Monday, March 28, 2005

Back in the (former) U.S.S.R.

First we saw the Velvet Revolution in Georgia, where citizens forced President Eduard Shevardnadze, a long-time American ally, from power in November 2003 after they tired of corruption. Then, late last year, we saw the Orange Revolution in Ukraine that ousted a Russian-backed government that tried to cheat its way to re-election. Now the people of Kyrgyzstan have followed the Ukrainians' lead, taking to the streets in the last week to overthrow yet another pro-Russian government believed to have tried to retain power with a fraudulent election.

The Kyrgyz revolution, which has yet to be assigned a color, marks a second embarrassing strategic defeat in a few short months for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a secretive former KGB officer who must be frustrated at his country's apparently waning influence in the former Soviet republics. Whether the popular uprisings are isolated incidents or whether they'll spread to other former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan remains to be seen. The revolutions' long-term impact on the U.S.-Russian balance of power in the region also is unclear, though Americans certainly seem to be gaining ground there.

Kyrgyzstan, a country where many people still live in yurts and adhere to a nomadic lifestyle, might seem insignificant to U.S. national security at first glance, but the republic's strategic location near China and Afghanistan gives it added importance that it otherwise might not have. Also, as The Associated Press reports, Kyrgyzstan's Fergana Valley is "a hotbed of Islamic extremism" where al-Qaeda recruiting is on the upswing. The United States therefore has huge incentives to ensure stability in Kyrgyzstan so terrorists' recruiting pool there dries up.

Regardless of the revolutions' ultimate geopolitical impact, it's always good to see people reclaim their countries from leaders who don't have their best interests in mind.


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