News / Europe

Russian Failure to Send Troops to Kyrgyzstan May Reduce Its Influence There

TEXT SIZE - +

As Kyrgyzstan braced for nationwide voting on Sunday, that country's authorities appealed for Russia to send international peacekeepers. Russian talk about its special sphere interests in the former Soviet Union may be just that - talk.

Two summers ago, Russian soldiers drove tanks into Georgia, and Russian power seemed ascendant in the lands of the former Soviet Union. In recent days, the leaders of Kyrgyzstan have begged Moscow to send armed peacekeepers to restore calm after inter-ethnic riots killed 2,000 and left 400,000 homeless. Facing the gravest humanitarian crisis in almost a generation in former Soviet Central Asia, the Kremlin sent blankets and cans of fish.

For almost a decade, Moscow has trumpeted the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, as Russia's counterweight to NATO. Composed of Russia and six former Soviet republics, the CSTO gave  muscle to Russia's argument that it enjoyed a privileged sphere of influence over areas first ruled by the Moscow in the 19th century. Russia's state controlled media faithfully covered CSTO meetings and its plans to create a rapid deployment force to handle emergencies around the region.

On Sunday, Kyrgzstan is to hold a nationwide referendum on a new constitution. Kyrgyzstan's civilian leaders have shaky control over their military. They believe that Russian peacekeepers could head off a repeat of the inter-ethnic rioting that bloodied the nation's south two weeks ago.

Bakyt Beshimov, a Kyrgyz member of parliament visiting Washington this week, said he now thinks  that Russia's security organization is all talk and no action. "In a time of crisis, CSTO was incapable to resolve the tension or play the positive role in Kygyzstan," he said.

On Thursday, Russia's President Dmitri Medvedev met President Barack Obama at the White House. Buried in a long list of communiqués was a joint statement on Kyrgyzstan, expressing support for coordinated multilateral response to this crisis.

Across town, at the Carnegie Endowment, Martha Olcott, a Central Asia expert, said that a lot of Kremlin rhetoric about policing the lands of the former Soviet Union is for domestic consumption. "We overestimate Russia's capacity. A lot of what Russia says it wants to do in former Soviet space is for its own domestic audience, to create a sense that you have to think of us as a great power, meaning the Russian people, you have to think of us as a domestic power, to create political goods for the regime," he said.

To other foreign analysts, like Alexandros Petersen of the Atlantic Council, Russian inaction in Kyrgyzstan has popped an illusion of Russian power projection. "Their bluff has been called," he said.

For three years, Russia talked about forming a rapid deployment brigade capable of responding to regional emergencies such as Kyrgyzstan. The brigade does not exist. Now, Petersen said, the world may look differently at Russia's claim to play a special security role in lands once ruled by Moscow. "Clear demonstration that the claims that Russia is making about a privileged sphere of influence in the greater Black Sea region and in Central Asia is much more rhetoric than it is in practice and it may in the long run engender a shift in the way that Russia speaks about the region in security terms," he said.

Inside Russia, there is little popular support for a military action in an impoverished, former colony, 600 miles south of Russia's border. The number of military age Russia men is shrinking, and the Kremlin carefully rations military actions.

Humanitarian and peacekeeping actions are not specialties of Russia's army, said Ghia Nodia, a strategic studies expert in Georgia, a nation that lost a war to Russian troops who poured across the Russian-Georgian border in August 2008. "Russia power is most negative in the sense that Russia, as I said, can punish for not following Russia, for betraying Russia, or for being with somebody else," he said.

Russia first occupied Kyrgyzstan and much of Central Asia in the 1870s, a time when China was weak and the Czars had what they saw as an endless supply of draft age peasant men. The Soviet Union inherited much of the czarist empire.   

But, much has changed in the two decades since the Soviet collapse, Martha Olcott says. "I think we have always exaggerated the degree to which Russia intended to be, to invest anything in being a strategic leader in Central Asia. Influence that you can cheaply obtain, they were happy to obtain. Commercial influence they very much want. But I think we completely exaggerated their interest in expending any resources in achieve strategic domination in Central Asia," she said.

Blocking China is a big incentive for the Kremlin, says Ariel Cohen, Eurasia expert for the Heritage Foundation. "People in Moscow, the decision makers do not want China to become a net exporter of security to Central Asia, because that will raise a huge question mark over 150 years of Russian presence in that region," she said.

In key meetings in recent years, Chinese envoys have stiffened the spines of Central Asian leaders to stand up to Moscow, says Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington. "The real struggle here is between Russia and China. China is winning. Russia overplayed its hand, and the United States and the West are looking for a role on this still. The myth of Russian privileged relationship in Central Asia is dying in practice. It turned out to be a lot of words and not much reality," he said.

As Kyrgyzstan leaders brace for what could be a weekend of conflicts, they have made another plea for international peacekeepers, their fourth, this time to Europe. Envoys from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are to review the request - next week, after Sunday's constitutional referendum voting.


James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

You May Like

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid