Kyrgyzstan: Eyes Turn to Moscow as Instability Grows

4 MINS READJun 13, 2010 | 22:18 GMT
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Violence continued in southern Kyrgyzstan through the weekend, with at least 100 people reported killed, 1,000 wounded and tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the country for neighboring Uzbekistan. While Russia has rejected sending military forces to quell the instability in Kyrgyzstan, this has not stopped Tashkent from worrying that Russia may reverse its decision, and then use Kyrgyzstan as a springboard to reconsolidate other countries in the region, including Uzbekistan itself.
Instability in southern Kyrgyzstan continued June 13, with 100 people reportedly killed and more than 1,000 wounded since June 10. Small-scale riots have occurred across Kyrgyzstan since the April revolution that overthrew the government, with instability especially pervasive in the south, which was a stronghold for the ousted Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. But in the past week, the violence in Kyrgyzstan has escalated from being an internal Kyrgyz issue to a regional crisis involving the country's much more powerful neighbor, Uzbekistan, and the regional power, Russia. Since the revolution, Uzbekistan has supported the interim Kyrgyz government. This has led to retaliatory violence against ethnic Uzbeks — of which there are hundreds of thousands — being committed by ethnic Kyrgyzs, many of whom supported Bakiyev. In response, Uzbekistan has deployed troops, paramilitary forces and police all along the Kyrgyz border in the months since the revolution, especially near the Uzbek-dominated regions within Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbek government announced June 12 that it would be open to taking refugees from the violence in the south, though according to STRATFOR sources on the ground, the evacuation is restricted to Uzbek nationals in Kyrgyzstan. Non-Uzbeks are being asked to pay for passage out of Kyrgyzstan. The interim Kyrgyz government asked Russia to send military assistance to help quell the violence, but the Kremlin has so far refused, instead pledging to send only a handful of troops to protect a Russian base in northern Kyrgyzstan. During a speech given at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization June 11, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said Russia would not be sending its troops to meddle in internal Kyrgyz affairs. The wording of Medvedev's statement is key, because Russia does have the legal right to send troops to Kyrgyzstan under the regional military alliance of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), of which Russia is the dominant member. The Kyrgyz government, however, did not ask for CSTO peacekeepers but specifically Russian military intervention. The potential for a Russian troop deployment to Kyrgyzstan has not been welcomed by the country's more powerful neighbor, Uzbekistan. Tashkent has indicated that it will consider a Russian troop deployment outside the guise of the CSTO as a precursor to a larger military push against Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has been nervous about Russia's intentions in the region since the Kyrgyz revolution, fearing that Moscow could look to target Uzbekistan next. The placement of Russian troops in southern Kyrgyzstan would be seen by Uzbekistan as the first move. Uzbekistan has already started to withdraw some of its troops from the borders despite the escalating violence to avoid prompting a Russian intervention. While Moscow has said it will not deploy troops to stabilize the country, it is prepared to insert military forces in Kyrgyzstan's southern regions should the need arise. Russia announced June 13 that it would be deploying 150 more paratroopers — on top of the 150 troops that arrived in April — to its Russian base in Kyrgyzstan's northern region. These troops are being deployed with orders to "protect Russian facilities" and not to serve as peacekeepers, but the possibility of them being used in the future in other capacities remains open. Thus far, Moscow remains careful in its decisions to not stir up a larger regional crisis between Russia and Uzbekistan. According to STRATFOR sources in Moscow, the Kremlin is holding discussions on the night of June 13 and into June 14 to discuss how to proceed. One possibility being discussed is to first introduce Kazakh peacekeepers under the guise of the CSTO into Kyrgyzstan. The Kazakh troops are mostly of Russian ethnicity, but their Kazakh citizenship is a way for Moscow to skirt around Uzbekistan's uneasiness about Russian troops in the region. Uzbekistan has also traditionally tried to avoid spats with Kazakhstan, though it knows Astana is loyal to Moscow's agenda. For now, it is unclear if the Kyrgyz security forces, which have been authorized to open fire on any rioters, can get the situation back under control. But more important, the crisis has moved from being an internal Kyrgyz emergency to a confrontation between Uzbekistan and Russia. Russia has proven this past year that it is on a path of consolidation in Central Asia — of which Uzbekistan could be the toughest link in the chain to control.

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