MOSCOW/BISHKEK (Reuters) - Russia said on Thursday that Kyrgyzstan had descended into chaos and that Moscow was obliged by a security treaty to prevent a total breakdown in the country, where rival groups have claimed power in post-election unrest.
The Central Asian nation, where Russia has an airbase, has been gripped by instability since parliamentary elections on Sunday which government critics and western monitors said were marred by vote-buying.
Protesters stormed government buildings on Tuesday and various groups have said they are in charge.
Parliament failed to gather a quorum in an overnight session to agree on who should take over from ousted ministers, deputies said earlier on Thursday, prolonging a power vacuum.
“The situation looks like a mess and chaos”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a briefing, referring to Russian obligations under a security treaty between the two countries to avoid a complete breakdown of government.
He did not say what action Russia might take but confirmed that Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB security service, had spoken to the new acting security chief of Kyrgysztan, Omurbek Suvanaliyev, on Wednesday.
Suvanaliyev, formerly deputy head of the security council, took over when government leaders were driven from power.
The committee he now heads issued a statement on Thursday saying Kyrgyz security forces would not be used as a tool by any party and demanding that all political forces negotiate and restore the rule of law.
However, the rival factions announced no such plans by the end of the day and their supporters continued to stage rallies.
Suvanaliyev also told Russia’s Interfax news agency that Kyrgyzstan was tightening border controls to ensure security and border guards had been given a list of people barred from leaving the country. They included all officials, including those who have resigned, so that no one escapes responsibility, he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The unrest in Kyrgysztan is the third outbreak of instability in former Soviet republics this year. Mass protests are ongoing in Belarus and fighting has broken out over the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan.
In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from another ex-Soviet republic, Ukraine, where a conflict between Kiev and Russian-backed separatists in the east is simmering.
In Kyrgyzstan, three opposition groups have each proposed their candidates for interim prime minister, a figure who would need to oversee a repeat vote in the coming months, Kyrgyz news website Akipress quoted deputy Ryskeldi Mombekov as saying.
In addition to Sadyr Zhaparov and Tilek Toktogaziyev, who have already made their ambitions clear, Mombekov said Omurbek Babanov, who has already served as the cabinet head, had emerged as a contender.
But the outgoing parliament has itself split into two groups that were meeting separately outside the main ransacked government building, Mombekov said. The group that met overnight in a hotel only included 40 MPs, whereas major decisions such as naming a cabinet require a 61-vote majority.
Another MP, Elvira Surabaldieva, posted a video from the meeting online, saying it had failed to pass a motion to impeach President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
Jeenbekov’s whereabouts have remained unknown since Tuesday though his spokeswoman told Akipress he has spoken by phone to new parliament speaker Myktybek Abdyldayev and told him he saw his own mission as restoring the rule of law.
Kyrgyzstan’s central bank allowed financial institutions to reopen on Thursday after their closure on Tuesday, as business associations warned the nation of 6.5 million could face food shortages if banks and tax offices remained shut and public safety could not be guaranteed.
Sunday’s election handed victory to two establishment parties, one of them closely linked to Jeenbekov.
Eleven other parties refused to accept the results and the central election commission annulled them on Tuesday as it became clear Jeenbekov was losing his grip on power.
One person has been killed and more than a thousand have sought medical help since the unrest broke out, as vigilante units formed by Bishkek residents scuffled with protesters and looters. Some protesters said the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic had fuelled public anger.
The foreign ministry of neighbouring Kazakhstan said it was concerned by attacks on several Kazakh-owned companies in Kyrgyzstan and attempts to seize their property, and urged Bishkek to ensure the safety of Kazakh nationals and businesses.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Thursday attended a peacekeeping drill held by the military in the southeastern Almaty province adjacent to Kyrgyzstan.
Acting Kyrgyz interior minister Kursan Asanov, who took over this week after running in the election as an opposition candidate, said police and civilians had managed to prevent mass looting in the capital.
He vowed to stop any attempts to further destabilise the country where ethnic violence left hundreds dead after the ouster of president Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010 in another revolt.
Asanov also urged parliament to convene and install a legitimate cabinet, describing the situation as stable but tense.
Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Philippa Fletcher