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    Central Asia
     Jun 15, 2010
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Russia peers into Kyrgyz void
By M K Bhadrakumar

Eighteen is a difficult age to own decisions or assume responsibility - especially concerning the fortunes of wayward younger siblings. By a curious coincidence, Russia has been tasked with taking a monumental decision of assuming responsibility on the 18th anniversary of its national day when on Saturday the Kremlin received a formal communication from the president of the interim government, Roza Otunbayeva.

By Otunbayeva's own description, "We need the arrival of outside forces to calm the situation down. The situation in Osh [in southern Kyrgyzstan] is out of control. Attempts to establish dialogue have failed, and the fighting and rioting continues. We


have appealed to Russia for help and are waiting for news. We hope that adequate measures will be taken in the earliest possible timeframe."

The ethnic riots between Kyrgyz and Uzbek have taken a heavy toll - over 100 dead and 1,500 injured. Before addressing the Kremlin in writing, Otunbayeva spoke with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin reacted in a measured way to the request form the former Soviet territory. Maybe, as Alfred Adler, the Austrian psychiatrist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, viewed it, birth order can leave an indelible impression on the firstborn's style of life and habitual ways of dealing with the task of friendship, love and work.

At any rate, Moscow saw no reason for an immediate dispatch of troops. "This is an internal conflict, and Russia does not see the conditions for participation in its settlement," a Kremlin spokesperson told reporters in Moscow on Saturday. Russia was providing emergency humanitarian support, she said.

However, she made a hugely significant revelation: "In his capacity as chairman of the Collective Security Treaty Organization [CSTO] council, [Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev has ordered consultations to be held among secretaries of the member states on Monday to work out a collective response." (The members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.)

The fact that Medvedev took this decision soon after returning to Moscow from a summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Tashkent cannot go unnoticed. While in Tashkent, Medvedev categorically ruled out a CSTO intervention. "Only in the event of a foreign intrusion and an external attempt to seize power can we estimate that the CSTO is under attack."

He added that Russia was ready to help if necessary. But then, "all the problems of Kyrgyzstan have internal roots. They are rooted in the weakness of the former authorities and their unwillingness to take care of the people's needs. I believe the Kyrgyz authorities will solve all the existing problems. The Russian Federation will help."

Meanwhile, the SCO summit - China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - adopted a decision to send an observer team to Kyrgyzstan to monitor the constitutional referendum and the situation in general. Medvedev said the SCO "could not stay indifferent to the events in Kyrgyzstan, the SCO reaction was prompt and clear, and our countries promised help to the Kyrgyz people without delay." He promised "further assistance" to Kyrgyzstan by the SCO's "authorized agencies". He explained:
Kyrgyzstan is one of the SCO founders, our ally and close partner. We are sincerely interested in Kyrgyzstan overcoming the stage of internal shocks as soon as possible and fulfilling the task of forming a new government capable of tackling the pressing issues of socio-economic development ... It is important to observe the legal scenario of the development of statehood in Kyrgyzstan. That is why we believe it would be right to send the SCO observers mission to the June 27 referendum on the new constitution and to further conduct a monitoring of the processes underway in Kyrgyzstan.
Moscow is weighing the consequences of a military intervention in Kyrgyzstan and is pondering deeply. The dilemma is profound. First comes the security of the 750,000 ethnic Russian population. Otunbayeva said, "The situation has gotten out of control, since yesterday [Thursday] and we need military forces to arrest the situation. That is why we are turning to Russia."

She pointed out that Uzbek, Russian and Tatar ethnic groups were being targeted and the death toll was "higher than you or I know". The Russian Migration Service noted that the number of ethnic Russians wanting to leave Kyrgyzstan for Russia had risen dramatically.

Moscow cannot appear to be helpless as not only its image as the regional superpower but also Russian domestic opinion come into play. Medvedev will be under pressure to act decisively. However, intervention can turn out to be a slippery path.

All the elements of an Afghanistan-like situation are imperceptibly becoming available in Kyrgyzstan: a weak and ineffectual state structure, leadership lacking in legitimacy, impassable ethnic divides, a deepening economic crisis and acute poverty, a heavy dependence on foreign aid, drug-mafia and Islamist militants - and a land-locked geography and demographic spread that invite outside interference and complicate the civil-war conditions.

Moscow will not want to be juxtaposed with the rising wave of ethnic Kyrgyz nationalism, either. It made a catastrophic mistake in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Kyrgyz situation is so extraordinarily volatile that the country's statehood stands in peril. It shouldn't turn out that Moscow is biting more than it can chew.

The Otunbayeva-led interim government has yet to gain legitimacy following the April revolution that led to the ousting of president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. It is desperately trying to solidify its standing domestically and it lacks the power to control the country. The unity of the interim government remains problematic, too, and internecine rivalries may already have erupted between competing power centers in Bishkek involving vaulting ambitions of various constituent groups or individuals, many of whom aren't exactly on comradely terms with Moscow.

Equally, there are question marks about the prospect of the June 27 referendum coming out with a credible verdict of public opinion. As a Russian observer wrote recently, "If the referendum is democratic, unpleasant surprises are possible, while if it is manipulated, then the preconditions will arise for a 'real' color revolution." The referendum concerns parliamentary reform to limit the powers of the president.

The fact remains that the overthrow of Bakiyev in the bloody uprising in April was easily dubbed as a "color" revolution, but in reality it was more like a coup. Well-known Russian commentator Fedor Lukyanov recently wrote in the independent Gazeta:
This has resulted in a dangerous and unstable situation exacerbated by the fact that the initiators of the coup have themselves abolished all the formally legitimate institutions, including the parliament. Russia was clearly far from distressed at the overthrow of Bakiyev, but it does not possess a system of organizations whose opinions could give legitimacy to the revolutionary government. Hence Moscow's persistent calls for the speediest holdings of elections and a return to the legal space. Here Russia hopes that the new government will be able to secure legitimacy through elections, although there is no certainty as to that.
Meanwhile, an orderly holding of parliamentary elections under a new constitution scheduled for October seems highly problematic. Thus, the Kremlin will visualize the real danger that its interventionist force may find itself operating in is a political vacuum - and this at the invitation of an evanescent power structure that may prove all but illusory in the fullness of time.

Another template is that ethnic Uzbeks who are on the receiving end of the pogrom in Osh form one-seventh of the population of Kyrgyzstan but are a near majority in Osh, which is close to the border with Uzbekistan. Yet, the displaced Uzbeks from Osh are streaming into Uzbekistan for refuge. Any foreign interventionist force will be stepping into the minefield of unresolved nationality questions in the region. 

Continued 1 2  

A Russian-Uzbek challenge to the US(Apr 23, '10)

Old habits die hard in Kyrgyzstan
(Apr 13, '10)

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