Russia criticizes EU foreign policy chief for "counterproductive" statements on Kyrgyz crisis

Russia's foreign minister criticized the European Union's foreign policy chief for comments on Kyrgyzstan's political crisis, saying they could be exploited by the opposition to increase tensions, a ministry statement said Wednesday.

The criticism followed Moscow's reprimand earlier this week of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which it accused of handing the Kyrgyz opposition a pretext for protests that have escalated dramatically this week and left some cities effectively in the opposition's control.

The OSCE had judged this year's parliamentary elections flawed, agreeing with opposition candidates who said they had been shut out of the political process. The elections triggered the outburst of long-brewing opposition dissatisfaction.

The statements echoed Russia's allegations of Western encouragement of the peaceful revolutions in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine last year.

Russia considers Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian nation of 5 million, part of its natural sphere of influence. It opened a military base there in 2003, the first to be established abroad since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Tuesday to express concern over what he called the "counter-productivity" of the diplomat's public statements on the Kyrgyz political crisis. The ministry statement said Solana's comments gave an inaccurate characterization of the situation and its roots and "could be used by the opposition to increase tensions."

Solana on Monday had said "We are concerned that the parliamentary elections fell short of OSCE commitments and other international standards in a number of important areas. This has caused a rise in tension. The latest news about the use of force against protesters in Osh and Jalal-Abad and outbreaks of violence is particularly disturbing."

Moscow found the statement inflammatory.

"In the present situation, it's necessary to have a principled appraisal of the activities of forces violating the constitution and law," the Foreign Ministry said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also expressed concern Wednesday over Kyrgyzstan and blamed the opposition for the situation.

"I think that the so-called opposition, which has not controlled anything for a long time, should have the brains to find enough strength to calm down and bring the situation to the plane of political dialogue and not a dialogue of screams, shattering windows, destroying buildings and freeing prisons of criminals," he said.

Still, Moscow has been far less vocal than it was with Georgia and Ukraine, and it has apparently tried to maintain a more impartial tone.

Arkady Dubnov, a Central Asia expert who writes for Russia's Vremya Novostei newspaper, said Kremlin sources had told him that Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev traveled to Moscow over the weekend seeking a meeting with President Vladimir Putin but that the Russian leader had declined to meet with him. He met with Kremlin aides instead, Dubnov said.

Some Russian officials have urged Kyrgyz authorities to deal toughly with the protesters.

The Russians "are afraid of a real emergence of chaos and disorder in the south of Kyrgyzstan and the threat that these events could be taken over by Islamic extremists," Dubnov said.

The region is in the Fergana Valley, shared with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where the Taliban-allied Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan conducted incursions in 1999 and 2000 with the apparent aim of establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state. However, there have been no overt indications of a religious component to the protests.

JUDITH INGRAM Associated Press

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