Opinion | Putinspeak in Kyrgyzstan

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Few post-Soviet countries are as comfortable for a Russian-speaker to visit as Kyrgyzstan. This landlocked mountainous country of roughly 5.6 million, wedged between China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, kept Russian as an official language after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Kyrgyz had fallen into disuse during the Soviet era and lacked the vocabulary for affairs of state. As a result, a generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country still speaks Russian.

Recently, Kyrgyzstan has been growing notably more Russian. Although Kyrgyz has gained many words, speakers and advocates for making it the country’s sole state language, activists from nongovernmental organizations say they noticed a couple of years ago that Russian-language media got suddenly more robust, gaining a crop of new freelance writers who seemed to come from nowhere. The same people seem to be writing for a recently revived Russian-language website called Stan Radar, apparently addressed to the residents of the five post-Soviet “stans”: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Many of the stories on the site emphasize the importance of the Russian language in these countries, as well as the potential economic dangers of not joining the customs union initiated by Russia. The site contains no specific contact information or any other identifying details, and activists say their efforts to find out who owns it have been futile. They have established, though, that the server is located in Moscow.

Another website, the name of which translates as “Eurasians: The New Wave,” brims with articles warning that Kyrgyzstan may face the threat of a Ukrainian-style revolution or a Syrian-style radical Islamist takeover if it fails to form a tighter bond with Moscow. It reveals little about its identity, only that it belongs to a foundation started in Moscow in 2010 “to strengthen the ties between Russia and Kyrgyzstan” and that its “partners” include an organization called Rossotrudnichestvo, or “Russian Cooperation,” a federal agency founded in 2008 to foster connections between Russia and Russian speakers abroad. In 2012 Konstantin Kosachev, a high-level functionary of Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, was appointed to lead the ministry that runs Rossotrudnichestvo, and since then it has really made its presence known in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere. It organizes cultural events and sponsors Russian-language educational programs, and most important, according to activists here, it works to influence Kyrgyz legislators.


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