things can happen here too,” says Andrei Piontkovsky, director of the independent Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow. “The situation in several of our republics, including Tatarstan and Bashkortistan, look very much like Kyrgyzstan.”
This past Saturday, the Los Angeles Times had essentially the same report:
Even Russia, where there has been talk of amending the constitution to extend Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s control past its legal mandate ending in 2008, seems suddenly vulnerable, although it has a massive security apparatus and broad new controls on democratic structures designed in part to prevent such a scenario.
“There is no doubt that as a result of all the latest revolutions around Russia, a transition of power in Russia is starting to look more and more probable,” said former democratic legislator Irina Khakamada, who unsuccessfully ran against Putin in 2004.
“The Russian people have already seen that it is possible to fight the government, and win,” she said.
Neither article brings up Chechnya, where rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov was recently killed. I’ve noted that the government’s handling of this issue could backfire and provoke democratic opposition. But I’m also aware that it could cut the other way: if it enhances security, the Russian status quo could be preserved. As such, collapse could be farther away than many reformers hope, though it’s certainly possible.