Staunton, April 30 – The one-day war between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over disputed border areas and access to enclaves which involved the armies of both countries and cost more than 20 lives and left more than 150 wounded may have been triggered by Moscow’s recent tilt toward Dushanbe, the Syto Sokrata telegram channel suggests.
The clashes which transfixed the regional and Russian media because they involved regular military units including the air forces of the two countries ended quickly not only because the two sides recognized the risks that this clash could spread not only between the two countries but elsewhere where Tajik and Kyrgyz migrant workers currently live.
Both the Russian and Kazakhstan governments offered to intervene to end the fighting (ritmeurasia.org/news--2021-04-30--putin-gotov-stat-posrednikom-v-reshenii-konflikta-kirgizii-i-tadzhikistana-54479 and ritmeurasia.org/news--2021-04-30--kazahstan-otreagiroval-na-konflikt-mezhdu-kyrgyzstanom-i-tadzhikistanom-54462).
The Moscow city authorities organized a meeting between Kyrgyz and Tajik diasporas to minimize the risk that the conflict would spread to the streets of the Russian capital (nazaccent.ru/content/35658-pravitelstvo-moskvy-poprosilo-grazhdan-kirgizii-i.html). And the Russian government moved Russian teachers in Tajikistan away from the conflict zone (ria.ru/20210430/tadzhikistan-1730739727.html).
Now, Russian analysts are focusing on the reasons behind what the Syto Sokrata telegram channel calls “a war for an hour,” and that outlet suggests that Russia played a role in triggering the latest fighting, albeit perhaps an unintentional one resulting from its broader geopolitical calculations (t.me/sytosokrata).
Tensions between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over both the border itself and access to ethnic enclaves have been growing in recent months, but until this week they have not escalated beyond conflicts involving local populations and border guards given that Bishkek and Dushanbe know that expanding the conflict could threaten stability in both.
According to Syto Sokrata, one can only be “suspicious” of Russia’s role given that the clashes occurred immediately after the visit to Dushanbe of Russian defense minister Sergey Shoygu and announcements that more Tajik military personnel will be attending Russian military training schools and taking part in Russian-led exercises.
These developments, the channel continues, reflect Russian interest in building up Tajikistan given the planned American withdrawal from Afghanistan and Moscow’s desire to block any influx of Islamist fighters or more drug trafficking into Central Asia and ultimately into the Russian Federation.
But more is behind Moscow’s moves than that, Syto Sokrata says. Russia needs Tajikistan to help it keep Central Asia in a sufficiently chaotic state so as to slow China’s advance. Beijing has invested in both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan but recently has focused on the latter. Moscow is hoping to keep it that way.
Kyrgyzstan is already “an important link” in China’s one path, one road effort, and Moscow is worried that Tajikistan may follow. Consequently, Shoygu may have suggested during his visit that Russia wants to beef up Dushanbe and thus encouraged the Tajiks to conclude that Moscow would back it in any moves against Kyrgyzstan.
And the telegram channel suggests that this is particularly likely given Shoygu’s desire to boost his chances to succeed Putin. If Tajikistan stays within the Russian orbit and China’s position is weakened by Dushanbe’s actions, many in the Moscow elite will see Shoygu’s role in an exclusively positive light and he will gain more support there.