Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 122

A recent report, prepared by the Turkish government on Russia’s policies in Central Asia, reaches the obvious conclusion that Moscow seeks “to regain its dominant position by using the terrorism threat as a tool” (Turkish Daily News, June 16). Lacking the means to control the region economically, Russia attempts to reassert military control through arms deliveries and other types of security assistance. To avoid falling into a new type of dependency, several Central Asian countries are seeking to diversify their security relationships with countries outside the region.

Kyrgyzstan, with the weakest military in Central Asia, is a prime example of the policy of diversifying security partners. President Askar Akaev and his top foreign policy adviser, Askar Aitmatov, have pioneered a small-country type of “multipolar” diplomacy. Official Bishkek seeks to balance Russia’s and China’s influence against each other, while accepting assistance from both, to increase the number of countries involved in regional affairs and regional organizations, alongside the Central Asian countries and those two big powers, and to strengthen security cooperation with the United States and Turkey.

On the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) June 15 summit, the Kyrgyz and Chinese defense ministers Esen Topoev and Chu Haotian signed a bilateral cooperation agreement. Under the document, Beijing will donate US$1 million worth of military supplies to Kyrgyzstan in 2001, according to an itemized list to be prepared by Bishkek. China’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Zhang Deguang, stated that Beijing is prepared at Kyrgyzstan’s request to increase those supplies if Islamist guerrillas attack again this year. “And I am certain,” he continued, “that we will in the future be granting all possible assistance.”

Additionally, the Chinese and Kyrgyz defense ministries signed in Beijing an agreement on training Kyrgyz National Guard units in mountainous terrain at China’s Guangzhou training range. Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan has successfully lobbied–with Chinese support–for hosting in Bishkek the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Antiterrorism Center. The move seeks to counterbalance the planned presence in Bishkek of the CIS Collective Security Treaty’s Antiterrorism Center, which will be controlled by Russian officers.

Bishkek was, however, unsuccessful in its attempt to bring Pakistan into the SCO over Russian and Tajik opposition. Akaev cultivates Pakistan as part of his effort to mediate negotiations toward settling the conflict in Afghanistan. For that purpose, Kyrgyz officials maintain unofficial contacts with the Taliban authorities via Pakistan. The Kyrgyz president offers to host peace negotiations in Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan is in the process of receiving US$5 million worth of American military assistance, including parts of a US$3 million package originally allocated last year and a further US$2 million package scheduled for the current year. In mid-June, Kyrgyzstan received and distributed to its troops US US$1 million worth of military assistance from the Turkish Army. This batch follows one worth US$1.5 million delivered by Turkey last year to Kyrgyzstan. The American and Turkish supplies include communications equipment, night-vision devices, ground sensors, uniforms and modern combat kit for antiguerrilla mountain warfare. Part of those funds supports the training of a small numbers of Kyrgyz special force soldiers by American and Turkish instructors.

Russia, meanwhile, remains the single largest source of arms supplies and military training to Kyrgyzstan. It also is in charge of maintaining and overhauling Kyrgyzstan’s air defense system, and it has a contract to equip parts of Kyrgyzstan’s borders with surveillance devices. Politically as well as militarily, Bishkek has to go along with Moscow’s recent plan to create a joint rapid-deployment force in Central Asia in the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty. Kyrgyzstan’s leadership seeks, however, to avoid excessive reliance on a single partner and to maximize the number of outside actors with a stake in its own and Kyrgyzstan’s and the region’s security (Kabar, Vecherny Bishkek, Xinhua, Itar-Tass, June 13-23; see the Monitor, May 30-31, June 5, 22).