Kyrgyzstan, Maslow & Russia's Great Central Asian Game

by Z*

Finally, the pieces of the Manas puzzle are coming together. And the picture is ugly.

After Kyrgyzstan's announcement closing the U.S. airbase at Manas International Airport, it seems that the Kyrgyz government is now determined to cut its ties with the United States. The closing of the airbase also means terminating agreements with 11 member states of an international anti-terrorist coalition, whose servicemen have been deployed at Manas, not far from the country's capital of Bishkek. Altogether the intended closure and announcement were not graceful diplomatic moves please take a moment to see it through the eyes of good old Abraham Maslow.

From Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs, we know that, first and foremost, people are driven by basic physiological needs. The next level of needs is safety and security. Then come social needs, esteem needs and, finally, self-actualizing needs. Having one set of needs unsatisfied, one cannot seek satisfaction for the following level.

Kyrgyzstan’s closure of Manas is mostly driven by fundamental physiological needs. In these times of economic crisis, it is understandable for a nation to ensure its own survival. And the much-needed help came from Russia, which still denies having anything to do with so-called “sovereign” Kyrgyzstan’s decision to close the U.S. base.

However, the past week left no doubt that Russia did want Kyrgyzstan to kick the Americans out of the country.

However, before that crucial move there was the little matter of payment. First, the Kyrgyz government delayed its ratification of the base closure, while at the same time awaiting the approval of a new Russian aid package (worth $450 million). Put in the spotlight, Russia hurriedly crafted an amendment to its 2009- 2011 federal budget. This widely overlooked amendment redirected funds to Kyrgyzstan, money that originally had been designated to help other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). With these blunt fiscal changes, obviously, Russia’s genuine goodwill comes into question. The aid is less a symbol of Russian friendship to its former satellite, Kyrgystan and more a direct payment to take some anti-American action. Too many coincidences point to the fact that whenever we hear Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his attempts to justify his decision to close the base what we are really hearing is the Russian voice of Moscow's policy at work.

With this new aid from Russia, Kyrgyzstan might fulfill the basic needs of the nation. The next level of Maslow’s needs is safety and security. But security can be defined differently. In the case of Kyrgyzstan, it seems that security is defined as security of presidential office. Bakiyev’s term is to expire this fall or next year (the date is currently the source of domestic debate). In either case, Bakiyev has made it clear he will run for re-election for it is his right to serve for two consecutive terms. Therefore, for Bakiyev, all the talk of kicking Americans out, being tough and reviving the economy is a great pre-election public relations campaign.

Higher up the hierarchy of needs, we see clearer why Kyrgyzstan is acting this way. Social needs and esteem needs make the country wish for love, affection and recognition. While the U.S. does not listen to what the Kyrgyz government is yelling on the top of its lungs, motherly Russia on the other hand fulfills that longing for love and affection. For the mainstream media in Kyrgystan, it seems creating the image that their president plays an important global role is key. Giving the Americans a kick certainly reaffirms that importance. Bakiyev reiterated his quest for recognition in his recent press conference: “We are a sovereign nation. We must have some respect for ourselves.”

However, in this case, Kyrgyzstan’s policy shows why it will never reach the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: self-actualization. At this stage, one is less concerned with the opinions of others and is thus fulfilling their potential. Being so easily manipulated by Russia and driven by flawed needs (security of office for the president over security of the people in the country and the region) seriously undermines Kyrgystan's development and its cooperation with the world for the common well-being.

*Z is from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home from the U.S., so she writes under a pseudonym.

(The photo of Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev meeting with Kyrgystan's President Kurmanbek Bakiyev is from the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office in the Kremlin and was released in 2008; the photo is in the public domain.)

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