Monday, June 14, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russian Intervention in Kyrgyzstan Could Prove Counterproductive, Expert Warns

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 14 – Even as Kyrgyzstan slides into bloody chaos and demands grow from various quarters for some outside power or powers to intervene, a leading specialist on Central Asia has warned that Russian intervention in what he calls “a civil war of the Central Asian type” would be dangerously counterproductive.
Indeed, Vitaly Khlyuponin, the editor of the TsentrAzii portal, argues today that “the introduction of forces could stabilize the situation but at too high a price,” something that he says is obvious if one understands the nature of the conflict and the interests of the Provisional Government in Bishkek (
Despite the fact that ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan’s south have now claimed more than 100 lives, the conflict has attracted relatively little attention in the international media, even as Russian and Central Asian commentators search for an analogy, with some now talking about “Afghanization” or even the revival of the “basmachi” of the 1920s.
According to Khlyuponin, what is taking place is ‘a civil war of the Central Asian type” in which there is violence along ethnic lines. Such clashes, he points out, are nothing new, and in this case, ethnic Kyrgyz are striking out at their ethnic Uzbek neighbors as a way of protesting their own economic misfortunes and powerlessness.
Most of the Kyrgyz involved are “extraordinarily cruel young people” who won’t listen to anyone once they get involved in such disturbances. And it is unfortunately possible that the only thing that will bring them back into line is the application of “a good machine-gun” or some other weapon.
There continues to be a great deal of speculation as to who may have touched off the violence, but Khlyuponin says that in his view, while supporters of the ousted government may have been involved, “’the Provisionals’ are consciously channeling tensions in the south … thereby trying to neutralize ‘the Southerners’ and keep them a march on Bishkek.”
Russian forces could establish order, the TsentrAzii editor acknowledges, but at a terrible price. “Russian soldiers would be forced to shoot and kill,” and people in Kyrgyzstan “would shoot at them.” There would be no political benefits, and both sides in the conflict there would end by blaming Russia rather than the other.
Moreover, he continues, it is not the case that Bishkek does not have the forces to restore “order. It does, but “there is no political will and wisdom which have been replaced by minute-by-minute cleverness.” One example of that is Rosa Otunbayeva’s call for Moscow to intervene, something he understands would strengthen her hand against others in Kyrgyzstan.
“No one will value our services. On the contrary.” And even if the bloodletting ends for a time, hatred for Moscow and Russia will grow, with the upcoming elections in that Central Asian country dominated by “anti-Russian rhetoric.” No one should forget, Khlyuponin continues, that Kyrgyz politics is “extraordinarily emotional and [even] hysterical.”
Indeed, he says, “the false sense of victimization” seen on the streets of cities in Kyrgyzstan’s south will then become “a mobilizing factor of Kyrgyz national consciousness,” something that Moscow will not find it easy to reverse, however much and however long it may try.
Nonetheless, Khlyuponin concedes, the mounting toll of deaths and injuries in southern Kyrgyzstan, the flight of ethnic Uzbeks to Uzbekistan, and the danger that ethnic clashes could eventually involve ethnic Russians there as well mean that pressure will grow to send in outside forces.
If that happens, he argues, it should take place only if the following six conditions are met: First, the contingents sent in must be made up of professional soldiers rather than draftees. Second, the forces must not be just Russian but rather a coalition with Kazakhs, Chinese and Tajiks among them as well.
Third, Khlyuponin says, “a provisional military administration” must be introduced in Kyrgyzstan with the current government dismissed and representatives of the previous government put under arrest. Fourth, “a temporary dictator” should be installed, possibly former Kyrgyz defense minister Esen Topoyev.
Fifth, political measures such as referenda and the drafting of a new constitution should be suspended for five years, with the country effectively run by “foreign specialists and young Kyrgyz who are genuine patriots.” And sixth, those ethnic Russians and others who want to leave should be helped to move to the Russian Federation.
Few in either Bishkek or Moscow would be pleased to meet some or even all of those conditions, and that may be the TsentrAzii editor’s point. Stopping the bloodshed in Kyrgyzstan is something everyone can agree on, but the introduction of outside forces, Russian and/or others, could in his view at least end in a disaster of another kind.

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