News / Europe

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

James Brooke

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.

You May Like

Beijing Warns Hong Kong Protesters, Cracks Down at Home

In suppressing protest news, China reportedly has arrested more than 20 people on the mainland who acted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters More

Competing Goals Could Frustrate Efforts to Fight Islamic State

As alliances shift and countries re-define themselves, analysts say long-standing goals of some key players in Middle East may soon compete with Western goals More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid