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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs