Friday, May 9, 2014

Window on Eurasia: A Central Asian Echo of Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – Even more than Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008, which involved two famously “frozen” conflicts,” President Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea is leading some in other post-Soviet countries to conclude that the 1991 borders are no longer fixed for all time but may be subject to revision.

            Given that almost all the borders in that region were drawn by Stalin and other Soviet leaders to create conflict rather than overcome it, that they were often shifted, and that the 1991 administrative-become-international borders left many peoples “divided,” to use Putin’s term about ethnic Russians, it is not surprising that some have wanted to see them changed.

            But the countries of this region, at the insistence of the international community, generally had accepted that any change in borders could cast doubt on the validity of all of them and destabilize many if not all of the countries involved.  Now, because of Putin’s actions, that appears to be changing, with what could result in potentially disastrous results.

            Yesterday, however, Kurmantay Abiyev, a deputy in the Kyrgyz parliament, told journalists that problems along the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border, which is still being delimited and demarcated, could be “resolved by means of an exchange of territories” between the two countries” (

            Abiyev said he had proposed to his fellow deputies that they go to the border region and see conditions on the ground rather than try to draw “straight lines” on maps. If they did, he said, they would see that “houses of Kyrgyzes are on the Tajik side and houses of Tajiks are on the Kyrgyz side.” 

            “We can resolve this problem by exchanging parcels of land, giving part to Tajikistan and part to us,” the deputy said, adding that “everything must be conducted according to international standards” in order to “define a straight line.”

            Residents in this frontier region, he said, are concerned “about the delimitation and demarcation of borders, the guaranteeing of security, the absence of potable and irrigation water, and the financing of the region at the level provided to other region.” Unfortunately, “today this God forgotten region has no schools, no hospitals, and no kindergartens.”

            The situation along the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border is somewhat special in that the two sides have not agreed on the demarcation of that line, but the casualness with which the Kyrgyzstan deputy spoke about bringing the political border in line with the ethnic one is nonetheless disturbing.

            That is because there are so many places in this region where ethnic borders and political ones do not correspond, and there is a very real danger that Putin’s actions in Crimea and his claims about the primacy of ethnicity over citizenship are going to lead to a parade of such declarations, a parade that could rival “the parade of sovereignties” in its results.

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