A post-Soviet arc of crisis stretching from the oil-rich Caspian
Sea to the mountains of Central Asia is beginning to worry regional
experts that fresh upheavals and revolutions are on the horizon.
Varying mixtures of social misery, authoritarianism, corrupt
governance, and outside agitation continue to fuel political and
social turmoil. Violence has already marked the run-up to Sunday's
election in Kyrgyzstan to replace former President Askar Akayev, who
fled the country in March after after a one-day, lightning
Making the region increasingly important to Moscow, Beijing, and
Washington, many of the six mainly-Muslim former Soviet states of
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and
Kyrgyzstan contain vast reserves of oil and gas.
Most are also allies in the battle to contain Islamic extremism
and fight terrorism. The US has maintained air bases in Uzbekistan
and Kyrgyzstan to provide support for its effort in Afghanistan. But
on Tuesday, a regional alliance led by China and Russia called for
the US to set a deadline for its departure from the region.
Many see this as a move by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
to bolster the regional clout of China - hungry for Central Asian
resources - and remove US influence from Russia's own backyard.
Because these countries are on the doorstep of Afghanistan, where
there is a post-Taliban surge in poppy production, they are also
known as a lucrative throughway for narcotics. Some Russian experts
say drug lords often make common cause with religious extremists, to
sow rebellion and expand their influence.
"Everyone is watching with very deep concern as the drug pipeline
widens and deepens, while political stability deteriorates in some
parts of Central Asia," says Sergei Kolmakov, an expert with PBN, an
international strategic consultancy.
All of these countries face near-term social and political
challenges that threaten to ignite upheavals, which in turn could
spread shock waves around the region.
* In Kyrgyzstan, since Mr. Akayev was unseated, the country of 5
million has staggered through economic stagnation and political
crisis under its provisional president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Riots rocked the southern city of Osh last month, where unrest in
Uzbekistan has radicalized many, experts say. Two weeks ago a crowd
supporting banned presidential candidate Urmat Baryktabasov stormed
Bishkek's main government compound before being ejected by baton-
wielding security forces.
Six candidates are vying in Sunday's presidential polls, with an
electoral alliance between Mr. Bakiyev, who hails from the
ethnically diverse south, and northern strongman Felix Kulov
considered the most likely victor.
Experts doubt that a successful vote will end Kyrgyzstan's season
of unrest. "The new Kyrgyz leadership has failed to create a clear
and legitimate system of power, recognized by all," says Alexei
Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies
in Moscow. "There is a growing tendency toward anarchy there, and it
looks like anything might happen."
* In Uzbekistan, an uneasy calm has set in since government
forces put down a rebellion centered in the Ferghana Valley town of
Andijan in May. …