A few ominous notes have sounded in the triumphal procession of Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution, discordant tones which should prick the ears of those cheering democracy’s spread. As Reuters reports this morning, Vladimir Putin has rushed to endorse the interim government of Kurmanbek Bakiev, which sounds a bit out of character for the Russian president who has spent more time consolidating power than encouraging democracy during his term in office:
Kyrgyzstan’s opposition, a day after snatching power in a lightning coup in the ex-Soviet state, on Friday named a new acting president and won almost immediate — and vital — support from Russia. …
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was ready to work with the Kyrgyz opposition and offered refuge in Russia to Akayev, who is thought to have fled abroad, possibly to neighboring Kazakhstan.
“We know these people (the opposition) pretty well and they have done quite a lot to establish good relations between Russia and Kyrgyzstan,” Putin told reporters on a visit to Armenia.
One of the leaders that Putin undoubtedly looks forward to engaging is Felix Kulov, the former parliamentarian who has been chosen as interior minister in the new government. Kulov got sprung from prison by opposition protestors yesterday as the capitol of Kyrgyzstan descended into chaos, with widespread looting and low-level violence flaring up. As interior minister, Kulov has the authority and the responsibility to restore order.
And Kulov has some experience with that, as Putin well knows. Kulov ran the National Security Ministry, the Kyrgyz version of the KGB and likely a successor agency with the same personnel in place. He also served as chief of the General Staff for Kyrgyzstan’s armed forces, which coordinated closely with the Russian military. Kulov and Putin have likely worked closely in the past, and since Kulov has become a popular figure of the opposition — some say more popular than Bakiev — Putin may be working to push Kulov to the top of the heap. That would bring Kyrgyzstan more in line with Russian politics and reduce the Western outreach of the outgoing autocrat Akayev.
Perhaps Putin will allow Kyrgyzstan to develop into a full democracy with free elections and an open foreign policy. After watching Ukraine and Georgia slip through his fingers, though, I’d bet on Kulov eventually ascending to power and simply replacing a Russo-centered autocracy for the previous nonaligned authoritarian rule.
UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! And for some first-class blogging on Kyrgyzstan, check out Registan.