BISHKEK -- Russian journalists covered the recent protests in Kyrgyzstan in a manner that supports the Kremlin's desire to create civil unrest -- pitting the north against the south -- and even staged events on camera to achieve their objectives.
Mass protests began October 5 in Bishkek following parliamentary elections in which parties close to pro-Russian President Sooronbay Jeenbekov prevailed amid accusations of widespread vote buying.
Jeenbekov resigned Thursday (October 15), saying he wanted to bring an end to the crisis. His departure came after days of turmoil.
During the protests, demonstrators seized government offices and freed imprisoned politicians, including Almazbek Atambayev, Jeenbekov's predecessor. Authorities re-arrested Atamabayev October 10.
The Central Election Commission said in a statement October 6 that it had "invalidated the election results".
The events in Kyrgyzstan were covered by many foreign media outlets, but only the Kremlin-controlled Russian channels began to film staged shots and invented imaginary causes contributing to the protests.
One example occurred when Dmitry Kulko of Russia's Channel One reported from a Bishkek square on October 7.
A video posted by the Current Time TV channel showed Kulko instructing protesters how to behave in front of the camera.
"If you can, [chant] to show the people's mood," he told them, waving his hands like a conductor. As filming began, protesters obediently followed him, shouting their political leader's name and raising their fists.
"They've staged a comedy. They're shooting their own film," said a laughing voice off camera, apparently that of a bystander filming Kulko and the protesters.
In another instance, Irada Zeynalova, an experienced TV journalist who hosts the "Weekly Roundup" TV show on NTV, in a report on October 11 deliberately poked a sensitive matter -- the tacit division of the country's inhabitants into northern and southern regions.
"This confrontation boils down to a struggle of clans originating from the north and south. The war [power struggle] between the north and the south in the '90s threatened Kyrgyzstan's collapse," she said.
Zeynalova compared the political crisis in Kyrgyzstan with the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, the region disputed by Armenia and Azerbaijan, which late last month saw the heaviest fighting in years. The ethnic-Armenian province broke away from Azerbaijan in the 1990s during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The protesters in Bishkek shown in Zeynalova's report tried to explain that the demonstration against the parliamentary election results had nothing to do with any disagreement between the north and the south.
"It's not true. The people are united," one of the protesters, who came to Bishkek from Osh, told Zeynalova. "Residents from all regions of [Kyrgyzstan] are gathered here. We want unity and new faces [in the government]."
The young woman, who did not give her name, emphasised that she was standing side by side with like-minded inhabitants of the north.
Nonetheless, the Russian journalist presented her own conclusions to the situation as valid.
'A complete lie'
Viewers on Facebook, including those living in Russia, made it clear that the Russian journalists' actions did not surprise them.
The Russian media personalities "clearly convey the Kremlin's fear of the people's protest against lies and against the usurpation of power," wrote Ksenia Sergeyeva, a resident of Novgorod, Russia.
"Russian media are a complete lie," said Yelena Orlova from Minsk, Belarus. "They are reporting the same lie about Belarus. We are already used to it and don't pay any attention."
Representatives of Kyrgyz civil society are equally outraged by the biased manner in which Russian channels are covering events in Bishkek.
"Irada Zeynalova constantly repeated on the air that ex-president Almazbek Atambayev is a northerner and that President Sooronbay Jeenbekov is a southerner," said Leila Saralayeva, editor-in-chief of the Bishkek newspaper New Faces, days before Jeenbekov's resignation. "But there is no confrontation between the north and south!"
Russian media reports have the clear goal of pitting northerners and southerners against one another in order to unleash a civil war in Kyrgyzstan, she said.
The Kremlin hopes that, by fomenting civil unrest, it will force Bishkek to ask it for help in resolving the situation, she said. This result would obviously strengthen the Russian regime's influence in the Central Asian republic.
Although the Kremlin did not clearly signal it would intervene militarily in the situation in Kyrgyzstan, some observers do not rule out the possibility that Russian TV channels' provocative reports are managed and planned by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB).
The FSB controls many spheres of public life, including the work of Russian propaganda media outlets, said Askat Dukenbayev, a Bishkek-based political scientist.
"Disinformation is part of the new 'hybrid' military doctrine of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's Russia against post-Soviet countries seeking to escape the influence of the former colonial metropole," he said.
Even before the October 4 parliamentary elections, social media users organised a peaceful demonstration on September 27 against Russian influence, 24.kg reported.
Hundreds of Kyrgyz gathered in Bishkek to defend their country's sovereignty and to denounce statements made by some politicians urging a merger of Kyrgyzstan with Russia.