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Russia moves to strengthen its presence in Central Asia in the wake of Barack Obama’s rise to power in Washington

By Ardain Isma

CSMS Magazine Staff Writer

The announcement made on Wednesday by Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev (left in the picture) on the upcoming closure of a US military base in his country was received as no surprise to Russia watchers. This announcement was long overdue. Kyrgyzstan, a small Central Asian country which once was one of the 15 republics that made up the old Soviet Union, was long considered as one of the major flashpoints in the hunt for the snow leopard in Central Asia. When the United States signed an agreement with the Kyrgyz leadership to lease an old Soviet base in their country in the aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan, Russia was infuriated. US military presence in Central Asia has long constituted a blatant embarrassment for the Kremlin leadership and an “undeniable” weakness of the Russian Bear.   

            But in proxy politic, the ability to deliver concretely is what resonates with glee in the eye of the beholder. When the US invaded the old Silk Road earlier in the decade, the opportunity to control it and maintain it for the foreseeable future was truly there. Russia was in no position to master the practical resistance to forestall it. The Russia’s army was in disarray, and the country relied only on its strategic deterrence as the ultimate defense mechanism against foolish intruders. Animosities against Mother Russia for hundreds of years of Russian domination against its tiny neighbors were finally coming out of the open, trickling down to the smallest neighbors like Kyrgyzstan—but only with tacit assurance from the US that the Bear will always be neutralized.

            It did not take long, however, for the newly emerged Central Asian independent states to discover that behind the anti-Russian rhetoric professed by US envoys in their counties lies nothing but a hollow dialectic, empty and dangerous. Eight years of an economic downturn virtually paralyzed the United States foreign policy now relying solely on vague promises of democracy in which leaders in Central Asia will never embrace, for this will undoubtedly threaten their grip on power. Despised by their own people and beholden to Mother Russia for their security, governments in Central Asia will never trade their longevity in exchange for some elusive promise of wealth.

            Russia is now no longer a country at a crossroad soul searching for a true identity. It has revitalized its strength—both economically and militarily. The Kremlin leadership bears no embarrassment to tell the world and, especially Western Europe and North America, that the Bear is back, fully awakened from hibernation and flexing its muscles against anyone who dares threatening its hegemony over what it calls its own backyard.

            For more than 3 years now, Russia has been on a mission to make once again its power felt, forging strategic alliances with India and China, security alliance with former Soviet Central Asia, managing to inject further malaise within NATO governments in Europe, decimating Georgia’s army while effectively denying the US and Western Europe the extravagant entry to the vast oil wells around the Caspian Sea and eyeing on the United States’ own backyard: Latin America.

            Having possessed all the logistics and the wherewithal to sustain it, the Kremlin leadership wants to make it clear to the world and to the United States in particular that the country will never relinquish its “right” to be an imperial power.  

Drawing a line in the sand in Central Asia                     

In a latest move to bolster its security alliance with six other ex-Soviet countries, on Wednesday Russia and its partners— Armenia, Belarus and four Central Asian nations, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan announced the formation of a joint rapid reaction force; something that observers believe falls in line with Russia’s continuing effort to curb U.S. influence in energy-rich Central Asia. The announcement came during a summit in Moscow of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, only a day after Kyrgyzstan said it would end the U.S. lease of an air base that supports military operations in Afghanistan. The eviction of U.S. troops will certainly mark a victory for Moscow in the superpowers’ war for influence in Central Asia.

            The move will strengthen the military dimension of the alliance, which until now has served mostly as a forum for security consultations. The force is expected to consist of about 10,000 men and operate under a central command—a huge jump in military personnel from the 3,000 it once had. According to the Russia’s foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko, Russian paratroopers would form the bulk of the force. And speculation on Russia’s intent after the dramatic announcement grew when Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin said on Wednesday that Kyrgyzstan may host some of the newly formed rapid reaction forces at the base currently leased by the U.S. military.

Diplomatic victory with a price

According to the Associated Press, Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced his intention to shut the base “after Russia agreed to provide Kyrgyzstan with $2 billion in loans plus another $150 million in financial aid. The lease deal obliges Kyrgyzstan to give the U.S. 180 days notice to clear the base. U.S. officials say no formal eviction notice has been received and the U.S. embassy in Kyrgyzstan said talks on the base would continue.” The Kyrgyz government has already sent draft eviction legislation to the parliament also on Wednesday, and Kyrgyz National Security Council chief Adakhan Madumarov said in Moscow that the decision would not be reconsidered and “there is no way back,” dashing any hope that Washington still has rooms to circumvent the latest diplomatic setback.

            Gen. David Petraeus, According to AP, who now commands U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, visited the region few weeks earlier, “voicing confidence that the base would continue to operate.”  The trench diplomatic warfare around the Caspian Sea, which is believed to contain the world’s third-largest energy reserves, has been compared to the 19th century Great Game for dominance in the region between the British Empire and Czarist Russia. And in a move to silence all hope, Russia currently purchases the core of Central Asian gas, a shrewd maneuver as the Kremlin tries to preserve its monopoly on transit of the region’s oil and gas to global markets

Vladimir Putin: the architect of the new Russian nationalism

One man at the center of Russia’s resurgence of military superpower and outright nationalism is Vladimir Putin, who now holds the post of Prime Minister after controlling the presidency for 8 years. And despite the fact the country has elected a new president, Dmitry Medvedev, many analysts still believe the real power continues to rest into the hands of Putin. During his first term as president, Vladimir Putin remained coy to the United States’ diplomatic offensive in the region.  But as Russia slowly regained its strength, its opposition to US presence in Central Asia became more vocal.

            Russia secured its own air base in Kyrgyzstan in 2003, and then scored a major victory in 2005, when Uzbekistan evicted U.S. troops from an air base near the Afghan border in protest against criticism for cracking down on opposition forces in the city of Andijan. Many critics think the Kyrgyz base may be used as a bargaining chip in the Kremlin’s talks with Washington as Russia hopes to win concessions from Barak Obama’s new administration over missile defense and NATO’s eastward expansion. That assertion carries no weight for Russia considers the security of its sphere of influence as more vital for its imperial status and regional dominance than few US missile warheads on its western border, which will never seriously undermine its strategic deterrence.

Note: Dr. Ardain Isma is the chief editor for CSMS Magazine and the executive director of the Center For Strategic And Multicultural Studies. He teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at Nova Southeastern University. He is a novelist and the author of several essays on multiculturalism and Caribbean politics. He may be reached at publisher@csmsmagazine.org.

Also see Russia-Belarus pact: a move to strengthen their strategic deterrence 

Russian Strategic Bombers in Venezuelan Territory while instability grows in Eurasia 

Russia’s victory in Georgia: a blow to US military and diplomatic efforts in the Caucuses 

Russian military repels Georgian troops from South Ossetia

As the war of words escalates in the Caucasus between Moscow and Tbilisi, Russian-US geopolitical tensions sharpen 

Russia’s new era?

Vladimir Putin solidifies his hold on power in Russia

Russia’s new interest in Southeast Asia

Russia and China in a strategic alliance to counter NATO’s global ambitions

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