Osh Massacre and International Politics

Andrei ARESHEV (Russia)

The massacre in Osh, a city in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan, will have far-reaching consequences for entire Central Asia. There is an array of causes behind the recent developments in Kyrgyzstan. Some of the watchers charge that the clashes were provoked by supporters of the ousted Kyrgyz president K. Bakiev and by the drug clans which were de facto built into the Kyrgyz administrative system during his presidency. Others hold that a new conflict was brewing in the region notorious for widespread poverty and crumbling governance since the suppression of hostilities that took place two decades ago, as the population was losing hope that the situation would improve in the foreseeable future.

For the Western media, the outbreak of violence in Kyrgyzstan, a small Central Asian republic, was largely overshadowed by the world soccer coup. In the majority of cases, reports concerning the clashes in Kyrgyzstan carry more or less veiled allegations of Russia’s involvement. D. Greenfield wrote in Eurasia Review that «leveraging Uzbek separatists like Kadyrjan Batyrov, Putin had managed to light the fuel dump of ethnic tensions that had already been simmering in Osh constantly» and laid out a whole picture of a conspiracy against the former Kyrgyz president which Russia organized in response to his pro-Western turn.

More rational commentators warn against the paranoid view that the hand of Moscow is to blame for every trouble across the world. Since «only Russia has any influence with the new revolutionary government that took power in April», it is admitted that «only Russia can quickly intervene on a large enough scale to stop the violence, as the Soviets did in a similar situation 20 years ago».

Washington views Russia’s potential involvement in Kyrgyzstan with a chill and suggests measures coordinated by the UN and OCSE. According to the Financial Times, the Russian intervention «is unlikely to be popular at home, and may be viewed with skepticism abroad following the 2008 war with Georgia, which was a military success but an international political disaster for Russia».

The Washington Times expressed concern over the status of the Manas airbase leased to the US by Kyrgyzstan and currently used by NATO to supply the Western coalition in Afghanistan: «The strategic U.S. air base at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, is once again facing closure as Russia works behind the scenes to influence Kyrgyzstan’s interim government, which faced new violence in ethnic clashes over the weekend». Washington Times quoted a Pentagon official as saying that the Kyrgyz interim government requested in late May that subcontractors who supply fuel to the Manas Transit Center pay value added tax on fuel shipments. Though the demand was eventually dropped, fuel supplies to Afghanistan were temporarily affected. The paper attributed Bishkek’s demand to Russia’s efforts to have the Manas air base closed and says «Vladimir Rushailo, a special envoy to Kyrgyzstan for Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, has been in the country to lobby the government in Bishkek».

The logic of the above comments clearly fits with the concept of the zero-sum game as Russia’s gains in Central Asia are automatically regarded as the West’s losses, and vice versa.

Great Britain’s Times opined that the Kyrgyz crisis confronts Moscow with the challenge of exercising greater influence over the region. «Only Russia has the historical links and the potential manpower to halt the fighting — and only then as the head of a multinational peacekeeping force», says a commentary in The Times (highlighted by A.A.). M. Olcott, a Central Asia expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said a mission in Kyrgyzstan could strain Russia’s financial and other resources.

For Moscow, the key dimension of the crisis in Kyrgyzstan is the assessment of Russia’s own foreign politics priorities. The Financial Times says the possible intervention in Kyrgyzstan (necessarily under the UN mandate) will test Russia’s ability to maintain order in the country while resisting the temptation to gain control over Kyrgyzstan and to score with the US by getting the Manas air base closed. It should be noted that the view fails to explain how Kyrgyzstan, formerly the West’s «showcase for democracy», ended up plunged into chaos and can’t revert to normalcy without a Russian peacekeeping force. It is also unclear what positive role a UN mandate can play unless long-term stabilization infrastructures – including a Russian military base in Osh — are established in the Fergana Valley.

The 2001 Western invasion of Afghanistan turned the country into a permanent source of global drug supply and proliferating instability. At the moment the instability is sweeping over the post-Soviet Central Asia, the coup in Kyrgyzstan and the Osh massacre being episodes of a wider drama. Hopefully, Russia will be guided by its own logic and independent assessments when it will be taking the adequate measures and interacting with its neighbors interested in stabilizing the situation in Central Asia.

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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