Belarus-Kyrgyzstan Tensions Rise after the Murder of Kyrgyz Mobster in Minsk

Murdered Kyrgyz gangster Almanbet Anapiyaev

On 18 February, Kyrgyz crime boss Almanbet Anapiyaev was found dead in a car boot in Minsk, an event that heated up tensions between Minsk and Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan claims that former Kyrgyz president Bakiev and his retinue are responsible for murder. Kurmanbek Bakiev fled to Belarus after a 2010 uprising in his native Kyrgyzstan, where he found refuge and received Belarusian citizenship.The incumbent government of Kyrgyzstan blames Bakiev for numerous crimes and repeatedly demanded to extradite him over recent years.

However, Minsk prefers to ignore these demands. The two countries have few economic and political ties which makes any compromise on the issue unlikely.

In 2014 Aliaksandr Lukashenka also agreed to shelter the deposed Ukrainian president Yanukovych, who preferred to stay in Russia instead. In doing this, the Belarusian head of state is showing his solidarity with other toppled dictators, understanding he may himself one day find himself in their shoes.

A High-Profile Murder in Quiet Minsk

Almanbet Anapiyaev showed up on Interpol's wanted list as a leader of organised crime in 2011. The Kyrgyzstani Ministry of the Interior accused Anapiyaev of a number of crimes of varying severity. According to them, he had allegedly built close ties with deposed president Bakiev’s family and was even appointed head of the wrestling federation “to create an informal organisation to support the Bakiev clan system”. He was also said to have engaged in intimidating opposition politicians.

A few days after his murder, Anapiyaev’s companion Gulzhigit Abdualzizov arrived in Bishkek from Minsk and surrendered to the authorities, saying he feels his life is in danger. He claims to have witnessed the murder and identified Anapiyaev's three killers, all from the Bakiev clan.

On 26 February Kyrgyzstan president Almazbek Atambayev publicly accused Minsk of sheltering the Bakiev family. Unusually for an official note, the speech was full of emotional language: "Who else do the Bakievs have to kill before Belarusian authorities will at last see the bestial and cannibalistic nature of this criminal family? Those monsters will shed blood anywhere, where they are, including Belarus, who has provided a shelter for them".

Atambayev also criticised Minsk for taking care of the Bakiev family and its repeated refusals to extradite them, calling it a “disgrace to the international image of Belarus”. The next day the Belarusian foreign ministry issued an equally unfriendly statement saying that "these kinds of overheated emotional statements cannot come out of a civilised country's leader." It also accused the Kyrgyzstani authorities of being in non-compliance with international standards of criminal justice and being incapable of protecting their own citizens’ rights.

The Russian web site Prime Crime, which studies criminal affairs in the post-Soviet space, says that Anapiayev may have been murdered as a result of a conflict between local criminal groups in Kyrgyzstan who frequently clash over drug traffic control in the country. However, the current Kyrgyz government places all the blame on the Bakiev family.

According to the Kyrgyzstani newspaper “Evening Bishkek”, the government is trying to play the Bakiev card ahead of the autumn parliamentary elections and capitalise on tensions with Belarus. As far as a motive is concerned, these angry statements erupting out of Bishkek towards Belarus would appear plausible, as the official notes appeal more to emotion than facts.

Fugitive President Sheltered in Belarus after Mass Murder

Kurmanbek Bakiev came to power as the result of the 2005 Tulip revolution in Kyrgyzstan. However, the former oppositional leader turned out to be as corrupt as his predecessor Akaev, and unable to promote the nation’s welfare. On 7 April 2010, a violent uprising in Bishkek ousted Bakiev, who fled to Kazakhstan with his family and retinue.

Later on, Aliaksandr Lukashenka's personal security services safely delivered them to the Belarusian capital where the Bakiev family received Belarusian citizenship. Today, Kurmanbek keeps a low profile, living in a mansion on the outskirts of Minsk, according to unofficial information.

The Kyrgyzstani government accuses Bakiev of shooting at protesters during the 2010 uprising, which left 85 people dead. However, as long as he is in Minsk, he cannot be tried. In 2010 Aliaksandr Lukashenka not only agreed to provide refuge to Bakiev, but he also stated that he supported the use of firearms against the Kyrgyzstani opposition. "If the authorities cannot defend themselves and their people – what kind of authorities are they?”, he said.

Meanwhile, Bishkek seems to be satisfied with taking advantage of a remote public enemy in their domestic political games. As the two countries have few economic ties or other interests, Kyrgyzstan does not feel it is obligated to manage bilateral ties in a more congenial manner. However, as Kyrgyzstan seeks membership in the Eurasian Economic Union, Belarus may influence its accession perspectives due to Bishkek's harsh rhetoric.

Why Belarus Harbours Toppled Dictators

Aliaksandr Lukashenka claims he saved Bakiev out of sheer mercy. “I called him and asked what was going on, and he started to cry. He said they were not friends, but was asked to save at least his children". He confessed in an interview to Ksenia Sobchak in June 2014 to saying he would save his whole family.

In June 2014, the famous Ukrainian prank caller Vovan managed to get through to Lukashenka on the phone and pretended to be Yanukovych's son. He was inquiring whether Lukashenka could provide shelter to Yanukovych should the need arise, and received a positive response.

Lukashenka, apparently, has a sense of solidarity with leaders deposed by a “revolutionary mob”. Despite his rhetoric, he is clearly concerned. The vast security measures that the Belarusian leader has put in place to prevent such an outcome is evidence of his underlying concern. By welcoming in other deposed leaders, he may well be hoping that in hard times he might also receive a helping hand from other like-minded heads of state.

In a recent interview with US professor Grigory Ioffe, Lukashenka openly made this point. To Ioffe's question “Provided that the regime changes in Belarus, you do not have any 'reserve aerodrome'?", Lukashenka replied: “Unfortunately yes, I do not have such “reserve aerodrome”…I sincerely think about it, but I do not bother with it too much. I hope those thugs (meaning the opposition) will not seize power”.

In 2014, Vladimir Putin, in a similar fashion, decided to harbour Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych, ousted by Euromaidan protests in 2014. Post-Soviet authoritarian leaders have been building an alliance against coloured revolutions over the past decade and have even agreed to use their military union - the Collective Security Treaty Organisation - to prevent potential coups. But if oppositional powers appear to be getting stronger, the least they can do is to hide their colleagues from desperate mob.

Vadzim Smok is the Ostrogorski Centre coordinator in Belarus and researcher at the Institute of Political Studies 'Political Sphere' based in Minsk and Vilnius.

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