Page 1 of 2 Russia peers into Kyrgyz void
By M K Bhadrakumar
Eighteen is a difficult age to own decisions or assume responsibility -
especially concerning the fortunes of wayward younger siblings. By a curious
coincidence, Russia has been tasked with taking a monumental decision of
assuming responsibility on the 18th anniversary of its national day
when on Saturday the Kremlin received a formal communication from the president
of the interim government, Roza Otunbayeva.
By Otunbayeva's own description, "We need the arrival of outside forces to calm
the situation down. The situation in Osh [in southern Kyrgyzstan] is out of
control. Attempts to establish dialogue have failed, and the fighting and
rioting continues. We
have appealed to Russia for help and are waiting for news. We hope that
adequate measures will be taken in the earliest possible timeframe."
The ethnic riots between Kyrgyz and Uzbek have taken a heavy toll - over 100
dead and 1,500 injured. Before addressing the Kremlin in writing, Otunbayeva
spoke with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin reacted in a
measured way to the request form the former Soviet territory. Maybe, as Alfred
Adler, the Austrian psychiatrist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl
Jung, viewed it, birth order can leave an indelible impression on the
firstborn's style of life and habitual ways of dealing with the task of
friendship, love and work.
At any rate, Moscow saw no reason for an immediate dispatch of troops. "This is
an internal conflict, and Russia does not see the conditions for participation
in its settlement," a Kremlin spokesperson told reporters in Moscow on
Saturday. Russia was providing emergency humanitarian support, she said.
However, she made a hugely significant revelation: "In his capacity as chairman
of the Collective Security Treaty Organization [CSTO] council, [Russian
President Dmitry] Medvedev has ordered consultations to be held among
secretaries of the member states on Monday to work out a collective response."
(The members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan
The fact that Medvedev took this decision soon after returning to Moscow from a
summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Tashkent
cannot go unnoticed. While in Tashkent, Medvedev categorically ruled out a CSTO
intervention. "Only in the event of a foreign intrusion and an external attempt
to seize power can we estimate that the CSTO is under attack."
He added that Russia was ready to help if necessary. But then, "all the
problems of Kyrgyzstan have internal roots. They are rooted in the weakness of
the former authorities and their unwillingness to take care of the people's
needs. I believe the Kyrgyz authorities will solve all the existing problems.
The Russian Federation will help."
Meanwhile, the SCO summit - China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan
and Uzbekistan - adopted a decision to send an observer team to Kyrgyzstan to
monitor the constitutional referendum and the situation in general. Medvedev
said the SCO "could not stay indifferent to the events in Kyrgyzstan, the SCO
reaction was prompt and clear, and our countries promised help to the Kyrgyz
people without delay." He promised "further assistance" to Kyrgyzstan by the
SCO's "authorized agencies". He explained:
Kyrgyzstan is one of the SCO
founders, our ally and close partner. We are sincerely interested in Kyrgyzstan
overcoming the stage of internal shocks as soon as possible and fulfilling the
task of forming a new government capable of tackling the pressing issues of
socio-economic development ... It is important to observe the legal scenario of
the development of statehood in Kyrgyzstan. That is why we believe it would be
right to send the SCO observers mission to the June 27 referendum on the new
constitution and to further conduct a monitoring of the processes underway in
Moscow is weighing the consequences of a military
intervention in Kyrgyzstan and is pondering deeply. The dilemma is profound.
First comes the security of the 750,000 ethnic Russian population. Otunbayeva
said, "The situation has gotten out of control, since yesterday [Thursday] and
we need military forces to arrest the situation. That is why we are turning to
She pointed out that Uzbek, Russian and Tatar ethnic groups were being targeted
and the death toll was "higher than you or I know". The Russian Migration
Service noted that the number of ethnic Russians wanting to leave Kyrgyzstan
for Russia had risen dramatically.
Moscow cannot appear to be helpless as not only its image as the regional
superpower but also Russian domestic opinion come into play. Medvedev will be
under pressure to act decisively. However, intervention can turn out to be a
All the elements of an Afghanistan-like situation are imperceptibly becoming
available in Kyrgyzstan: a weak and ineffectual state structure, leadership
lacking in legitimacy, impassable ethnic divides, a deepening economic crisis
and acute poverty, a heavy dependence on foreign aid, drug-mafia and Islamist
militants - and a land-locked geography and demographic spread that invite
outside interference and complicate the civil-war conditions.
Moscow will not want to be juxtaposed with the rising wave of ethnic Kyrgyz
nationalism, either. It made a catastrophic mistake in Afghanistan in the
1980s. The Kyrgyz situation is so extraordinarily volatile that the country's
statehood stands in peril. It shouldn't turn out that Moscow is biting more
than it can chew.
The Otunbayeva-led interim government has yet to gain legitimacy following the
April revolution that led to the ousting of president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. It is
desperately trying to solidify its standing domestically and it lacks the power
to control the country. The unity of the interim government remains
problematic, too, and internecine rivalries may already have erupted between
competing power centers in Bishkek involving vaulting ambitions of various
constituent groups or individuals, many of whom aren't exactly on comradely
terms with Moscow.
Equally, there are question marks about the prospect of the June 27 referendum
coming out with a credible verdict of public opinion. As a Russian observer
wrote recently, "If the referendum is democratic, unpleasant surprises are
possible, while if it is manipulated, then the preconditions will arise for a
'real' color revolution." The referendum concerns parliamentary reform to limit
the powers of the president.
The fact remains that the overthrow of Bakiyev in the bloody uprising in April
was easily dubbed as a "color" revolution, but in reality it was more like a
coup. Well-known Russian commentator Fedor Lukyanov recently wrote in the
This has resulted in a dangerous and unstable
situation exacerbated by the fact that the initiators of the coup have
themselves abolished all the formally legitimate institutions, including the
parliament. Russia was clearly far from distressed at the overthrow of Bakiyev,
but it does not possess a system of organizations whose opinions could give
legitimacy to the revolutionary government. Hence Moscow's persistent calls for
the speediest holdings of elections and a return to the legal space. Here
Russia hopes that the new government will be able to secure legitimacy through
elections, although there is no certainty as to that.
an orderly holding of parliamentary elections under a new constitution
scheduled for October seems highly problematic. Thus, the Kremlin will
visualize the real danger that its interventionist force may find itself
operating in is a political vacuum - and this at the invitation of an
evanescent power structure that may prove all but illusory in the fullness of
Another template is that ethnic Uzbeks who are on the receiving end of the
pogrom in Osh form one-seventh of the population of Kyrgyzstan but are a near
majority in Osh, which is close to the border with Uzbekistan. Yet, the
displaced Uzbeks from Osh are streaming into Uzbekistan for refuge. Any foreign
interventionist force will be stepping into the minefield of unresolved
nationality questions in the region.