Central Asian multi-vector blackmail?

Posted in Russia , United States , Asia | 24-Feb-09 | Author: Sergey Dorofeev

CSTO remains most likely a regional structure for military departments’ coordination than a military bloc.

Flip-flop decisions in foreign policy of post-Soviet Central Asian countries are very much in evidence. This is the reverse of the coin of "multi-vector" approach used by all Central Asian states; the term invented by Zbignev Bzhezinsky interpreted by many region leaders in literal sense like another means of political blackmail.

With the war in South Ossetia braking out in August 2008 one can see the growing trends of estrangement with multiregional organizations like Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) created by Moscow initiative. Uzbekistan "suspended its membership" in EEC in November 2008 subsequent to the EU decision to remove economic sanctions imposed after the well-known unrests' crackdown in Andijan. In September 2008 Kazakhstan was declared as NATO key partner in Central Asia by Claudio Bisogniero, NATO Deputy Secretary General. On Monday last week Tajikistan's president canceled a visit to Moscow to CSTO and EEC summits for the first time during 15 years.

Meanwhile Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced Wednesday that U.S. military air base vital for supplying US-led troops in Afghanistan will be closed. The decision came just after the promise from Russia to provide 2 billion dollars financial aid. The same day Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon changed his decision and flied to Moscow. And as CSTO summit results Dmitry Medvedev announced the creation of rapid-reaction force among CSTO member states, mostly staffed by Russia and Kazakhstan. In this regard several questions are taken up. Exteriorly, regarding the issue of estrangement we can see the real performance of coherent "western" foreign policy in the region aimed at playing down the impact of Russia on Central Asian countries. And in reference to Bakiyev announcement grotesquely we can see "political auction" guided by "evil" Kremlin. But the bundle is stiffer as it seems from the first glance.

The connection between the base closure and financial aid is too evident to require proof, but we must also be aware of what domestic economic and political premises in Kyrgyzstan this decision was aroused.

Second year at a stretch Kyrgyzstan has undergone hardship with electrical and heating energy supplies comes by high so called market prices from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Analysts estimate that financial aid from Moscow is the only option for Kurmanbek Bakiyev to cover the budget deficit and costs for the construction of the new hydroelectric stations. Energy projects in Kyrgyzstan have been mostly financed and managed by Russian state-owned companies for years. Vladimir Putin said Russia was going to provide Kyrgyzstan with financial support during the summit of Shanhai Cooperation Organization in August 2007 and anyways it's worthy of respect to help Kyrgyzstan devastating economy.

Conversely Kyrgyzstan has enormous foreign debt estimated about 2.2 billion US dollars and providing the Republic with such financial backing coupled with very dubious decision to close US airbase. It may be turned out to a real problem for Kyrgyzstan itself of writing the debts off before the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Russia or Eurasian Economic Community will hardly be able to help Kyrgyzstan sorting out this problem even if the decision by EEC summit of forming Eurasian anti crisis fund in the volume of 10 billion dollars will be implemented. But it's a matter of the far future and Mr. Bakiyev prefers to solve present most crucial problems.

One of the most crucial problems for Kyrgyzstan is corruption. Alexander Lukin, renowned specialist in East Asian Studies, emphasized that after the so-called Tulip Revolution in 2005 Bakyiev "... made the Manas contract with the United States a central component in its battle against corruption". The reason is that Bakyiev's predecessor, Askar Akayev, whose policy is scoring severely, agreed on the lowest price for Manas base renting and after that the local media castigated Akayev presenting charges that this low price had been a behind-the-scenes collusion based on the US promises to buy fuel from a company run by a son of Mr. Akayiev. Over and above this issue people protested in the streets after Kyrgyz authorities were not allowed to investigate the incident in which Kyrgyz truck driver was shot dead by a US soldier in 2006, US military command only claimed that the soldier shot in self-defense.

Regarding the results of EEC summit. Anti crisis fund with 10 billion US doll. geared by Kazakhstan and Russia may really upturn Central Asia during the financial crisis. It'll be implemented just after the Parliaments of EEC member states adopted the agreement and till now there is no information about the Parliaments proceed to review the issue of Anti Crisis Fund creation. Basically EEC's Charter stands for the custom union and free trade zone between the states of the region and the EEC profile has been highly elevated in the media as an international organization qualified to give a fresh impetus to economic integration within the whole region of Central Asia. Indeed the mission and goals are clear and there is no doubt such organization should exist. But the first question is: How can a member state leave or "suspend the membership" in the international economic organization with just one statement even if it (Uzbekistan) has real contradictions with other members and what benefits and obligations does a country have from being a member of the EEC? EEC has had no real institutions and mechanisms to deal with regional economic problems and the only option EEC is offering to tackle these problems is it's membership. So lack of real financial subtle in relations between EEC member states made this organization highly politicized. Gaz-rich Uzbekistan considers EEC membership as a slight advantage and tries to put this politicization to it's good account. Just at the time when EU decided to remove sanctions, having the real contradictions with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan about regional power energy projects development, Mr. Karimov made his hype-type decision to leave EEC. Secondly, the problem is in foreign policy making process in Uzbekistan where every decision depends on one person. As a dictatorship it can't have the other. Hectic decisions by Islam Karimov are far-famed: claim for withdrawal of American military bases from Uzbekistan (airdrome "Hanabad"), joining and seceding from GUAM, etc.

To all intents and purposes one of the most burning economic problems for Central Asia is food security following by water resources allocation. Developing hydroelectric power plants in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan intimidates Islam Karimov that his country will be in short supply of water resources. Dmitriy Medvedev during his last visit to Uzbekistan declared that "Russia will not take part in power projects unless regional players reached a compromise." Moscow trusty ally, Tajikistan, responded in a jiffy with diplomatic demarche. It's clear that Rakhmon tried to put pressure on Russia to increase funding for building Rogun hydroelectric power plant, (the particular project Uzbekistan bucking against, insisting on the "consensus of neighboring countries needed not to disrupt the natural balance of Vahsh river").

So far as concerns regional military integration within the CSTO, Central Asian members are highly interested in it's effectiveness. The most stepping stone toward forming a real military bloc and the issue most given coverage to by the media is the decision to create CSTO rapid-reaction forces. Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) wasn't start from the scratch. This initiative was proposed by Putin in the year 2000, as a result of armed conflict with trans-border armed gangs in Kyrgyzstan in 1999, when CIS members under the auspices of CIS Collective Security Treaty had to conduct joint military operation. Now CSTO holds joint military exercises, general posture and inner structure of CSTO doesn't conflict with interests of defense departments of member states. Even after the decision to create rapid-reaction forces CSTO remains most likely a regional structure for military departments' coordination, enhancing the level of military interoperability between CSTO members than a military bloc. The problem is that CSTO rapid-reaction forces cantonment area hasn't been designated during the last summit, consequently it remains unclear how CSTO is going to operate and another evidence is that in spite of all Moscow's claims, CSTO member states didn't have a unified position during the August war in Georgia.

  • It stands to reason that Central Asian countries can't go alone to handle risks such as food supply security, border control or to respond to security threats like terrorism.
  • For Central Asian countries cooperation is beneficial with Russia and the US, as well as with EU or China. There cannot be a zero sum game neither for the US nor for Russia in the region adjoined to Afganistan, state that produced almost 95% of all opium in the world, which is still considered to be the prominent breading-ground for transnational terrorist groups.
  • International Community must backtrack the so-called "political realism" approach and should devote much more attention to the issues like drug-trafficking, human rights, economic development of the region.
  • Until Moscow and Washington restore confidence and deepen their cooperation in the region on the wide range of issues, accommodating the interests and internal processes of Central Asian countries, every breakthrough in cooperation between Central Asian states with so-called regional "stakeholders" (Russia and the US) will be viewed as a political bargain or blackmail.