As the death toll rose from Kyrgyzstan’s violence, a refugee crisis loomed, and the humanitarian conditions worsened, leaders in Kyrgyzstan’s interim government requested Russian peacekeeping troops. Some Russian soldiers manned a military base in the country, although that base is in the north of the country, far from the Ferghana Valley.  Yet the Russians demurred.

The Russian decision to intervene seems contrary to previous policy decisions taken alongside humanitarian rhetoric, namely the 2008 invasion of Georgia to aid the Ossetian population of the South Ossetian breakaway region, after Georgian troops moved in to the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinval(i). Citing Georgian genocide against the Ossetian population, although the Georgian government and several observers argued the Russians were more politically motivated than humanitarian. For some current analysts, Russian interest in a humanitarian policy is further exposed by her lack of action in Kyrgyzstan.  Commenting for the New York Times, Fiona Hill linked the Georgian and the Kyrgyzstan cases and Russian action: “One would imagine this kind of self-declaration also comes with responsibility. They can declare their interests and the right to intervene at the time they choose, but when people ask them to intervene they are much more reluctant.”

Other observers, like Brian Whitmore in his RFE/RL feature story and op-ed, ponder a new Russian strategy of restraint — motivated perhaps by a renewed interest in multilateralism (regional multilateralism in the form of the Collective Security Treaty Organization) and the Obama-Russia reset. Whitmore is careful to juxtapose the Georgian experience and note that it is far too early to tell whether the inaction in Kyrgyzstan represents any real policy change.

To my mind, I’m not troubled about the seeming Russian hypocrisy in its lack of action in Kyrgyzstan. Large powers cannot possibly intervene for every humanitarian crisis. (Although I do concede that the Russian inaction is troubling to me personally, since I do think major powers should attempt to prioritize humanitarian concerns when they can.) As a regional power, Russia’s costs in intervention in Kyrgyzstan would have been lower than the costs of the Georgian invasion. Yet the political interest of Russia in Georgia’s fragmentation speaks a great deal to its Black Sea geopolitical interests, its rivalry with the West, its oil politics, and the desire to protect the interests of Russian citizens, as the Abkhazian and Ossetian populations in the secessionist regions had largely become.

But it’s hard to see any sort of political advantage for the Russians to act militarily in Osh and accept the costs and uncertainty that military intervention necessarily bring. The Russians had gained with the upheaval in April and the overthrow of Bakiev. The Russians would like to see the U.S. military base removed from the north, but the current Ferghana violence does not speak to any U.S.-Russian rivalry. It seems now that the Ferghana violence is ebbing. If the worse is indeed over, perhaps it’s wise that the Russians did not escalate the fog of war.

(Hat tip to Laura Adams)

Julia A. George is an assistant professor of political science at Queens College, CUNY.

Advertisements