On August 7 around 8 p.m., local time, Kyrgyz authorities moved to detain former President Almazbek Atambayev at his compound outside Bishkek. Atambayev was in his courtyard, shaking hands with supporters when Kyrgyz special forces stormed the compound. Shots were fired and there are reports of injuries, including of journalists present at the compound located in Koi-Tash, a village south of Bishkek. The State National Security Committee released a statement that its forces were equipped with rubber bullets.
As darkness fell, the scene depicted through a live feed carried by Kloop became increasingly chaotic. Both the authorities and Atambayev’s supporters reportedly blocked the road — the former with vehicles and the later by sawing down trees. At least one building on the compound was burning and an apparent stash of fireworks had explode or was purposefully set off. Gunfire and other blasts — stun grenades most likely — continued to echo, interspersed with both cheering and yelling.
As of writing, it’s unclear where Atambayev is, though some reports indicate that he has been taken into custody his supporters say he has not been.
This is a developing situation.
The former president refused to obey three subpoenas from the Interior Ministry this summer for questioning as part of a criminal probe, presumably as a “witness” in the Aziz Batukayev case.
Batukayev, a notorious ethnic Chechen crime boss, was released from Kyrgyz prison in 2013. At the time, the release was reportedly granted to allow him to pursue treatment for leukemia. But the leukemia diagnosis that got him out of jail was fraudulent.
Atambayev, who was president at the time of Batukayev’s release, is facing a bevvy of charges beyond the matter of the unlawful release of Batukayev, including corruption, lobbying on behalf of a Chinese company involved in the ill-fated modernization of the Bishkek Power Plant, involvement in supplying coal to the plant, and illegal receipt of a plot of land in Koi-Tash.
Atambayev stepped down in late 2017 after the election of his chosen successor, Sooronbay Jeenbekov. But in the months after the democratic transition, a feud between Jeenebkov and Atambayev developed. The new president removed Atambayev’s allies from government and Atambayev harshly criticized his successor’s decisions. The rift widened throughout 2018 and into 2019.
In June, parliament voted to strip Atambayev of his ex-presidential immunity, a move the former president and his supporters argue was illegitimate.
In late July, Atambayev made a quick trip to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He flew to Moscow from Russia’s military base in Kant on a private jet and returned triumphant. Though some analysts viewed the Putin meeting as settling the conflict between Jeenbekov and Atambayev, Erica Marat, an associate professor at the National Defense University, remarked to The Diplomat last month: “I don’t see why would Putin support a former president when he can assure loyalty of the one in power.”
While the situation in Koi-Tash continues to develop it’s clear that the Jeenbekov administration has no intentions of backing down from its pursuit of legal action against Atambayev.
Jeenebekov reportedly began a vacation on August 5 but has reportedly returned to Bishkek.