Page 1 of 2 Inspectors miss the flight to Kyrgyzstan
By M K Bhadrakumar
The reset of the relationship of the United States with Russia is being put to
the test for the first time. Kyrgyzstan poses a tough challenge: can the reset
really work in a high-stakes game in which the vital interests of the two sides
are sharply divergent?
Unlike in the case of Iran sanctions, there is no scope for dissimulation.
Real-time cooperation is needed to cauterize the wound that opened in June in
southern Kyrgyzstan and which now threatens to turn gangrene.
The US's audacious Central Asian policy cruised beautifully in recent months,
but it has hit a sudden bump in Kyrgyzstan. Whether a speed breaker caused it -
or a nylon trip-wire - doesn't
really matter so much as that the US diplomacy turned turtle and has been
The three-day consultations by US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake in
Moscow since Wednesday underscore that American policy can be salvaged only
with some sincere Russian help.
'Reset' is all or nothing
But Russia is brooding. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dilated on the US-Russia
reset on the same day that Blake landed in Moscow. Among the points he made:
Moscow expects clarity in relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO). "I think this organization has been balancing between the past and the
future far too long."
NATO's new Strategic Concept, which replaces the 1999 concept, "can hardly be
considered a strategic response to Russia's security initiatives."
NATO should "take part in parity-based network cooperation with other players,
including Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)."
"The problem of Iran is a systemic one. It has to do with the deficiency of the
current non-proliferation regime. Non-proliferation should be based on
"Sanctions against Iran won't be effective. We will have to reach a compromise,
no matter how hard it may be. It is impossible to isolate Iran without
consequences for the entire region."
The US's National Security Strategy released in May "contains a lot of old,
traditional elements of US foreign policy, which have all but grown obsolete".
Lavrov concluded by outlining the Russian expectations of reset:
world's largest powers will not always agree on everything. But if they are
willing to hear each other and to come to a common understanding on the current
stage in global development, that is, what sort of world we live in and where
it is going, then this helps us have more harmony at the level of practical
politics and approaches to specific international problems as well.
The narrative so far has been that Kyrgyzstan is a fine example of the reset;
how Washington and Moscow coordinated on the project to stabilize a volatile
Central Asian country. Moscow never disputed the narrative. So, the US pressed
ahead with the idea of inducting an observer-cum-advisory ''police'' mission of
the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) into the southern
Kyrgyz regions of Osh and Jalalabad to keep peace between the ethnic Uzbek and
Although the footfalls of the OSCE's Balkan mission are still in the memory,
and given the ineptness of the OSCE it could be a mere matter of time before
the NATO appeared in southern Kyrgyzstan in a peacekeeping role, Moscow kept
calm. It is not hard to make out that Kyrgyz crisis and the Afghan endgame are
intertwined. Besides, the US is beefing up its military bases in Afghanistan,
setting up a new base in Mazar-i-Sharif and is tying up military outposts in
Central Asian countries envisaging a role for the NATO in the region.
But, then came the "Steppe Eagle 2010", the largest-ever international exercise
involving NATO countries and Kazakhstan, which ended in Kazakhstan last Sunday.
NATO envoy Robert Simmons has since announced that "all necessary documents
have been drawn up" for the participation of a Kazakh contingent alongside the
NATO's in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, "Exercise Peace Mission 2010" under the aegis of the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO) is due to be held in Kazakhstan on September
9-25 with substantial Russian participation (over 1,000 troops, around 130
armored vehicles, 10 aircraft and helicopters) aimed at testing the
"interoperability of the SCO armed forces in rendering assistance to a member
state involved in an internal armed conflict".
On Wednesday, the influential Nezavisimaya Gazeta commented wryly that Russia
was "entering a period of geopolitical struggle with NATO and the United States
for control over the territory of the erstwhile Soviet Union and nearby
countries ... Russia's geopolitical interests are in danger. Outperformed at
every turn, the international structures it established in the region - CIS,
CSTO and SCO - have become redundant ... There appears to be no particular
reason to run the [Exercise Peace Mission 2010] exercise save for the necessity
to show that the SCO is still there."
To be sure, US diplomacy capitalized on the CSTO's inability to intervene in
Kyrgyzstan. Tashkent blocked the CSTO intervention but these days Tashkent is
manifestly ''pro-West''. Uzbek President Islam Karimov didn't show up at the
CSTO summit meeting in Yerevan last month, which had Kyrgyzstan high on its
agenda. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had to publicly express Moscow's
frustration. He said Russia will seek an amendment of the alliance's statutory
documents - "so that the organization can have a more effective influence on
the [Kyrgyz] crisis".
Moscow, which is hosting the next CSTO summit in December, watched with
alacrity as the US stepped in to fill the Kyrgyz void with the OSCE project but
it decided not to oppose it. In a display of tact, the Kremlin offered to join
the OSCE mission to Kyrgyzstan by deputing seven Russian police officers to
serve along with personnel from Turkey, Serbia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Slovakia,
Lithuania, Sweden and Finland.
However, while doing so, Moscow couldn't have been unaware that a huge
groundswell of popular opinion was building up in Kyrgyzstan against the OSCE
mission. Interestingly, the "anti-OSCE" Kyrgyz campaigners included prominent
politicians known to be close to Moscow.
On balance, however, US diplomacy is to be primarily faulted. It erred
seriously by pandering to the Uzbek ethnic interests in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Washington calculated that collaboration with Uzbekistan over the Kyrgyz crisis
would be useful to rev up its strategic partnership with Tashkent. The US has
co-opted Tashkent into the Afghan war by giving it lucrative business
opportunities and has held out the prospect of building up Navoi as a
trans-shipment hub connecting Asia and Europe.
But the US underestimated the vicious backlash of Kyrgyz nationalism. In the
surcharged political atmosphere ahead of Kyrgyz parliamentary elections in
October, crafty politicians have found use for boosting the nationalist
sentiments that erupted during the ethnic riots in June.
The door may never open
The nationalists began spewing venom at the OSCE mission and the agitators
identify the US as unduly "pro-Uzbek". Shades of Serbian nationalism! Actually,
the US media has already begun demonizing the mayor of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov,
who is spearheading the wave of nationalism by defying interim President Roza
Otunbayeva's wish to sack him, as a Kyrgyz variant of Radovan Karadzic.
It is not difficult to see why there is trenchant opposition among the Kyrgyz
to the idea of an international investigation (which was, incidentally, first
mooted by Karimov and promptly supported by Washington). The Kyrgyz see the
idea as a ploy by Washington and Tashkent to stoke the fires of Uzbek
separatism in southern Kyrgyzstan, which would result in a partition of their
country. The US insistence on an international investigation also alarms the
Kyrgyz security establishment as an invidious attempt to discredit and paralyze
them. There is widespread sympathy within the Kyrgyz security establishment for
the nationalist cause.