Golova Moya Kruzhitsa - Part 2
Posted by Patrick Barry
Several excellent analyses out today, which evidence the serious confusion over Russia's priorities in Central Asia regarding the U.S., after Kyrgyzstan's announcement that it plans to close its Manas airbase to the U.S, resulting from pressure from Moscow. On the one hand, this uncertainty is not unsurprising. As the New York Times observes, Russia's attitude toward the U.S. has so far been schizophrenic, perhaps indicating an internal Russian political debate. My own view however, is that the confusion derives primarily from tension between two Russian priorities, which would seem to pull their policy toward the U.S. in opposing directions: checking the growth of Muslim extremism in the region and establishing preeminence over Central Asia.
When it comes to achieving the former, a stronger partnership with the U.S. seems natural, since a Taliban victory in Afghanistan would likely have repercussions within the Muslim communities closer to Russia's borders. After Chechnya, Russia has no desire to stir up anxieties amongst its own Muslim minorities. Neither would it desire al-Qaeda to have a base from which to stage operations that could just as easily be directed at Moscow, as London, or New York. From this perspective, throwing increased support behind the mission in Afghanistan makes total sense.
But when it comes to the latter priority - projecting influence over the Central Asian states - Russia's stance toward the U.S. is much less friendly. Looking at some of the hot-button issues in the region, and you can see why. A American military presence in Afghanistan is bad enough, but when you combine that with basing rights in Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan, along with the possibility of Georgia and Ukraine's NATO accession, you can see why Russia would be open to a more antagonistic set of options.
For the time being, it appears as if Russia is trying to have it both ways - tightening its grip over Kyrgyzstan at the expense of the U.S., whilst simultaneously offering to help the U.S.' by offering NATO the use of transit routes through Russian territory to supply the mission in Afghanistan (but even this assistance probably accomplishes an ulterior goal of keeping Georgia from collaborating with NATO - ISAF on this issue) Whether this mixed approach is feasible in the long-term is unknown, but it seems unlikely.