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Is the Kyrgyzstan upheaval bad for the US?

Some Kyrgyz express anger with America for its relationship with the Bakiyev government.

But the impression here, fair or not, runs strong among the general population that Washington coddled the Bakiyev regime for the sake of holding onto the base, which Bakiyev came close to evicting the U.S. from last year. And while America’s reputation has taken a beating, Russia’s star is now ascendant.

Russia’s state-dominated media began to run stories critical of Bakiyev some months ago, just as the Kyrgyz opposition was mobilizing its protest campaign. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was the first leader to place a call to the provisional government’s leader, Roza Otunbayeva, de facto recognizing the new government. And Russia has promised to provide significant financial support to the new regime.

This mountainous ex-Soviet state long played a much larger role on the international stage than its size or location warrants. With just 5 million inhabitants and wedged against China’s northwest border — and without any natural resources or major industry — it is nevertheless the only country in the world to host both Russian and U.S. bases.

If Kyrgyzstan’s new leaders — who promised democratic measures such as constitutional reform and fresh elections in six months — turn out to be more pliable to Russian demands, it would be the second victory for the Kremlin this year in the tug of war for influence between east and west. In February, Ukrainian voters turned out the anti-Russian government of Viktor Yushchenko and replaced him with the more Moscow-friendly Viktor Yanukovych.

But some observers believe that all is far from lost: The U.S. can still establish good relations with the Otunbayeva government.

“Being an American is not a good thing right now here,” said one Western official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. “But this government is capable of being nice to the U.S. if the U.S. treats them right.”

“Things could be smoothed over — but some fence-mending is needed,” he said.