Moscow and Washington began openly negotiating to secure their interests in Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday, offering money and assistance to the interim government, even as it negotiated an uneasy truce with supporters of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake arrived in Bishkek for talks with interim leader Roza Otunbayeva, while Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin held talks in Moscow with her top deputy, Almazbek Atambayev.
Separately, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held a meeting with Sechin and other ministers to discuss the situation in Kyrgyzstan. Finance Minster Alexei Kudrin said Russia would provide $50 million in grants and loans, while Sechin said the country's oil producers could provide 25,000 metric tons of oil products.
Blake, the highest-ranking official to visit Bishkek since last week's violence left more than 80 people dead, said he was "optimistic" about the new leaders' actions and that Washington was "prepared to help."
The jostling for influence comes at a crucial time for the fledgling government, which accuses Bakiyev of leaving the state's coffers nearly empty and of threatening renewed violence by refusing to resign.
Political pundits said that once stability returns, the situation in Kyrgyzstan could afford Moscow and Washington a chance to show a true "reset" of relations — meaning neither would treat allegiances with Bishkek as a zero-sum game.
That competitive relationship, while politically destabilizing for Bishkek, has been a regular source of income since Bakiyev came to power amid street protests in 2005.
Moscow was widely seen as pressing Bakiyev to force the United States out of its air base in Manas, a key transit point for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, after giving the country $2 billion in loans and aid.
Washington won an extension of the lease after agreeing to pay more in rent and offer additional financial support.
Russia has not been shy about expressing its frustration with Bakiyev, leading some analysts and Western media to speculate that Moscow had at least given its tacit support to the opposition movement.
Those suspicions were only deepened after Russia was the first out of the gate to recognize the new government and even to criticize Bakiyev for his management.
"President Bakiyev is a very consistent person: He first said he had made a consistent decision to dismantle the U.S. military base and then that he had made a consistent decision to keep it as an international transit center," President Dmitry Medvedev said ironically during a speech Tuesday at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
It was Bakiyev's inconsistency as a politician that put Kyrgyzstan on the brink of civil war, Medvedev said, adding that if he did not step down, it could turn into a "second Afghanistan."
Putin said shortly after the uprising that Bakiyev's nepotism was to blame for the public backlash.
Despite the unexpected treatment of the Kyrgyz leader, whom Medvedev and Putin both congratulated last year with his re-election, and evident discontent over his ever-changing allegiances, political analysts and top Russian officials said Moscow had nothing to do with the regime change.
"There was a lot of irritation in Moscow over Bakiyev, but to replace him with anyone better, Russia would need to have built contacts with a strong, popular and united opposition, and that's not the case you see here," said Alexander Knyazev, a Bishkek-based Central Asia analyst with Moscow's Institute for the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Indeed, the new leadership is an assortment of politicians with different agendas, almost all of whom had joined Bakiyev to oust Askar Akayev, the country's longtime leader, in 2005. Otunbayeva was a leader of that revolt but was swiftly sidelined and pushed into the opposition by Bakiyev after he was elected president.
Knyazev said several Kyrgyz opposition leaders had approached him about putting them in touch with senior Russian officials, but he said the contact did not go beyond his institute's head and a State Duma deputy.
Interestingly, just hours before being evicted from his office on April 7 by an angry mob, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov said opposition leader Temir Sariyev, who was arrested earlier that day, had confessed to meeting Putin in Moscow and securing his support.
But Usenov called the claims "all lies," according the 24.kg Kyrgyz online news service.
Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told The Moscow Times that the prime minister never had any contacts with Sariyev or any other members of the Kyrgyz opposition.
Russian leaders traditionally have supported incumbent rulers in former Soviet states, but in this case Moscow is showing that it is ready to bend its rules for disloyal allies, said Fyodor Lukyanov, a political analyst and editor of the Russia in Global Affairs magazine.
He said the change was a signal to Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who will visit Moscow on Monday and Tuesday, and his Tajik counterpart, Emomali Rakhmon, who both try to play Russia against the United States in the region.
"The biggest challenge for Moscow and Washington now is not to slide into a zero-sum game in Kyrgyzstan and begin competing in buying off the local politicians," Lukyanov said.
Given the more careful and less intrusive approach that U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has taken with former Soviet republics, compared to that of Obama's predecessor, Moscow and Washington could find a compromise on how to share influence in Kyrgyzstan, he said.