Russia has made it clear the post-Soviet space is its sphere of responsibility, while at the same time refusing to send troops to Kyrgyzstan to stabilize this Central Asian country after weeks of political uncertainty and ethnic violence. This is not a contradiction. Russia is being responsible by not sending troops and waiting for the political facts on the ground to determine the fate of Kyrgyzstan.
According to the latest accounts, up to 2,000 Kyrgyz citizens, largely ethnic Uzbeks, have been killed in ethnic strife over the past few weeks. Is this due to the illegitimacy of the interim government of Roza Otunbayeva or the outside intervention of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev? It is probably a combination of both. Otunbayeva and her retinue demonstrated once again that street riots and murder can change a weak regime with little resources—in other words, another “color revolution” on the cheap. And no doubt Bakiyev has plenty of political scores to settle.
Otunbayeva and her supporters saw an opening after Russia lost confidence in Bakiyev. The former president double-crossed Moscow (after accepting massive economic aid from the Kremlin) when he withdrew a request that the United States that vacate the Manas airbase. Bakiyev, without a doubt, was greedy and corrupt, but he is also a sore loser. Small countries can and do play the great powers against one another for political and economic gain. But it was the height of folly for Bakiyev to take Russia as a fool.
Some in the Western mainstream media explain Russia’s reluctance to intervene militarily in Kyrgyzstan as a mark of Moscow’s “new maturity.” This means that Russia is now “mature” enough to cultivate the “reset” in Moscow-Washington relations at the expense of its own geopolitical interests. This is simply rubbish. Every decision Russia makes about its neighbors has very real and even critical consequences. When things go wrong in Central Asia, Moscow inevitably picks up the tab—not Western NGOs or Washington think thinks. We have to get used to pragmatism—as painful as it is—in the post-Soviet space.
Let’s consider turning the coin upside down for a fleeting moment. Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are members of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This group is only committed to the regional security of its members. It has no NATO-like aspirations of foreign adventures or “projecting security” beyond its members. As Bishkek is part of the SCO, it is up to its fellow member states to help it resolve internal-security threats.
Nonetheless, this solution won’t involve Russian military intervention. There is no obvious endgame. It is entirely unclear what the Kyrgyz people want—thought it’s obvious they aren’t in favor of a foreign occupation. And the neighborhood is not interested in any kind of Russian or Chinese (or American) hegemony.
If Russia were to intervene militarily into Kyrgyzstan, it would create a precedent. Whenever a Central Asian state suffered domestic difficulties, it would approach Moscow for a bailout at the expense of Russian blood and treasure. The Kyrgyz have their own agency, and so do others in Central Asia as they progress—ever so slowly—through the post-Soviet purgatory.
Being responsible hurts sometimes, but it can also demonstrate what it means to really be mature.
Peter Lavelle is the host of CrossTalk, a program on the Russian-government sponsored RT Television. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of RT.