Kyrgyzstan: Exiled Russians facing pressure for anti-war stance
Media have been warned against giving anti-war Russians a platform.
A group of Russians who moved to Kyrgyzstan following their country’s invasion of Ukraine are coming under escalating pressure from law enforcement in a fresh sign of how a nervous government in Bishkek is eager to avoid displeasing Moscow.
A collective in the Kyrgyz capital known as Krasnaya Krysha, whose members have been vocal in their opposition to the war, last week reported being summoned to a police precinct and shown evidence that they were under surveillance. The collective have said they interpreted this as a form of intimidation.
On March 9, two days after that conversation, police in Bishkek said that six Russian nationals had been questioned and fined over violations of rules on their residency status in Kyrgyzstan.
The authorities have said the Russians were instructed to avoid rule-breaking, which they described as including such actions as holding public rallies and “inciting racial, ethnic, national, religious or interregional hatred.”
Krasnaya Krysha was set up by a St. Petersburg couple, Yulia and Ilya Kuleshov, who were among the first wave of Russians to leave their country in the wake of the start of the war last February. The collective bills itself as a venue for “crafts and creativity, activism and discussion of social problems.”
It is their focus on the war that seems to have troubled Kyrgyz officials.
On February 24, which marked the first anniversary of the war’s beginning, dozens of blue and yellow ribbons appeared on lampposts along a street in Bishkek named after the capital of Ukraine. Police in Bishkek described this as an unauthorized display of support for Ukraine and said five foreign nationals had been detained and fined. Yulia Kuleshova later revealed that she was one of the five foreigners.
In a related incident that also happened on the same day, a group of people linked to Krasnaya Krysha were confronted by security service agents during a flower-laying ceremony at a downtown Bishkek park to honor the anniversary.
“They … shoved their IDs in my face and barked: GKNB,” Kuleshova wrote, using the acronym of the State Committee for National Security, the successor agency to the KGB.
The war in Ukraine has posed something of a predicament for the Kyrgyz government. The national leadership has strained to avoid expressing anything sounding like outright criticism of Moscow for fear of incurring the anger of its main economic and security partner, but it has also refrained from being seen as justifying the invasion too.
Domestically, meanwhile, it has strongly discouraged exercises of public activism over the war. Krasnaya Krysha is particularly vulnerable. The group has said that the last time people linked to them were detained, they were informed by police officers that they were “working closely with the Russian Embassy.” One police officer who paid routine visits to Krasnaya Krysha’s premises is said to have told them to avoid using their collective as a venue for discussing politically sensitive issues.
“Go to Russia, gather as many people as you want there, do as you like there,” he is alleged to have said.
The GKNB has gone a step further and warned local media to avoid giving Russian nationals a platform to publicize their critical views. On March 9, it summoned Gulmira Makanbai kyzy, a journalist with the 24.kg news agency, for questioning over a video interview she produced with two men who relocated to Kyrgyzstan from the Russian republic of Buryatia in September.
One of them, Buda Munkhoyev, spoke in the interview about how Buryats had begun to talk informally about the prospect of Buryatia one day gaining independence from Russia. The GKNB says it received a complaint about the interview from a Russian national.
“They said that the video could have a negative impact on relations between the two countries in future, and recommended to continue to be careful in covering such topics,” Makanbai kyzy said, relating her exchange with GKNB officers.
Krasnaya Krysha has received a small measure of institutional support, however. On March 9, the collective received a visit from Bakyt Rysbekov, the head of the National Center for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The collective said on its Instagram account that Rysbekov urged them to highlight any future instances of pressure and to seek legal protection from his institution.
Nurbek Bekmurzaev is a writer in Bishkek.
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