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Kyrgyzstan’s Most Wanted
PHILIP SHISHKIN is a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the Asia Society and author, most recently, of Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia, from which this essay is addapted. Published by Yale University Press. Copyright c 2013 by Philip Shishkin. Used by permission of the publisher.See more by this author
Of all the days he could get sick, this was the worst possible day. Eugene Gourevitch, once Kyrgyzstan’s premier financier and confidant of the ruling family, was now a wanted man.
It was the spring of 2010, and the corrupt government of this small Central Asian nation had just fallen in a bloody uprising. Ironically, that government itself was a rotten product of an earlier coup, the optimistically misnamed Tulip Revolution of 2005. While political tumult rocked the country from within, Kyrgyzstan assumed an outsize role on the international stage. The war in nearby Afghanistan prompted Washington to set up a military base next to Kyrgyzstan’s main airport. The American encroachment worried Moscow, Kyrgyzstan’s old imperial patron that maintained a base of its own there. And neighboring China was also concerned about the expansion of American influence so close to its borders.
None of this mattered much to Gourevitch. His head swayed from side to side as he struggled to stay awake in the backseat of a car smuggling him out of Kyrgyzstan. Gourevitch was so ill that he didn’t even notice when the car rattled across the border into neighboring Kazakhstan. At least, that is where he hoped he was headed. He had to trust his escorts, a pair of shadowy Chechen operatives who had made him a simple offer: They would smuggle him out of the country, but it was going to cost him. Exactly how much would be determined later. Gourevitch wasn’t in a position to haggle. He had to save himself from the revolutionaries who were on the prowl for the former regime’s associates, particularly those with knowledge of financial operations of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his entourage. And Gourevitch was at the top of that list.
Barely two months earlier, Gourevitch had been living a very nice life. Rolling in cash and connections, he was the very picture of a high-flying investment banker. A fawning television interview from those days showed a confident Gourevitch dressed in a dark blue suit, a radiant yellow tie, and matching cufflinks. On camera, he dismissed rumblings about the nature of his Kyrgyz breakout as “envy of our success.”