Staunton, July 24 – The looming defeat of Vladimir Putin’s plans in southeastern Ukraine makes it more likely rather than less that he will seek to project Moscow’s power elsewhere, both to cover his retreat in Ukraine and to move toward the realization of his plans to reverse the results of 1991.
That has sparked speculation in many of the post-Soviet states and further afield as to where the Kremlin leader is likely to move first. Some have pointed to Belarus, others to Baltic countries even though they are members of NATO, and still others to the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
The possibility Putin might move in Central Asia is perhaps especially likely for three reasons: many of the regimes there are relatively weak, Moscow is worried about both the impact of Afghanistan and of US withdrawal from it, and it is seeking to expand its reach toward China without allowing Beijing to expand too much in the other direction.
In a commentary on the Centrasia.ru regional aggregator site, Zhantoro Shadakulov directly addressing the issue by asking “Will It Again be Kyrzgystan after Ukraine?” and suggesting some additional reasons why Bishkek may very well be in Putin’s sights (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1406192160).
Shadakulov summarizes Kyrgyzstan’s post-Soviet history in the following way: “14 years of peace and stability, then two revolutions over the course of several years and as a result constant meetings and mass dissatisfaction, international anger and clashes, and a fragile state of national security.”
To call that country “independent and sovereign” in any meaningful way, he argues, is to drain any meaning from those words, especially since Bishkek has become “a puppet” now for the United States and now for Russia over this period, each of which has its own reasons for keeping Kyrgyzstan from “standing on its own feet.”
Russia is in by far the more advantageous position in this regard, the analyst says. Its 70 years of rule there means that Moscow knows the specific details of the Kyrgyz regime and the national character of the peoples who live there. And more to the point, he says, “for decades, the Kremlin has intentionally sown the seeds of discord and fratricide among the republics and peoples” of the region. The Kyrgyz Republic is “one of the first of these to come to harvest.”
After Joomart Otorbayev who is pro-American became prime minister, Shadakulov says, “the Kremlin has been trying not to allow any weakening of its many-years-long influence.” It isn’t going to organize another revolution because “it well understands” that in Kyrgyzstan the population includes both pro-American and pro-Russian groups.
According to the Centrasia.ru commentator, Moscow operates on basis of the principle that “if you want to run peoples, then weaken and destroy their culture,” but “if you want to control the governments, take control of their economies.”
With regard to the first half of this, he says, Moscow has succeeded extremely well in Kyrgyzstan. Now, it is moving to gain control over Kyrgyz strategic economic facilities. Its most immediate goal is “not to allow any deepening of Kyrgyz-Ukrainian military cooperation.” Kyiv had a contract with Bishkek for torpedoes; Moscow wants that contract to go to North Korea.
In addition, Shadakulov says, Moscow’s operatives are working overtime to ensure that Kyrgyzstan’s “Russian speakers” have the correct views on Ukraine. Recently, they organized a conference of Russian compatriots in Bishkek, nominally to talk about legal support for Russians and the Russian language there but in fact to promote Moscow’s political agenda.
Conference participants adopted a resolution calling for the accelerated integration into the Customs Union which they said should have as its “end goal … the creation of a single political-economic space.” That is what Vladimir Putin has been pushing for across the entire region. They also asked for the simplification of the procedure for taking out Russian citizenship.
Those statements sparked objections from that part of the Kyrgyz opposition which Shadakulov describes as having “pro-American views,” thus setting up a potential conflict like the one in Ukraine. “God forbid,” he says, “that Kyrgyzstan will become again the next place for a bloody confrontation.”