Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry announced yesterday that Uzbekistan has officially requested “military-technical assistance” to counter the Islamist rebels on its territory. Uzbek Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Abdusamat Haidarov submitted the request on August 28 in Moscow to Vyacheslav Trubnikov, the first deputy foreign affairs minister with the rank of cabinet minister in charge of Russia’s policy toward CIS countries. Moscow, the ministry said on August 29, “considers providing the requested assistance as a matter of urgency.” The Russian announcement, furthermore, assailed the Taliban authorities of Afghanistan as a source of “instability” and “terrorism” in Central Asia, posing “a direct threat to the interests of Russia, Uzbekistan and other CIS member countries.”
Also on August 29, the Kremlin announced that Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan had discussed by telephone the current situation in that country and in Central Asia. Contextual remarks by Kyrgyz officials on August 28-29 suggest that Akaev, too, almost certainly requested “military-technical assistance.” That term covers provision of arms, equipment and specialists, but not troops. Russian officials made a point of explaining that the assistance to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan would be provided in the framework of Russia’s bilateral agreements with either country.
Russian, Uzbek and Kyrgyz officials seem notably reticent to invoke the CIS Collective Security Treaty, or the multilateral military and “antiterrorist” agreements signed by Russia and Central Asian countries in the CIS, the regional and the Shanghai-Five frameworks. Russian Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeev is the only senior official thus far to have called for a collective response. On August 25, Sergeev made public a recommendation to set up a joint headquarters of Russian and Central Asian countries’ armed forces, in the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty but limited to the Central Asian region. Such proposals may gain currency in Moscow if the Uzbek and Kyrgyz forces fail to stamp out the insurgency soon.
Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov–head of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff’s Main Department for International Military Cooperation–declared yesterday that the Defense Ministry is prepared to supply sniper rifles and night-vision devices to Uzbek and Kyrgyz forces. Ivashov, who is responsible for international military cooperation, ruled out the dispatch of Russian military specialists to either country. As regards Uzbekistan, Ivashov expressed confidence that the government of that country is capable of coping with the insurgents on its own and has the situation well in hand. Ivashov’s confidence contrasts with the nervous tone of some Uzbek statements.
Kyrgyz officials sound even more nervous. That country’s Security Council secretary, Bolot Januzakov, declared yesterday that the situation has “sharply deteriorated” in the last few days. In the Batken Region, Kyrgyz troops repelled a seventy-strong rebel detachment’s attempts to break into the interior of the country, Januzakov stated. But, for the second time in the space of three days, he admitted that insurgents had penetrated northward into the Jalalabad Region. That region had been well out of rebel reach in last year’s operation. According to official communiques, Kyrgyz and Uzbek forces are now conducting joint “mop-up” operations in the Jalalabad Region. The communiques do not specify whether Uzbek troops have crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan. That border is in any case poorly demarcated and even undemarcated along some portions. Uzbek Internal Affairs and border troops have often felt free to cross that border into Kyrgyz territory without official Kyrgyz consent.
Kazakhstan, too, seems prepared to step incrementally into the fray. Its defense minister, Lieutenant-General Sat Tokpakbaev, had stated on August 25 that Kazakhstan would render assistance to Kyrgyzstan if the latter country requests it. Astana shares Bishkek’s and Dushanbe’s interest in limiting Uzbekistan’s political clout and military reach in Central Asia. Whether Kyrgyzstan has officially submitted a request for Kazakh assistance remains unclear. But Januzakov announced yesterday that Kyrgyz forces are “receiving support from Kazakh aviation.” That disclosure seems to clarify the meaning of Bishkek’s August 27 announcement that “Kyrgyz” planes are striking rebel positions. Kyrgyzstan, however, is not known to have any combat aviation of its own; it is only able to conduct reconnaissance missions with Czechoslovak-made trainer planes of 1960s vintage. During last year’s hostilities, Kyrgyzstan authorized Uzbek fighter-bombers to strike rebel positions on Kyrgyz territory; but it revoked that authorization after the Uzbek aviation had indiscriminately hit some Kyrgyz villages on mere suspicion of a rebel presence. Kyrgyzstan, moreover, is loath to depend on Uzbek military support in general; and Uzbekistan is similarly unwilling to become dependent on Russia’s military assistance. To avoid such dependence, however, Tashkent and Bishkek must cooperate with one another on mutually acceptable terms in order to defeat the insurgency before the onset of winter (Itar-Tass, RIA, Habar, KyrgyzKabar, Tashkent Radio, August 25-29; see the Monitor, January 7, February 2, 16, March 14, 30, April 25, May 4, 10, 22, 31, June 29, August 4, 8, 10, 29; Fortnight in Review, April 14, 28, May 26).
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