Dueling Observers

by Nathan Hamm on 3/22/2005 · 2 comments

While I’m putting together some of the latest on Kyrgyzstan’s protests, check out Tim Russo’s post on dueling observer missions.

The proliferation of dubious election observing organizations is not a coincidence, nor is it new. Governments in the region benefit from having a menu of statements from which to choose the most glowing report card.

What is new is the involvement of the Russian foreign ministry after the fact, arguing against election observation missions sparking demonstrations. Is this an indication that Russia may interfere, perhaps militarily, in Kyrgystan? I’d be surprised. The Russian army, particularly in that neighborhood of Central Asia, likely isn’t prepared to manage daily drills, let alone invade a neighboring country.

But the stakes are without doubt getting higher. The developments in Ukraine and Georgia have made Russia look weak. Russian authorities are trying to play to a Russian audience that increasingly sees its government on the wrong side of geopolitical tectonic plate shifting. Dueling observation missions aren’t working anymore, and Russia may need to take it to another level if it is to succeed in propping up authoritarian regimes, including its own.

He’s right about Russia’s military. The base in Kyrgyzstan is reportedly a joke and the troops in Tajikistan are still involved in border control operations. The point about playing to a domestic audience is one I hadn’t thought of though, but I still can’t see any way that Russian troops would be involved in anything more than a peacekeeping role (as opposed to preserving Akayev’s government for the sake of preserving Akayev’s government).

Russia, at least to me, has avoided looking weak in Kyrgyzstan because their strongest position has been that the elections were legitimate. Laurence would disagree with me, but I think this is significantly and qualitatively different than the position taken in Ukraine that was unequivocally pro-Yanukovich.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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