In a move that may have lasting political implications for Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan's provisional government has appealed to Russia to deploy troops to help restore order in the southern city of Osh.
At least 62 people have died in interethnic violence in and around Osh. Thousands of ethnic Uzbeks reportedly have fled the area and were seeking to cross the border into neighboring Uzbekistan.
Speaking a news conference in Bishkek on June 12, the head of the provisional government, Roza Otunbayeva, said she sent a formal request to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on June 11. She also discussed the violence with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin by phone late on June 11.
"The situation in Osh is out of control. Attempts to establish dialogue have failed, and the fighting and rioting continues. We have appealed to Russia for help and are waiting for news, we hope that adequate measures will be taken in the earliest possible timeframe," she said.
Russia did not immediately respond to the Kyrgyz troop appeal. However, unconfirmed reports from local news agencies indicated that assault troops based near the Volga River city of Ulyanovsk might be deployed to southern Kyrgyzstan. Forces stationed at the Russian airbase in Kant near Bishkek will not be involved in the mission, the CA-News.org news agency reported.
Mars Sariev, a Bishkek-based political analyst, said the request for Russian assistance was "inevitable."
"The crowd mentality takes over with inter-ethnic conflicts, and once that happens, it becomes impossible to stop. The government had to ask for help because they are unable to regulate it themselves," he told EurasiaNet.org on June 12. Even though immediate assistance may be much needed in Osh, Bishkek may well pay a severe price for Russian assistance, he added. Kyrgyzstan's sovereignty is likely to be compromised.
"[The interim government] will no longer be able to govern independently. Those forces coming here will be staying for a long time. Russia will dominate political and economic issues," Sariev said. "From now on, states such as Russia and Uzbekistan will be making the decisions."
At the same time, intervention is likely to carry risks for Russia. Any third force active in Kyrgyzstan could be perceived as an "occupying force" by the local population.