Although Kyrgyzstan has yet to declare its official response to the conflict in South Ossetia, Kyrgyz pundits have quickly used the developments in Georgia in their revision of real and imagined implications of the U.S. military base at the Manas Airport. The Kyrgyz government and parliament have expressed their willingness to support peace negotiations between Russia and Georgia. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, however, declined from expressing his official support to either country, instead taking a 10-day vacation.
Kyrgyzstan is currently chairing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and is responsible for organizing a CIS summit this October. But Bakiyev merely ordered the Kyrgyz Ministry of Foreign Affairs to carry out consultations within the organization, refraining from raising the issue among CIS members before leaving on vacation. The president’s escape from directly supporting Russia’s interpretation of the conflict reflects the Kyrgyz government’s general anxiety about taking sides before the conflict is resolved. This prompted several newspapers to suggest the president was secretly supporting the West (MK Kyrgyzstan, August 12).
Due to Kyrgyzstan’s turn to organize the CIS summit this year, Kyrgyz politicians assign Kyrgyzstan an especially important role in the South Ossetian conflict and Georgia’s decision to leave the CIS. Former Foreign Minister Alimbek Jekshenkulov thinks Georgia’s decision will pose serious questions in front of other member states, forcing the CIS to reformulate its further agenda. Georgia, according to Jekshenkulov, exacerbated long-term problems in the Caucasus that the CIS has failed to address.
Several MPs argue, however, that the CIS will only benefit from Georgia’s exit and become even more consolidated. According to MP Ednan Karabayev, leaving the CIS was one of the reasons for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s “provocation” of the war in South Ossetia (www.24.kg, August 13). Other experts referred to the importance of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military body within the CIS, as an important factor in Kyrgyzstan’s commitment to approve of Russian policy toward South Ossetia. Yet, as one Kyrgyz expert pointed out to Jamestown, no political leader in Kyrgyzstan questions the fact why Russia sent its peacekeepers to Georgia without consulting with other members of the CSTO or CIS.
As Svante Cornell from the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute has rightly indicated in the New York Times, if the West allows Georgia to fall in the war, the support of Central Asian governments for America’s war against terrorism in Afghanistan might vanish as well (August 11). Russia would emerge as a clear regional leader, while the U.S. would be perceived as a destabilizing power. This argument can be vividly seen today in Kyrgyzstan with President Bakiyev avoiding any official statements until the conflict is resolved or until the CIS summit is held this October.
Bakiyev’s confusion about the conflict must be seen against the background of continuing debates over the purposes of a weapons cache found at a house rented by U.S. citizens last week (See EDM, August 7). Some Kyrgyz pundits rushed to link the weapons incident with the conflict in South Ossetia. The most irrational claims were expressed by Bely Parus newspaper and Leonid Bondarets, a notorious pro-Kremlin military analyst (August 9 and www.24.kg, August 6). Both suspected the United States of wanting to destabilize Kyrgyzstan and arm opposition forces. Following the incident, Kyrgyzstan’s Communist Party began actively promoting the withdrawal of the U.S. base. The Communists often voice pro-regime stances, labeling them as oppositional.
Several other Kyrgyz and international experts argued, however, that the intrigue around the cache was likely to be fueled by conflicting relations among security structures in Kyrgyzstan.
The dominance of the Russian mass media is obvious in Kyrgyzstan these days. Nearly all Russian and Kyrgyz language outlets reported developments in Georgia supporting the Kremlin’s response. Numerous Russian TV, radio, and written reports blamed NATO and the United States for instigating a proxy war with Russia through a puppet government in Georgia, a picture often contradictory to international interpretations of the conflict.
Yet, despite a great deal of political speculation about the West’s goals in Georgia, Kyrgyz NGO “Citizens against Corruption” called for Kyrgyzstan’s replication of the Georgian example. In its public statement, the NGO declared that it “welcomed that historical decision of the Georgian people and government about leaving the CIS … we support Georgia’s direction toward the rule of law, where civil rights and freedoms are valued… We hope that Kyrgyzstan will [follow] Georgia’s [example] in the Central Asian context and become a truly legal, independent, and democratic state” (www.24.kg, August 13). The statement contributes to the general confusion about the conflict among the Kyrgyz public.