Russian Foreign Policy In Kyrgyzstan

The Collective Security Treaty Organization was developed in 1991 by Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union as a means to give Central Asian states, like Kyrgyzstan, the overarching security framework to replace what the Soviet Union had left behind. Given basic security framework these states went on to pursue their respective interests in the years following, resulting in a clash of national interests. Moscow then further developed the CSTO as a way for Russia to discretely gain more regional control, with the title of “security manager”1 always in mind. The organization has failed to do what it was originally intended for. This paper will serve to explain how Russia’s covert desire to be viewed as a security manager in Kyrgyzstan through its pretext of the Collective Security Treaty Organization has negatively impacted Kyrgyzstan’s development as a sovereign nation by forcing its dependent on Russia.

The idea for the Collective Security Treaty Organization sparked in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union; Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev expressed the need for a supportive union of post-Soviet republics, as most of them lacked the skills and institutions necessary to carry on as successful, sovereign nations. Since many of the republics still desired some affiliation with Russia, the declaration of the Commonwealth of Independent States was put into effect2 a few years later in order for the participating nations to interact “on the basis of sovereign equality.”3 From there, the Collective Security Treaty was signed, which is what gave participating members the overarching security framework that Yeltsin and Gorbachev envisioned to replace that of the Soviet Union.4 The treaty was essentially nothing more than a powerless document in the following years after its signing, so Moscow sought out to turn it into a more cohesive security alliance in 1999. In 2002, the member states of the Collective Security Treaty established the Collective Security Treaty Organization.5

Russia’s goal for the CSTO initially began as a means to install the basic security framework for the survival of the post-Soviet states, but over the course of a few years, it shifted its objective toward gaining more control over Central Asian states.6 Because Moscow has been unwilling to back off on its aggressive foreign policy tactics, Kyrgyzstan remains highly dependent upon Russia. Member states of the CSTO are not permitted to form alliances with any other states besides other CSTO members7 because of Russia’s fear of the possibility of an alliance with the West.8 Russia seems to try to force its neighbors to choose between it and the rest of the world, which makes it difficult for Kyrgyzstan to break away its ties and end its heavy dependence on Russia, as Soviet influence had been a very large factor in Kyrgyzstan for so long.

Russia now “seems to assume the full burdens of hegemony that would result from this treaty,”9 meaning that it has completely taken on an executive role in Central Asia. But unfortunately for Russia, the CSTO has never become the “grand military organization Moscow envisioned”10 as it has failed to provide intervention to Kyrgyzstan at necessary times in recent cases which will be further explained. It is clear from Russian foreign policy actions toward Kyrgyzstan that Moscow has covert motives not explicitly defined in the text of the CSTO. During the Tulip Revolution of 2005, Russia refused to provide help when the Kyrgyz government asked for reinforcement whilst going through its regime change from President Askar Akaev to Kurmanbek Bakiev. “Attempts to invoke [the CSTO] against the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan failed. The organization happily ‘slept through’ the regime change in one of its member states.”11 Russia also appears to have “slept through” the Kyrgyz June 2010 incident when 2000 Uzbeks were killed in the southern region of Kyrgyzstan in a violent ethnic cleansing. President Bakiev, installed during the Tulip Revolution and who also even held much Russian support, fled to Belarus after resigning during the incident. The nation called for Russian peace-keeping forces but once again, there was no military response.

Russia has created a paradox with its unwillingness to help Kyrgyzstan while subsequently forcing it to depend on Russia. Maria Raquel Freire, author of Russian Policy in Central Asia, describes the situation as “bandwagoning,”12 because Kyrgyzstan expresses the desire to “fit in” but it has nowhere else to turn to beside Russia. Russia created the CSTO, an organization which does not allow for its members to align with any non-members, but at the same time, it refused to help when one of its member states entered a very public crisis on multiple occasions. Kyrgyz Interim President Rosa Otunbaeva proceeded to install democratic institutions after the revolution, which Russian President Medvedev heavily critiqued as being “conducive to instability.”13 Medvedev’s criticism seems hypocritical, especially after the fact that Russia refused to offer any peace-keeping forces to the revolution, to Russia’s cavalier attitude toward the well-being of one of the CSTO member states is evident from its lack of effort put into Kyrgyzstan. Russia’s main concern lies in maintaining its status as security manager.

If Russia’s ultimate goal is to become an executive actor on the post-Soviet stage, it needs to work to gain respect of the post-Soviet states by following through on necessary intervention requests. so that they can put trust into Russia. Rather than helping Kyrgyzstan improve its post-Soviet security framework or encouraging regional cooperation between the member states in Central Asia, as it should be doing under the text of the CSTO, the CSTO has been harming Kyrgyzstan’s sovereignty by forcing it to depend heavily upon Russia. Russia has not planned out its military missions in a strategic manner, which has been exemplified by its lack of intervention during the regime change of the Tulip Revolution and the 2010 ethnic cleansing of the Uzbeks. It is plausible at this point in time that the CSTO has caused long-term consequences in Kyrgyzstan. Yeltsin and Gorbachev originally suggested that there be some sort of union among the post-Soviet states to give them the overarching security framework to help them eventually break away from the USSR’s firm grasp. This union, the CSTO, now seems to be counterproductive to its original intentions as Russia is primarily concerned with maintaining its position as the security manager of the region. It is clear that Russia has thought, and will continue to think of Central Asia as under its sphere of influence and that the CSTO is being used as the “primary vehicle for the establishment of Moscow’s strategic influence in Central Asia.”14

Many of the CSTO member states, including Kyrgyzstan are skeptical of the implications of the CSTO, despite their desire for Russian help with national emergencies like the Tulip Revolution. Russia must begin to treat these states as more than just small parts that have fragmented from the whole, for the Central Asian states may one day band together against Russia’s detrimental foreign policy tactics. Kyrgyzstan is lost in a paradox where the Soviet Union, its original source of guidance, collapsed and refused to offer intervention in its time of need, leaving Kyrgyzstan to fend for itself while essentially taking away its skills for independent survival. Russia ultimately “needs to make itself a more attractive partner for its neighbors so that it doesn’t have to use force to enforce its claim to a leading role.”15

The idea for the Collective Security Treaty Organization came about in 1991 as a means for post-Soviet states to gain the institutions necessary to function independently of Russia. However it is evident that Russia had alternative motives: its desire to become a regional security manager has inhibited the initial objectives of the CSTO to the point that Kyrgyzstan has been left out in the cold several times during its national conflicts because of Russia’s covert motives. Kyrgyzstan is, by definition, a sovereign nation, but it still has far to go to escape Russia’s grip and become an independent state free from Russian influence. The CSTO has been counterproductive in turning Kyrgyzstan into a sovereign state free from Russian influence, as was its initial objective. Instead it continues to depend heavily on Russia.

References

Robert H. Donaldson and Joseph L. Nogee, The Foreign Policy of Russia (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2009) 164-169.

Maria Raquel Freire, Russian Policy in Central Asia: Supporting, Balancing, Coercing, or Imposing? http://www.asianperspective.org/articles/v33n2-e.pdf (Nov 2009)

About Commonwealth of Independent States, http://www.cisstat.com/eng/cis.htm

Jeffrey Mankoff, Russian Foreign Policy (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, inc., 2012).

Eugene Rumer, Dmitri Trenin, and Huasheng Zhao, Central Asia:Views from Washington, Moscow, and Beijing (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2007).

Zbigniew Brzezinski and Paige Sullivan, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States: Documents, Data and Analysis (New York: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1997).

Russia Remakes the CSTO, http://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical-diary/russia-remakes-csto (Feb 2012).

Yu-Shan Wu, Russia and the CIS in 2010 (University of California Press, 2011).

1Maria Raquel Freire, asianperspective.org.

2 Nogee and Donaldson, The Foreign Policy of Russia, 164-169.

4Jeffrey Mankoff, Russian Foreign Policy.

5Rumer, Trenin and Zhao, Central Asia.

6Maria Raquel Freire, asianperspective.org.

7Brzezinski and Sullivan, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States

8Jeffrey Mankoff, Russian Foreign Policy, pg. 259.

9Jeffrey Mankoff, Russian Foreign Policy, pg. 258

11Rumer, Trenin and Zhao, Central Asia.

12Maria Raquel Freire, asianperspective.org.

13Yu-Shan Wu, Russia and the CIS in 2010, pg. 72.

14Jeffrey Mankoff, Russian Foreign Policy, pg. 256

15Jeffrey Mankoff, Russian Foreign Policy, pg. 262

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