Russia Also Moves In

by Nathan Hamm on 5/25/2005

Perhaps I’ve been unfair in singling out China’s attempts to capitalize on western criticism of Uzbekistan. Russia is doing its best to be there right alongside China.

In addition, Russia may be planning to step up its military presence in the region with another military base in Kyrgyzstan. Though both Russia and Kyrgyzstan appear to be in full denial mode on this, the new base would likely be near Osh, placing it in the Ferghana Valley and not too far from Andijon. Whether it would officially be Russian or under the banner of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization is not at all clear, but it certainly won’t be a Shanghai Cooperation Organization base.

What I find most interesting about the news is that it’s not Russia that pressed for the base. Rather, acting-president Bakiyev proposed the idea. Russia, of course, thinks the idea is grand.

In the meantime, Russian military experts found Kyrgyz acting president’s suggestions quite logical and reasonable. According to Colonel Anatoly Tsyganok, Director of the Center of Military Forecasts, because of the lack of stability in the area within the Kokand – Ferghana – Namangan – Andizhan square the future counter-terrorism center could interact with the substantial army group of the Uzbek national army. It controls the Ferghana Valley at this point but is surely inadequate to deal with a rebellion or revolution. The expert is convinced that the peacekeeper brigade of the Volga-Urals Military District will be an ideal unit ideal for the new base. “It will look great from the PR angle,” Tsyganok said. “Acting on requests from Bishkek and Tashkent, capitals of the countries that belong to the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation, Russian peacekeepers move out to help Kyrgyz and Uzbek border guards, to maintain order, and create a buffer zone between the warring sides.”

Now, I cannot deny that the base would contribute to Kyrgyzstan’s security, and I only dislike Russian military bases in the near abroad because they seem to always end up being a negative political influence. All of that aside, Kyrgyzstan very well may be thinking of the base only in economic terms. After all, there have been a few appeals to the world for help over the last few weeks. First was the claim that up to one million refugees would pour into Kyrgyzstan from Uzbekistan and that the world needed to give the Kyrgyz government the resources to cope with that. And now, Felix Kulov is warning of regional unrest.

“What’s happening in Uzbekistan is very dangerous for the whole region,” he said. Mr Kulov agreed with the Uzbek leadership that the Andizhan uprising was started by Hisb ut-Taheer, a radical group whose goal is to establish an Islamic state in central Asia. Russia and the west should find common cause and regard the crisis as an extension of the “global war on terror”, he said.

Mr Kulov expected “more tough clashes between rebels and the Uzbek authorities”. But he said Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s president, was strong, “so there will not be a revolution in Uzbekistan”.

This doesn’t inspire in me all that much confidence in Kulov or Bakiyev, who, I would hope, would be looking for long-term economic assistance rather than short-term handouts. Though the Kyrgyz government most definitely is less able to handle security threats than the Uzbek government, it also faces less of a threat from Islamist groups than the Uzbeks. And since the Uzbek government isn’t buying too much sympathy or making itself look too credible with its “Hizb ut-Tahrir did it!” claims,* I wonder if Kyrgyzstan really thinks this will buy them much support from anyone but Russia or China.

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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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