Tala River Hydroplant Kyrgyzystan. Image by Evgeni Zotov/flickr.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s September 20 visit to Kyrgyzstan ended with half a dozen bilateral agreements and some anachronistic-sounding rhetoric about Moscow’s benevolent role in Central Asia. On the face of it, Russia won an extension of military basing rights for another generation, while Kyrgyzstan got millions of dollars in debt forgiveness and promises of investment in the construction of two major hydropower projects. But all the deals have yet to be finalized and some won’t kick in for years, with multiple strings attached.
The visit was Putin’s first to Kyrgyzstan since an April 2010 uprising toppled the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who had angered the Kremlin by effectively misappropriating a $300 million Russian loan and backtracking on some of his promises. Moscow has been slow to warm to the post-Bakiyev leadership, expressing frustration earlier this year, for example, with Bishkek’s constant
attempts to get aid while maintaining a so-called multi-vector foreign policy.
Publicly, Putin’s host, President Almazbek Atambayev, did everything he could to assure the Russian president that Kyrgyzstan is a firm friend. At a cheerful midday press conference, Atambayev suggested the two had stayed up together until 5 a.m. – Putin had arrived in Bishkek late September 19 – and expressed wishes for everlasting friendship. “Russia is our main strategic partner. With Russia, we share a common history and a common destiny. […] Our future will be in partnership with the great Russia,” Atambayev said in comments broadcast by local media. » More
Makhachkala, the capital city of Dagestan. Photo: Bolshakov/flickr
On September 15, 2012 Dagestan, a Russian republic located next to Chechnya in the North Caucasus, was celebrating its Day of National Unity [ru]. While the holiday always seems to be forced upon Dagestan the need for unity is undoubtedly important for the region.
The North Caucasus is one of the most ethnically diverse regions of Russia, and Dagestan is no exception. Its largest ethnic group, the Avar, make up only 30% of the population – the rest is split between a dozen small nationalities.
Ethnic division combined with high levels of unemployment is a recipe for volatility. Opposition leader Eduard Limonov blogged on August 15 [ru]:
[The] impression is that Dagestan is about to stop being a territory of the Russian Federation, because every day we learn of subversive acts, murders and attacks …This is a classic beginning of a civil war.
Two weeks later talk of civil war [ru] was on everyone’s mind. On August 28, Said Afandi, a Sufi Sheikh and one of Dagestan’s most prominent religious scholars, was killed by a female suicide bomber [ru]. The bomber was a Salafi Muslim, and the killing was a manifestation of the tension between the republic’s traditional Sunni Sufis and a growing fundamentalist movement, according to Dagestani blogger[ru] Saif Nuri. » More
Border between Russia and Mongolia. Photo: Geoff Sowrey/flickr
Russia is favored by Mongolia and North Korea just as the United States is welcomed by some of its Southeast Asian partners. At the same time, Mongolia and especially North Korea provide opportunities for Russia to raise its stakes in Northeast Asian matters.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and relative inattention by the Kremlin in the 1990s, Ulaanbaatar and Pyongyang never abandoned their attempts to renew ties with Russia. High-ranking political and military officials constantly made calls to advance political, military, economic, and cultural ties with Moscow. Positive responses came after a decade, under Russian President Putin. Putin’s visit to the DPRK and Mongolia in 2000 demonstrated the Kremlin’s new emphasis on two its former allies, whose industrial facilities and enterprises were built with Soviet assistance and technology. Their treaties of mutual assistance with Russia were replaced by treaties of good neighborliness in 1993 (Mongolia) and 2001 (North Korea). And the $11 billion debts incurred during the Soviet era, were resolved favorably for Mongolians in 2003 and North Koreans in 2012. As a result, Russia seems to have secured its stake in key infrastructure development projects. In North Korea, Russia will invest in the trans-Korean railway, a gas pipeline, special economic zones, and education. Russia will invest in the trans-Mongolian railway, its extension, and the mining of uranium and aluminum in Mongolia. Economic cooperation with Mongolia and North Korea will play an important role in Putin’s agenda to develop Russia’s long-neglected Far East and Siberia and to secure Chinese and East Asian markets for its mineral exports. » More
OSCE Ministerial Council meeting opening in Vilnius, 2011
Much has been written about the OSCE’s crisis. Much of it is true. Still, the future of this organization may be less grim than many predict. Current developments in Europe suggest that the role and relevance of the OSCE may actually grow in the years ahead.
For one thing, following the ambivalent outcome of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a conspicuous intervention fatigue among European publics. The ‘crisis’ of military crisis management is bound to exacerbate as the European debt crisis translates into shrinking defense budgets. There will likely be a shift towards more subtle, civilian, long-term approaches to conflict resolution and peacebuilding – the type of measures the OSCE has focused on.
Looking at the EU and NATO, there is also growing enlargement fatigue. This points to obvious limits to how far stability in Europe can be accomplished by expanding the Euro-Atlantic security community. By implication, the pan-European OSCE, with twice as many member states as the EU and NATO, is bound to gain traction again. » More
Russian Military Exercise 2010. Photo by George Malets. Copyright Demotix (08/26/2010)
In June and July Russia held several military exercises with its regional partners. There are more to come in August and September. Of course, none of the planned events are quite as extensive as the one that an Iranian news agency falsely reported on June 19th, in a bit of wishful thinking. There won’t be joint war games involving 90,000 troops held in Syria by Russia, China and Iran.
Even then, the exercises are numerous and heavily concentrated in Central Asia. In June there was Peaceful Mission-2012 [ru], held by five Shanghai Group countries (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) in Tajikistan. There were 2000 troops involved in the antiterrorist themed war game, of which Russia contributed 350. » More