Remember the "colored revolutions," the mostly peaceful uprisings that were said to mark a turning point in the history of the post-Soviet space? In 2003, we had Georgia's Rose Revolution, which replaced President (and former Soviet foreign minister) Edvard Shevardnadze with a young U.S.-educated lawyer named Mikhail Saakashvili. In 2004, a fraudulent presidential election result was overturned by popular outrage in Ukraine, lifting Viktor Yushchenko past Viktor Yanukovych. In 2005, Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution elevated Kurmanbek Bakiyev to the presidency. Georgia and Ukraine have since talked of joining NATO. Kyrgyzstan continues to allow American forces to use an air force base in its territory as a line of resupply for troops in Afghanistan.
Western media celebrated these events as victories for democracy, and the Kremlin fumed over what it considered further Western encroachment into Russia's sphere of influence.
Since then, Saakashvili has stumbled into a brief but costly war with Russia, and he faces a rising chorus of complaints at home. Yushchenko left the presidency with a single-digit approval rating, and Ukrainian voters have elected Yanukovych president. And now Kyrgyzstan's Bakiyev has come face to face with a depth of fury he was not prepared to handle.
We shouldn't be surprised by the trouble in the Kyrgyz Republic. Half the population lives below the poverty line. Remittances from Kyrgyz working abroad, a vital source of revenue, have not recovered from the global slowdown. Rising fuel and utility prices, a crackdown on media, and public anger over widespread corruption and nepotism add to the list of grievances. Bakiyev won elections widely considered fraudulent in 2007 and again in 2009. In 2007, he claimed his party had won every seat in parliament.
Whatever the cause of this latest bout of post-Soviet turmoil, we've reached an important point: The last of the colored revolutions has gone south, and Russia may soon regain more of its lost influence across this strategically important region.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and author of The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations? (Portfolio, May 2010)
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