The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conducted anti-terrorism training exercises in Kyrgyzstan May 28-31. The Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is observing the SCO drills. Both the SCO and CSTO have overlapping memberships and competing goals. However, their interests meet in Kyrgyzstan, where they compete with the U.S. military presence.
On August 16 Kyrgyzstan will host the annual SCO summit. Bishkek’s efforts to put on a successful summit have been accompanied with its extensive criticism of the U.S. military base outside Bishkek, the capital city. The Kyrgyz government may adopt an official policy to limit the U.S. military presence in the country in order to satisfy the interests of the SCO’s largest members — Russia and China. Both countries have offered their support in organizing the summit.
Some Kyrgyz experts link the SCO summit with possibilities for greater cooperation with regional neighbors that could generate economic investment. As the Kyrgyz ambassador to Moscow, Absamat Jumagulov, noted regarding the SCO summit’s outcomes, “We are interested in creating new joint production sites on the territory of Kyrgyzstan… The issue concerns involvement of large-scale investors in Kyrgyzstan’s market…in the most promising fields of hydro energy, oil and gas, mining, electricity, etc.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will visit Kyrgyzstan in June to discuss U.S.-Kyrgyz security cooperation. Gates will visit the U.S. military base at the Manas airport. Following the pattern of former U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld’s two visits to Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz government will likely yield to the U.S. high representative during his visit, but in the longer term embrace the SCO and CSTO policies.
Against the background of preparations for the SCO summit, the Kyrgyz government has been using harsher methods against civil society activists. Several NGO representatives were arrested on charges of instigating mass riots against the Jerooy gold mine in Talas region.
The government has opened special bank accounts where citizens are urged to deposit monetary contributions for a successful summit. As one Kyrgyz analyst comments, these “voluntary” contributions are in reality mandatory. However, according to former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva, the Kyrgyz public is poorly informed about international affairs and therefore it is easily manipulated. Otunbayeva has remained one of the few supporters of a multidirectional foreign politics in Kyrgyzstan.
The SCO’s May 28-31 exercises were aimed at eliminating terrorist organizations, rescuing hostages, and increasing border security. These drills are rather small, compared to both organizations’ previous and future joint military maneuvers. Collective military exercises represent a central part of both the SCO and CSTO mandates. They provide a sense of institutional evolution, consolidate organizational agendas, and foster military development among the organizations’ member states. The scope and size of collective military activities have been growing since 2003, involving greater amounts of troops and technologies.
Although military cooperation between China and Russia has been intensifying in the past few years through the SCO and CSTO, there is little chance of merging both organizations. Previous collective exercises by the SCO and CSTO mainly featured Chinese and Russian military teams and technologies, establishing both states as Eurasian leaders in the military field. Neither organization proved to be effective in addressing security issues in Eurasia, such as drug trafficking, organized crime, and terrorism. Instead, both organizations supported incumbent regimes in the Central Asian states.
Some Kyrgyz experts think that Russian influence in Kyrgyzstan is more imagined than real. Valentin Bogatyrev, a renowned Bishkek-based analyst, believes that Kazakhstan and China have more economic influence in Kyrgyzstan than does Russia, while the Russian military base in Kant serves a symbolic role. Bogatyrev outlined three main reasons why the U.S. position in Kyrgyzstan has been weakening. Besides the U.S. war in Iraq, which has been internationally condemned, Washington’s presence in Bishkek has been increasingly criticized because of failed U.S. relations with Uzbekistan, the uncontrolled change of political regimes in Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan’s diversification of its energy cooperation with Russia and China.
Since its establishment, the Russian base has been used only in bilateral or multilateral military exercises. Both former Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev and incumbent president Kurmanbek Bakiyev mooted the possibility of using the Kant base in case of domestic instability, but this never occurred.
(24.kg, Azattyk, Akipress.kg, Kabar.kg, May 28-30)