Moscow Reinforces Troop Levels in Kant Airbase in Kyrgyzstan

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

As interethnic clashes are intensifying in the troubled Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, the provisional government in Bishkek appealed on June 11 to the Russian Federation to send peacekeeping forces to help restore law and order in the southern part of the country.

The head of the Kyrgyz interim government, Roza Otunbayeva – who came to power in April, 2010 after a bloody uprising against Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the corrupt and inefficient leader of the impoverished country of 5.5 million – asked both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to send in Russian peacekeepers. Moscow has so far refused, saying that “there are no legal foundations” for the deployment of its peacekeeping troops, but is probably thinking of international mechanisms to legalize its engagement.

Apart from Otunbayeva, “more than 80 nongovernmental organizations of Kyrgyzstan” have “desperately urged” the Russian leaders “to immediately deploy Russian peacekeeping troops to restore peace.”

On June 14 though, Russian news agencies reported that assault troops based near the city of Ulyanovsk in Russia’s Ural region “allegedly” were flown on three military planes to the epicenter of the ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan’s southern provinces of Osh and Jalal-Abad. “The number of troops is unknown and their goal is not clear either,” the Russian news agency Regnum said on June 14. Regnum was quick to note that “airborne troops from Ulyanovsk had also been deployed to the conflict zone in Georgia.” What the Russian news agency, close to the Kremlin, was referring to was of course the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008.

As announced on June 14 by Natalya Timakova, the spokesperson of the Russian president, Moscow has already strengthened its military base in Kyrgyzstan by deploying additional troops there.

The same day, Russia summoned a meeting of the secretaries of national security councils of the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), comprising seven post-Soviet countries including Kyrgyzstan, to discuss “the question of sending peacekeepers to Kyrgyzstan.”

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist member of the Russian legislative organ, the state Duma, and a close Kremlin associate, argued in May that “in order to secure a peaceful future, Kyrgyzstan should voluntarily become the ninth federal district of the Russian Federation.”

Russia has a dismal record in terms of its involvement in peacekeeping operations across the post-Soviet space. In 1992-93 it forced the then-de facto Georgian government of Eduard Shevardnadze to request the Commonwealth of Independence States (in reality, Russian) presence on Georgian soil as “guarantor of peace and stability.” What happened on the ground though was contrary to Georgia’s expectations: Moscow did nothing to help the restoration of Georgian sovereignty and facilitate the return of Georgian citizens to their homes in Abkhazia. Instead, Russia did everything to make permanent the separation of different Georgian communities and then in 2008 resorted to a full-scale invasion of Georgia to undermine its sovereignty and bring it back to the Russian orbit. The Russian military presence in Moldovan territory likewise has no semblance of what peacekeeping operation should represent.

Today Russia seems to be contemplating a new “peacekeeping” mission in yet another post-Soviet country. In all probability, Moscow will try to now use the CSTO’s newly acquired status as international organization to deploy Russian troops to Kyrgyzstan under Chapter VI and VIII of the U.N Charter as it did a decade ago in Georgia through the CIS.

Kyrgyzstan badly needs international involvement but Moscow’s delayed response in dispatching Russian troops to the Central Asian country appears to be part of a larger calculated Russian plan to legitimize Moscow’s aspirations for a new sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space using the CSTO as the device for regulating its involvement.