The evidence is mounting that Kyrgyzstan's military played a significant role in the ethnic violence against Uzbeks in Osh. Reports The Guardian:
"It started on Friday lunchtime," said Rustam, an Uzbek lawyer. "It came in three distinct waves. The Kyrgyz entered Cheremushki district driving an armoured personnel carrier. This paved the way. Several of them were wearing army uniforms. At first we felt relieved. Someone had come to rescue us, we thought! Then the BKR opened fire and started shooting people randomly.
As the armored personnel carrier rumbled down the street, men in Kyrgyz military uniforms clinging to its sides, residents of an ethnic Uzbek neighborhood here felt a surge of relief. The peacekeepers, it seemed, had finally arrived.
But then the men in uniforms jumped down and began firing automatic weapons into homes while shouting anti-Uzbek slurs, more than a dozen residents of the neighborhood, Shai-Tubeh, said in interviews on Wednesday. They spoke of the terrifying moments last week when they realized that they were under attack from what appeared to be their own nation’s military. They said the assailants killed several people, wounded many others and set fire to buildings.
“We believed that they had come to protect us,” said Avaz Abdukadyrov, 48. “But instead, they came to kill us.”
Human Rights Watch had a researcher in Osh when the violence happened, and she talked to Australian radio:
Is Kyrgyzstan offering a new opportunity for the U.S. and Russia to work together on security issues? This is what Washington Post columnist David Ignatius argues:
Watching the deteriorating security situation in Kyrgyzstan, we have a Cold War reflex to forecast a new flash point between the United States and Russia. In reality, it's the opposite -- this remote and feeble Central Asian country is offering a new opportunity for Moscow and Washington to work as partners....
What's refreshing about this joint U.S.-Russian approach to security is that it gets away from the reflexive -- and misconceived -- idea that the two countries are locked in a "great game" for influence in Central Asia. That 19th-century notion of inevitable competition was prevalent among many U.S. analysts during the 1990s, and it led to some half-baked strategies to expand U.S. sway and combat the Russians.
A more coherent view is that Russia and America should be natural partners in Central Asia. Certainly, they share the same enemies -- the militant Islamic groups and criminal gangs that threaten stability in the region. President Obama has been pushing that line since he took office, and U.S. officials say he has discussed Kyrgyzstan, and the need to avoid confrontation there, in nearly every meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Is Afghanistan more important to the U.S. than Azerbaijan? Shockingly, that may be true. Veteran Azerbaijan hand Thomas Goltz visited Baku just before U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates did, and that's what an intelligence official told him:
"The American chargé d'affaires told me not to talk to you, but he is State Department and I am not," the official said -- I'm paraphrasing from memory here, but closely -- putting initial pleasantries out of the way. "I am here to set up the Gates visit tomorrow. We finally decided to give the Azerbaijanis something before this thing deteriorates any further." Then he sort of smirked while saying the following: "We frankly don't care about human rights or democracy-building, or Israel and Turkey, or peace in Karabakh or Georgia, or even Azerbaijani energy. There is only one thing we really care about right now, and that is Afghanistan."
I was not surprised, but had to ask:
"Afghanistan," he said, and then repeated the word.
This has annoyed Azerbaijan, which would prefer Washington to do more of what Baku wants, than what Washington wants:
"Our attitude is that Washington should stop thinking of Azerbaijan in terms of Afghanistan and start thinking of Azerbaijan in terms of Azerbaijan," my old pal Araz Azimov, now deputy foreign affairs minister, told me. "The official attitude as enunciated by the president is, 'We want respect.'"
(An aside: Here we could invoke what readers are free to call Kucera's First Law of Geopolitics: If a place's importance derives primarily from the fact that it is between one more important place and another more important place, that first place is ultimately not that important.)
Not everyone in Uzbekistan is happy with the fairly moderate statement on the violence in Osh that Tashkent made on Saturday, saying that the violence was provoked by "forces, whose interests are totally remote from the interests of the Kyrgyz people." I talked today with Sukhrobjon Ismailov, the ace Tashkent-based analyst who told me that many people in the Uzbekistan military and security services want to intervene in Osh on the side of the Uzbeks. Ordinary Uzbeks in the Ferghana Valley are also itching to get into the fight, and many in Uzbekistan are calling what is happening in Osh a "genocide" against Uzbeks. It is Islam Karimov, Ismoilov said, who is trying to keep Uzbek emotions in check.
Other observers have told me that they saw several tanks and other military vehicles heading from Tashkent eastward, though this is apparently now just a precaution. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan has opened refugee centers in several cities in the Ferghana Valley for the tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of Uzbeks who are fleeing the violence.
As of this writing, Russia has apparently not made any moves toward sending in their troops, as interim leader Roza Otunbayeva requested. (Ismoilov told me he thought that Medvedev's apparent hesitation is just a coy act, and that Russian intervention is inevitable.) But Steve LeVine reports that Russia was actually Otunbayeva's second choice: first she asked the Americans:
Before Kyrgyzstan turned to Russia, it informally asked Washington for military assistance including a supply of rubber bullets to quell ethnic bloodletting in the south of the country, but was turned down, I am told by people privy to the situation.
The move by Kyrgyzstan's interim president, Roza Otunbayeva, to appeal for Russian military intervention to stop the ethnic violence in Osh and the rest of southern Kyrgyzstan, could be a geopolitical watershed for the country and for Central Asia in general. The last twenty years have shown that, when Russian troops intervene somewhere in Eurasia, they tend not to leave (see: Tajikistan, South Ossetia, Abkhazia). As of now, Russia says it is only considering intervening:
A spokeswoman for President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia said that no decision on providing military aid would be made until at least Monday, when Russia will consult with other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a regional security alliance of former Soviet republics.
“A decision about deploying peacekeeping forces to Kyrgyzstan can only be made collectively with all members of the C.S.T.O.,” the spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said Saturday evening. She also said that Russia was continuing to ship humanitarian assistance, including medicine, to Kyrgyzstan.
But 24.kg reports that additional Russian military planes have already been arriving at Kant air base near Bishkek:
According to the sources of the NA 24.kg in the Kyrgyz Ministry of Defense, three aircrafts Il-76 are landing at the Kant air base, they departed from Ramenskoe Airport, located in Moscow region (Zhukovsky city). According to information that requires to be clarified, they are delivering to Kyrgyzstan not only humanitarian commodity, but also Russian militaries.
(Those militaries, it should be noted, are likely just protecting the Russian forces now at Kant; the same thing happened when the original revolution happened and lots of Russophobes freaked out, so some caution is required here.)
When Uzbekistan agreed last week to pull its heavy weaponry out of Sokh (the Ferghana Valley exclave completely surrounded by Kyrgyzstan territory) it raised the obvious question of why, exactly when tensions were rising, that Tashkent would decide to downscale its military presence. The Russian newspaper Nasha Versiya, via 24.kg, has an intriguing theory -- that in spite of the fact that the conflict involved merely the "interests of the Kyrgyz shepherds in confrontation to Uzbek colleagues," Russia could have become involved:
an armed confrontation could have arisen between Russian and Uzbekistan at the end of May. It was nearly to come to engaging of military units, however they managed to organize a shootout. At the moment the dispute has been patched up: probably force command both in Moscow and in Tashkent drew conclusions and would prevent such collisions hereafter. Anyway the status of the Collective Security Treaty Organization was seriously hit by this confrontation. The Organization includes Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The article asserts that representatives of the interim government of Kyrgyzstan drew Russian military units to resolve conflict in the Uzbek exclave Sokh.
The author continues saying that a Russian air base “Kant” serves 250 officers and 150 regular soldiers. It is clear that protection of interests of the Kyrgyz shepherds in confrontation to Uzbek colleagues does not fall under competence of the Russian air base. However, if to imagine this confrontation as a near-border conflict, fraught with mass massacre on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, so it is possible to risk and ask for help.
At the State Security Council meeting, the President of Turkmenistan and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the country, Army General Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov signed a decree "On establishment of the Naval Institute under the Ministry of Defense of Turkmenistan."
As the Turkmenistan.rucorrespondent reports from Ashgabat, the President of Turkmenistan instructed Minister of Defense Yaylym Berdiev to carry out work to prepeare the design of the new institute building and identify its location....
As is known, in accordance with the new Military Doctrine, Turkmenistan officially declared about the creation of the naval base for the purpose of "reliable protection of the sea border and for effective struggle against smugglers, terrorists and other criminal elements."
So presumably, a navy is to follow? And they also will likely need foreign help to train the cadets; will be very interesting to see who that will be...
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization begins its summit today in Tashkent, but the group appears to be moving away from a military alliance, as it seemed originally intended, toward being a broader regional security body on the OSCE model.
Meanwhile, the Collective Security Treaty Organization appears to be taking over the military cooperation mission -- though without China, of course. The CSTO just carried out some joint exercises involving 450 troops from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Russia, and RT has video -- and some breathless commentary -- from the demo:
The premise: Armed terrorists have equipped a base, where they’re plotting an attack.
The troops’ mission: seek and destroy.
An officer quoted by RT in the report says that the big advance this year over previous exercises was the use of a reconnaissance drone aircraft. And of course, the story has a happy ending: the CSTO beats the terrorists.
Russia says it has no plans to establish any new foreign military bases, reports RIA Novosti:
"He [Defense Minister Anatoly Serdykov] said it is a luxury. We already have four military bases abroad. Building more bases would be too burdensome," said Viktor Ozerov, the head of the Federation Council's committee on defense and security.
Four military bases? The story counts facilities in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine (Crimea), South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Which omits at least two major bases that I can think of, in Tajikistan and Armenia. So are those not strictly "bases"? Also, if Russia had more money, it would want more bases, Ozerov continued:
Ozerov said Russia would like to have a permanent naval base in the Gulf of Aden to support its anti-piracy missions in the region, but Moscow cannot afford to finance this project at present.
At the big defense expo in Kazakhstan, if you recall, the two main foreign countries exhibiting their hardware for Kazakhstan were Israel and Turkey. The conference ended just before the brouhaha with the Turkish aid flotilla going to Gaza, and I wondered, how would it have turned out had that been going on while Kazakhstan was buddying up to Turkey and Israel at the same time. Well, at the Asia Summit that's been going in Turkey, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev weighed in on the controversy:
"The Israeli Armed Force's attack on the humanitarian ship, which took place in the Mediterranean Sea, intensified the situation in this region. Standing on this rostrum I urge all conflicting sides to reach compromise," the Kazakh leader said.
He said that "it is difficult even start talking about security and stability in the region" without investigating all circumstances of the incident at an international level.
In this respect, Nazarbayev said that "the Asian conference has a range of confidence-building measures specifying the main spheres of cooperation".