Change has been coming to…Krgyzstan?

Yes. Remember some news right around the time of President Obama’s inauguration that involved Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin? It plays in.

First of all, Krgyzstan is

a mountainous Central Asian republic that not long ago
was a hoped-for springboard for Western-style democracy in the former
Soviet Union.

Which would be very important to Western interests. But

The president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has steered Kyrgyzstan sharply back into the orbit of Moscow.

Why?

In January, Mr. Bakiyev jolted Washington by announcing
he was evicting the U.S. from an air base that has been crucial to the
supply of troops fighting in Afghanistan.

Which happened around the time Mr. Obama was coming into office.

In the West, hopes were high that the global financial
crisis would rein in Vladimir Putin’s assertive foreign policy. But
here, as in other parts of the former Soviet Union, hard times have had
the opposite effect: The Russians are coming back.

And that’s the key line to the whole story.

Russia has been hit by the crisis, but remains far
richer than its former satellites, and it has used its largess to
regain clout near its borders, in what President Dmitry Medvedev calls
the “zone of privileged interests.”

“Basically Russia sees the crisis as an opportunity to increase its
influence in the post-Soviet space,” said Nikolai Zlobin, analyst for
the Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, D.C., who meets
regularly with Russian officials. “They think this is the right time to
act.”

So how have they been acting? Follow along.

Moscow has already delivered more than $300 million of a
$2.1 billion aid package to Kyrgyzstan it promised Mr. Bakiyev when he
announced he was evicting U.S. troops from the base…Moscow lately
considered extending a $5 billion loan to the cash-starved government
in Ukraine, and has held talks on credits for Belarus and Armenia.

This week Mr. Putin stunned Western officials by
announcing that Russia would pull its long-standing application to join
the World Trade Organization, and instead form a trade block with
neighboring Kazakstan and Belarus.

Russia is muscling up again.

Moscow’s assertiveness poses a challenge to President
Barack Obama as he vows to “reset” relations with Russia in the run-up
to his first presidential visit to Moscow in July….In Kyrgyzstan,
opposition politicians fear the reset could mean a new era of American
accommodation to the Kremlin. As the U.S. has grown preoccupied with
its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and its economic crisis at home, it
has dialed back its support of Western-style democracy, they say.

“The American ambassadors used to be very outspoken about their
opinions,” said Medet Sadyrkulov, a former head of Mr. Bakiyev’s
administration. “Now they have gone quiet.”

So has Mr. Sadyrkulov.

Days after Mr. Sadyrkulov shared his views in an
interview with The Wall Street Journal in March, his body was found in
his burned-out car outside Bishkek. Colleagues call his death a
political killing. The government says he died in a car accident.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty have been cut off in the region.

And Russian President Medvedev’s claims about reform and democracy in his country….appear to be on hold at this time.

Meanwhile, in North Korea…

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....