Russia's Central Asian Worries Grow

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Russian internet daily Lenta.ru recently published an analysis on why Russia is and will remain concerned about various threats emanating from the underbelly of the former Soviet region -- Central Asia. 

Says the article:

"Russian military and security officials generally do not like the Central Asian region, since it is the main sources of military threats for Russia, and no effective countermeasures to these threats exist to this day.  

“The main type of military threat to Russia is diffused guerrilla operations generated by an explosion of religious extremism, an explosion which would be almost inevitable after a hypothetical failure of one or several of the Central Asian regimes." 

The analysis lists other potential headaches for Russian military and policy planners. These include Russia’s long and still largely indefensible border with Kazakhstan, as well as the difficulty of trying to influence the situation in the region if crisis escalates in any of the Central Asian “stans.” The analysis confirms that Russian troops in Tajikistan, and its aircraft deployed at the Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan, are able to intervene in the fight against armed extremists at the request of the legitimate regional governments, but "if such a war is accompanied by political crises (and even revolutions), the room for military maneuvers becomes very limited.”

Says Lenta.ru:

"Security weakness in the Central Asian countries, which are increasingly penetrated by a radical form of Islam and by international terrorist networks, will lead to a condition where serious resistance to the radical Islamic threat can be made only on the Russian-Kazakh border -- and the length and penetration of this border does not grant Russian policy planners any additional optimism." 

Nor would the hypothetical introduction of Russian military forces in the region bode well for such a crisis -- such a move might lead to a whole set of "purely internal Russian problems, ranging from popular discontent with such a move to placing Russian forces in the poorly equipped and logistically difficult region of Eurasia."

The analysis singles out a couple of terrorist attacks in Kazakhstan in June and July -- in Aktobe, where 17 people were killed, and in Almaty, where an attack resulted in law enforcement and civilian casualties. "What if next time (and there is no reason to believe that these are the last events of this kind), the planning and execution of an attack is on a qualitatively different level? Will the Kazakh security forces be up to the task?"

Moving south, the analysis identifies a major long-simmering source of conflict -- the Fergana Valley, where the many conflicts of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan intertwine -- these states have shared the valley since the creation of the Soviet Union. The valley, Lenta.ru reminds us, is a “transport hub, an aggregator of drug trafficking from the southern regions, and a place where trouble smolders at the surface -- there are ethnic conflicts between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, and interstate troubles due to water ownership." 

Hinting at Moscow's preference for strong autocratic regimes in Central Asia capable of controlling internal tensions, the analysis points out that "any significant weakening of the political regimes in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan may cause an explosion of local dissent, provoked by religious and ethnic extremists - as happened in 1999 during the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan crisis.”

The analysis concludes that growth of internal tensions in these states could lead to weak governments exporting instability through war, and it recommends Moscow undertake various projects in the former Soviet space to manage the situation. Despite changes in the level of Moscow's involvement in Central Asia due to economic and geopolitical pressures elsewhere, it is to be expected that Russia will continue its range of security, political, and economic relationships with Central Asian states through bilateral and multilateral ties it has been strengthening since the dissolution of Soviet Union.

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