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

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim 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.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid