As a result of the Kremlin’s preoccupation with its failing war in Ukraine, which is taking place more than 2,400 kilometres away, Russia’s dominium over its former Soviet empire is beginning to show symptoms of unravelling. Moscow has lost its aura and its hold, leaving a chaotic vacuum that once loyal former Soviet satraps, as well as China, are pushing to fill. This is happening because Moscow has lost its grip and its aura.
On the mountain-flanked steppes of the southern part of Kyrgyzstan, the consequence has been disastrous in just one distant village: houses have been reduced to rubble, a school has been burnt out, and a gut-wrenching odour is emanating from the rotting corpses of 24,000 dead hens.
A brief but bloody border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, both members of a Russia-led military alliance dedicated to preserving peace but which did nothing to stop the mayhem, claimed the lives of all of these people last month. It was the worst violence to hit the area since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In an interview conducted in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Sadyr Japarov, the president of Kyrgyzstan, bemoaned the fact that his country’s leaders are preoccupied with events in Ukraine.
Prior to President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Russia played an outsized role in the affairs of Central Asia and also the volatile Caucasus area, in what had passed for a far-flung Pax Russica. However, this all changed when Russia attacked Ukraine. It hastened the deployment of soldiers to Kazakhstan in January to assist the administration there in quelling a surge of violent domestic upheaval. In the year 2020, Russia sent around 2,000 armed “peacekeepers” to the Caucasus region in order to put into effect a ceasefire that Moscow had negotiated between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Armenia is seething with anger right now. Its president, Nikol Pashinyan, who has been a close friend, made an unsuccessful plea to Moscow for assistance last month in an effort to stop Azerbaijan from continuing its assaults. Armenia is now threatening to withdraw from Russia’s military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, as a result of Russia’s passivity, which has the country fuming.
The Kazakh government, which Mr. Putin assisted in propping up in January, is veering far away from the Kremlin’s script regarding Ukraine, and it is looking to China for assistance in securing its own territory, parts of which are inhabited largely by ethnic Russians, and which Russian nationalists view as belonging to Russia. This is despite the fact that Russian nationalists view these parts of Kazakhstan as being a part of Russia.
Mr. Putin has long marketed Moscow’s security alliance as Russia’s response to NATO and an anchor of Russia’s status as the dominating power throughout broad swathes of the territory once occupied by the Soviet Union. This has been done for a number of reasons. However, the bloc is hardly functional at this point. This year, five of its six members — Armenia, Belarus, Russia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan — have been actively engaged in hostilities, while the sixth member, Kazakhstan, has experienced terrible internal unrest.
As a direct result of this, China is re-establishing its authority, while the United States, seeing an opportunity, is putting pressure on Kyrgyzstan to sign a new pact for bilateral cooperation. It would serve as a replacement for one that was demolished in 2014 as a result of Russian pressure that led to the closure of an American air base outside of Bishkek that had been established to provide fuel to aeroplanes flying over Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan said that the award had generated “bewilderment” as it was revealed by Moscow “while the blood of innocent victims had not yet cooled on Kyrgyz territory.”
In the southwestern region of Kyrgyzstan known as Batken, where the border fighting broke out, the rolling steppes are dotted with rocky outcrops. These steppes are home to a jumble of competing ethnic groups, including impoverished farmers and herders who, armed with farm implements, have been engaging in what they refer to as “shovel wars” for decades.
But in the last month, this conflict escalated rapidly into a full-blown war, with shells even reaching the regional capital of Batken city, which is located dozens of kilometres away from the contested border.
It is a particularly terrible image in the town of Ak-Sai, where the cages of a big farm are now filled with the bodies of hundreds of hens. It seems that the birds died of asphyxiation when their mud and brick coop was set on fire.
The local authorities said that the Kyrgyz owner of the company, who had remained behind to protect his flock of poultry, was killed when marauding Tajiks opened fire on him in his office. Outside, the ground is covered with feathers and spent shell casings.
The editor of Eurasianet, Mr. Leonard, described the situation as having a “perverse aspect” by stating that “both sides are members of the same military alliance” and that “Russia is in leadership” of the alliance.
Jorobaev Imamalievich, who is in charge of the district administration, expressed his disappointment in a statement.