Kyrgyz, Russian Media Embrace New U.S. Embassy Conspiracy Theory
The new United States embassy in Kyrgyzstan continues to be the object of elaborate conspiracy theories in the Kyrgyz and Russian press, which now suggest that Washington is sneaking in equipment to help carry out a color revolution.
This conspiracy theory was kicked off by Kyrgyzstan newspaper Delo No., which reported that the U.S. flew in 152 tons of "unknown cargo" on a Ukrainian airplane. The cargo flew under the "diplomatic pouch," the mail service by which diplomats around the world can send mail without it being inspected by the receiving country.
"The situation in the world, and in our region especially, has recently become so explosive that any actions of the Americans should be regarded with suspicion. All the more so with American diplomats," the paper wrote. "And the diplomatic pouch of any country could theoretically be used to transport anything, including weapons. Before, the Americans in Kyrgyzstan had the possibility to get any cargo, into which the Kyrgyzstani authorities couldn't stick their nose, through their military base. Now there's no base, and the U.S. embassy was was unable to hide itself with the diplomatic pouch in the Manas civilian airport."
The paper puts forward two possible explanations for the secret cargo: one, that it is carrying cash in small denominations in order to pay protesters to carry out a "Maidan" in Bishkek. Another is that it is "espionage equipment for the enormous basements of the new U.S. embassy building in Bishkek."
For whatever reason, the new Bishkek embassy building has become the focal point of heightened paranoia (or a useful pretext for black PR) in the region. Readers may recall the surveillance equipment theory emerging in 2013, when the U.S.'s departure from the air base was first announced. The color revolution narrative is a more recent addition, dovetailing neatly with Moscow's increasing fixation on that "threat."
The Russian press, naturally, enthusiastically picked up the story and ran with it. RIA Novosti noted that "the temporary U.S. charge d'affairs Richard Miles, whom local media called 'the genius of the color revolutions,' arrived in Bishkek in February." (Miles had been ambassador in Belgrade and Tbilisi when those "color revolutions" took place.) A source in Kyrgyzstan's security services told Interfax that they were monitoring the situation closely, and that Delo No. "was not mistaken" to suggest that the shipment could contain weapons.
So what is this mysterious cargo? The U.S. embassy says it's building materials for the new embassy building. "These sorts of cargo shipments, wherever they may be -- in Kyrgyzstan or other countries -- are an ordinary thing, in the framework of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and partnership with local governments," embassy spokesman John Brown told RFE/RL (in Russian). "Other suggestions have no basis, they're irresponsible. Together with the expansion of cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and the U.S., the number of embassy officials is also increasing, and so the need for a new building for them has arisen."
Unlikely as it may seem, transporting construction materials by diplomatic pouch is in fact common practice. A 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office noted that the year before, the State Department shipped 55 million pounds of cargo via the diplomatic pouch -- that is, about 180 times the amount in this mysterious shipment. That's a lot of revolutions to be exporting.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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