The referendum in Kyrgyzstan proceeded in astonishingly calm circumstances, as though there hadn’t been any carnage, hundreds of victims, or hundreds of thousands of refugees. The interim government, headed by Roza Otunbayeva, at last received some measure of legitimacy. In the fall, elections should complete the transformation of Kyrgyzstan into a parliamentary republic, the first and only one in Central Asia.
Many in Moscow, and not only there, regard Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary prospects with skepticism. It is thought that a strong government, a “vertical of power”, is necessary in order to prevent the collapse of the state, to unite society and to combat religious extremism and the drug threat. The misfortune, however, is that strong presidential power has already degenerated twice in the past two decades of Kyrgyzstan’s history as an independent nation into the domination of a single clan, of the “First Family”, the sons, brothers and nephews of the “First Person”.
Popular uprisings, inevitably accompanied by looting, have twice become an exit from the situation. On the second occasion, ethnic pogroms were added to the looting. On the third occasion, if we extrapolate this tendency into the future, the split that is already visible in the country may become a reality on the ground.
This prospect would still remain even under a parliamentary form of government. This last instance has, incidentally, one advantage. The supremacy of the parliament in the conditions of Central Asia amounts to representing several of the most influential clans. A government formed by such a parliament would be capable of governing precisely to the extent that the clans were able to come to an agreement among themselves on sharing power and, it goes without saying, property.
It is difficult now to predict what will be the distribution of forces at elections in October. It is clear that there will not be the 90% unanimity demonstrated by the voters in June. There will be a struggle, there will be manipulation, there will be attempts to trample the parliament underfoot or, on the contrary, to discredit it across the board. But all of this is the Kyrgyz people’s own business.
And the business of others, including Russia, is to draw lessons from the bloody experience of recent weeks. Moscow did right thing by not getting involved. First, the crisis was “subcritical” for Moscow. Sending in troops would have been necessary had there been a real threat that Bishkek or Osh would be captured by religious extremists, more simply put by the Taliban. The internal conflict did not carry such a threat. Second, it is easier to send troops in than to withdraw them. It is easy to end up in a trap from which it is impossible to break free without painful losses. Third, Russia could have brought down criticism upon herself, perhaps even the anger of both sides, by coming between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks. Fourth, in acting without concerting its actions with Tashkent Moscow would have risked exacerbating relations with the largest country in Central Asia; and if it had undertaken such consultations, Moscow would have become an instrument of Uzbek politics.
One could continue the list of “minuses”, but there is no longer any sense in doing so: military intervention at this stage has not occurred. There is sense in turning attention to the organization that is charged with ensuring regional security. We are speaking, of course, about the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Much has recently been said, and with pride, about how the CSTO, founded in 1999 on the basis of a 1992 treaty, is becoming a full-fledged organization, possessing among other things its own collective rapid-response forces. When the Kyrgyz crisis broke out, however, the most the CSTO proved capable of was a meeting of the Secretaries of the Security Councils of the organization’s member-states. That is a good thing, but it is clearly not enough.
We know that the CSTO is intended to ward off external threats and does not get involved in the domestic conflicts of the countries that make it up. We also know that within the organization there exist varying points of view on the legitimacy of the current Bishkek government (ex-president Bakiyev is still in Belarus), and, probably, on the reasons for the ethnic conflict (it must certainly appear different from Tashkent than from Bishkek).
Nevertheless, the CSTO cannot and must not ignore such conflicts. It must also be a platform for developing common approaches to the whole range of security issues. All of this requires of Moscow a more serious approach towards this organization. Up to now, it has been more a symbol of Russia’s military and political presence in the region than an instrument of Russian leadership in the sphere of regional security.
Meanwhile, such leadership is exactly what is in demand. Despite the tragic nature of recent events in Kyrgyzstan, these events have so far remained of local importance. The fire ignited but burned itself out – this time. If, however, we admit the possibility of a destabilized environment in the neighboring countries, then the consequences could be much more serious. The next fire won’t burn itself out, and the firemen will have to respond to the call, if only to protect the neighborhood from the flames.
The decade that is now beginning is of tremendous importance for our Central Asian neighbors, especially for the largest countries in the region, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. We must take into consideration the likely prospect of a staged withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by the United States and NATO. Moscow will have to pay much more attention to Central Asia than it has until now. It is time to fill the shell of the CSTO with real content. Joint research into the rapidly changing environment is necessary, as is constant political consultation at a working level, the formation of integrated structures, and work on various scenarios according to which the situation on the ground may develop. Kyrgyzstan was just a warning bell. We may yet be forced, however, to return to problems there as well.