In a potentially troubling development, the provisional government of Kyrgyzstan has formally requested the intervention of Russian peacekeeping troops to impose order as the country erupts again in ethnic violence. Russia has already offered civilian-medical aid relief. Nearly 80 people have been killed so far in the clashes, and a public health spokesman reported almost a thousand injuries.
The Russian government said it would consider the request carefully before acting, especially to determine the legality of such an intervention under a security alliance treaty of former Soviet states. NY Times:
“A decision about deploying peacekeeping forces to Kyrgyzstan can only be made collectively with all members of the C.S.T.O. [Collective Security Treaty Organization],” the spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said Saturday evening. She also said that Russia was continuing to ship humanitarian assistance, including medicine, to Kyrgyzstan.
To that end, Russian President Demetri Medvedev consulted with some of the CSTO leaders, including the presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which neighbor Kyrgyzstan. Undoubtedly the possibility of a Russian intervention will lend credence to the conspiracy theorists who claimed Russia instigated the April popular overthrow of the ruling government of Kyrgyzstan for its own gain and to dislodge the United States from the Manas Air Base that supplies NATO in the War in Afghanistan.
However, since the violence is threatening to spread to neighbors, there is some real justification for an intervention:
It remained unclear what started the violence, which threatens to undermine the already fragile provisional government that took power in April after rioting deposed the country’s president. The interim government has never fully established control in parts of the south, where supporters of the ousted president, Kurmanbek S. Bakiyev, have frequently clashed with those loyal to the new government. The recent politically inspired clashes in the region have reopened a historic ethnic fault line there, with gangs of heavily armed Kyrgyz youths clashing with members of the region’s sizeable Uzbek minority. Much of Mr. Bakiyev’s base in the region, his ancestral home, is Kyrgyz, while many Uzbeks support the new government.
The Kyrgyz military, which has been moving troops around the South in armored vehicles and buzzing around in helicopters, said it had opened part of the border with Uzbekistan to allow women and children to flee, but they didn’t actually consult with Uzbekistan’s government before doing so.
Uzbekistan said it was “extremely alarmed and concerned” about the situation. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry said in a statement that violence against Uzbeks was being carried out in a manner calculated to provoke ethnic conflict.
“We have no doubt that all this has occurred at the instigation of forces whose interests are absolutely far from the interests of the Kyrgyz people,” the ministry said.
Similar violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh in 1990 left hundreds dead and only abated when the Soviet government sent in troops.
Although I find it somewhat concerning that Russia could use the crisis as an opportunity to tighten control over the former-soviet sphere-of-influence and could end up occupying Kyrgyzstan, the idea would be similar to United Nations interventions in Africa and Asia that consciously involve peacekeeping troops from former colonial powers. However, it is unclear whether this would be a UN authorized intervention or more akin to the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999, which Russia will probably cite if the CTSO authorizes an intervention. Russia might use the CTSO to circumvent United Nations Security Council roadblocks, just as Britain and the United States did in Kosovo to get around the Russian veto threat then.
In fact, last February the CTSO established a new “Collective Rapid Reaction Force” (the KSOR), meaning Russia could even request this operation be a true multilateral force under Russian direction, rather than a purely Russian force. Uzbekistan is not a KSOR participant, however, and has expressed reservations about the existence of such a force in the CTSO, but it’s probably more in their interests to have a multilateral force instead of what amounts to a Russian invasion of Kyrgystan. This could be Russia’s chance to prove itself a responsible major power in the international community of the fragmented post-Cold War world, but it could also be exploited for ulterior motives.
Also of possible concern at some point is that China also borders Kyrgystan, and it remains to be seen how they will react to both this situation and the idea of a Russian/CTSO peacekeeping mission or perhaps a United Nations operation (over which both China and the United States would have veto powers).
This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.