For U.S. and Russia, Kyrgyz Crisis Poses Strategic Risk

By Gregory L. White

The worsening ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan is hundreds of miles from U.S. and Russian bases in the central Asia country, but it poses thorny strategic dilemmas for both.

For Washington, Kyrgyzstan is a vital transit hub for supplies to the war in Afghanistan, providing a key alternate route to risky deliveries from Pakistan. The State Department on Sunday called for a quick restoration of peace and order, endorsing efforts by the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to find a solution.

For Moscow, the Kyrgyz crisis is a test for efforts to exert greater influence in a region that had until recently been a geopolitical battleground. Russia has repeatedly sought in recent years to oust the U.S. base, even though the Kremlin approved its creation nearly a decade ago.

> Map of Kyrgyzstan
The Kremlin was cool to calls from the interim government in Bishkek for Russian troops to restore order. President Dmitry Medvedev on Sunday ordered a battalion of paratroops to reinforce the garrison at the Russian base. Both he and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke to Kyrgyz interim President Roza Otunbayeva over the weekend.

A Kremlin spokeswoman said Sunday that Russian troops wouldn't be deployed to resolve what she called "a domestic conflict." Instead, Mr. Medvedev called a meeting for Monday of security officials from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-dominated body of former Soviet nations.

The group's charter allows military assistance for members, but the prospect of intervention by the group to put down internal unrest is likely to be controversial among its largely authoritarian members, typically fiercely protective of their independence.

"There's not a lot of enthusiasm coming out of Moscow," said Andrew Kuchins, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Who's going to step up to the plate and do something about this? I don't have an answer."

Uzbekistan, a member of the security group, was most directly affected by the violence, which targeted the large Uzbek minority in southern Kyrgyzstan. Tens of thousands of refugees flooded across the border over the weekend to flee the attacks. Uzbekistan's dictatorial leadership denounced the violence but showed no sign it would intervene. Mr. Medvedev spoke with Uzbek President Islam Karimov over the weekend, the Kremlin said.

Vladimir Milov, a Russian opposition politician, said Sunday that the violence in Kyrgyzstan highlights the risk of instability facing nondemocratic regimes across the region.

"Kyrgyzstan is fast becoming a failed state—where the authorities can't keep the situation under control and where rule from outside is needed," he wrote in a blog post.

The interim government has scheduled a national referendum for June 27 to help establish its legitimacy.

Officials of the government in Bishkek blamed the violence on supporters of deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. From exile in Belarus, he denied any role.

The U.S. expressed concern about the situation said the transit center, as the base at Manas is known, would help deliver humanitarian aid to the riot-stricken regions.

The base said it wasn't affected by the violence.

Washington's influence is limited, however. The interim government has criticized Washington, which appears to have been caught flatfooted by the uprising in April that brought it to power, for being too close to the previous leadership.
Wall Street Journal