Central Asia Security Vacuum
Image Credit: Chen Zhao

Central Asia Security Vacuum


Earlier this month, six countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization—Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Russia—held exercises in southern Russia in which soldiers from each of the countries, as part of the organisation’s nascent ‘Rapid Reaction Force,’ cooperated to defeat a ‘terrorist’ threat.

Yet when brutal violence broke out in one of the CSTO member countries, Kyrgyzstan, just days later, the group didn’t respond rapidly at all. Kyrgyzstan’s interim president, Roza Otunbayeva, even asked Russia to intervene, but Russian President Dmitry Medvedev responded that Russians would only do so under the auspices of the CSTO. And nearly a week after the start of the violence—which some estimate has killed more than 1000 people and threatens to tear the country apart—the CSTO has still not gotten involved, but says it is ‘considering’ intervening.

‘We did not rule out the use of any means which are in the CSTO’s potential, and the use of which is possible regardless of the development of the situation in Kyrgyzstan,’ Russian National Security Chief Nikolai Patrushev said Monday.

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On June 10-11, another regional security group, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, held its annual summit in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The SCO has similar collective security aims as the CSTO, and includes Russia, China and most of the Central Asian republics, including Kyrgyzstan. But despite the violence that was going on even as the SCO countries’ presidents met in Uzbekistan, that group also didn’t involve itself in the conflict, and made only a tepid statement calling for calm.

Civil society groups in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan (much of the violence is directed toward ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan, and the centre of the violence, the city of Osh, is right on the border of Uzbekistan) called on the United Nations to intervene. And Otunbayeva said she didn’t ask the US for help.

Even Uzbekistan, which many in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere feared might try to intervene on behalf of ethnic Uzbeks, has instead opted to stay out of the fray, and issued a statement blaming outsiders for ‘provoking’ the brutal violence.

The violence has exposed a security vacuum in Central Asia that no one appears interested in filling. In spite of all of the armchair geopoliticians who have declared that a ‘new Great Game’ is on in Central Asia, the major powers seem distinctly reluctant to expand their spheres of influence there.

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