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CAUCASUS UPDATE

In this section, we publish the weekly analysis of the major events taking place in the Caucasus and beyond. The Caucasus Update is written by our Senior Editor Alexander Jackson. Click here to subscribe.

Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election on October 10th passed without incident. In light of June’s ethnic bloodshed and April’s revolution, this is a welcome relief. However, Kyrgyzstan is not out of the woods yet. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe could have a vital role to play in preventing the country from sliding back into chaos.

The vote was remarkably free and fair by regional standards (OSCE.org, October 11). Fair, however, does not mean simple. The nationalist Ata Zhurt party, led by associates of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, unexpectedly took the biggest share of votes, with 8.8%. President Roza Otunbayeva’s Social Democratic Party came second with 8.1%, followed by the pro-Russian Ar-Namys, the Respublika party and Ata Meken.

Despite an immediate scramble to build a coalition, however, events were stalled by a recount. This was launched after allegations of fraud by parties which failed to make the 5% threshold for entering parliament. As of October 29th, the recount had yet to be completed (24, October 26).

Tensions are rising. Protests over the recount delay have been stoked by an alleged assassination attempt on Ata Zhurt’s chairman (Neweurasia.net, October 25). Kamchibek Tashiyev claims that the head of Kyrgyzstan’s security services is responsible, and demonstrations in Mr Tashiyev’s support have broken out in Bishkek (AP, October 24). In the south, hostility persists between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. The potential for Ata-Zhurt’s nationalist supporters to become radicalised in the political ferment, leading to a resumption of violence in the south, is all too clear.

To safeguard the country’s fragile peace, the OSCE will be essential to preventing the situation from deteriorating. Doing so will require – as a first step, at least – the rapid deployment of the OSCE’s police monitoring mission.

The Police Advisory Group (PAG) was agreed by the OSCE on July 22, after international investigations found that the interim Kyrgyz government’s security forces were complicit in the pogroms against ethnic Uzbeks during the June riots. The mission will comprise 52 unarmed law enforcement advisers, who will monitor and assist Kyrgyz police in the south. Their top priority is to maintain stability in Osh and Jalalabad, and restore a degree of trust between the Uzbek minority and the security forces.

However, the domestic political situation has stymied the PAG’s deployment. The interim government in Bishkek caved in to domestic pressure in the run-up to the election and blocked the PAG’s arrival throughout the summer. Powerful regional politicians in the south – most notably Osh’s firebrand nationalist mayor Melis Myrzakmatov – supported noisy protests against the OSCE, claiming that the PAG would lead to the break-up of the country (RFE/RL, July 19).

This opposition has been viewed as a cover by shady strongmen at the nexus of politics, business, and organised crime, “to protect their own interests from international oversight”, according to Christopher Schwartz, Managing Editor of Neweurasia.net. Connections between these southern nationalists, Ata-Zhurt and former President Bakiyev are murky but widely attested (RFE/RL, October 8).

In any case, opposition to the police mission was significant enough for the interim government to stall on the PAG. Authorising an international intervention before the polls would have further emboldened nationalists opposed to the deployment, and further weakened the government’s political support in the south.

The results of the election seem to have confirmed this. Although the coalition-building is likely to leave nationalist groups in opposition (Carnegie Endowment, October 26), pro-Bakiyev and anti-government sentiment will remain strong in the south, regardless of the final seats in parliament.

This holds serious implications for the OSCE deployment. Even if the Social Democrats form a coalition with the Respublika and Ata Meken, their mandate will be so slim that forcing through the OSCE deployment on an unwilling south will be politically disastrous and legal obstacles, according to Mr Schwartz.

The new administration will have far bigger priorities, such as preventing the opposition from reversing the constitution and reinstalling a presidential system. It is not impossible that the south will be more or less ceded to Ata Zhurt and its allies, a quid pro quo enabling the government to stabilise its fragile rule.

The PAG, therefore, is increasingly unlikely to be sent, despite impatient reminders from the OSCE (OSCE.org, October 11). This matters, for two main reasons. Firstly, it would be another serious blow against the OSCE’s credibility. The ugly tug-of-war over the PAG’s deployment is a reminder that domestic politics can easily hamstring international interventions, even when those interventions are technical in nature, small in scale and seriously needed.

Secondly, it would leave southern Kyrgyzstan vulnerable to more instability and, conceivably, further bouts of ethnic violence. If the southern nationalists are excluded from political power, yet more polarisation and radicalism is likely. The security forces would not be immune to such an environment. In any new clashes they could again act as agents of an ethnic or political agenda – not as servants of the state.

The OSCE police mission would not be able to reverse the country’s political dynamics. Only responsible leadership by Kyrgyz politicians can do that. However, it would help to tame the southern security forces. And less tangibly, but perhaps more importantly, it would show that the OSCE is determined not to let Kyrgyzstan slide into ultra-nationalism and upheaval. As soon as a government is formed in Bishkek, the OSCE needs to insist on the mission’s deployment.



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PREVIOUS ISSUES

  Caspian Compromise Backfires for Russia and Iran, CU Issue 83, November 24, 2010
  Turkey in a Tight Spot on Missile Defense, CU Issue 82, November 11, 2010
  The OSCE and Kyrgyzstan’s Election, CU Issue 81, October 30, 2010
  Unblocking the US-Azerbaijan Relationship, CU Issue 80, October 07, 2010
  Nabucco Pipeline: Quo Vadis?, CU Issue 79, September 30, 2010
  Russia tightens its grip in the South Caucasus, CU Issue 78, August 23, 2010
  Armenian Politics: Rigidity Versus Flexibility, CU Issue 77, August 10, 2010
  Russia and Georgia: Ready To Talk?, CU Issue 76, July 21, 2010
  Can the US walk and chew gum at the same time?, CU Issue 75, July 9, 2010
  The Kyrgyzstan Crisis – A Qualified Success for Turkish Diplomacy?, CU Issue 74, June 24, 2010
  Brussels downgrades the Caucasus, CU Issue 73, June 07, 2010
  NATO’s New Strategic Concept and the Caspian Region, CU Issue 72, June 01, 2010
  Joe Biden and European Security, CU Issue 71, May 13, 2010
  Behind the US-Azerbaijan row, CU Issue 70, May 6, 2010
  Turkey and Iran: The risks of failure, CU Issue 69, April 30, 2010
  Kazakhstan, the OSCE, and the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, CU Issue 68, April 19, 2010
  The Implications of the Moscow Bombings, CU Issue 67, April 12, 2010
  Iran Manoeuvres for a role in Karabakh, CU Issue 66, April 5, 2010
  The EU and Abkhazia: Between a rock and a hard place, CU Issue 65, March 16, 2010
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  Ukraine's elections and future of GUAM, CU Issue 63, February 10, 2010
  Less Democracy, More Security: Kazakhstan and the OSCE, CU Issue 62, January 18, 2010
  Tackling the North Caucasus Insurgency: Development or Rhetoric?, CU Issue 61, January 11, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 60, January 4, 2010
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  The North Caucasus in 2009: A Bleak Forecast, CU Issue 19, January 26, 2009
  The Military Balance in Nagorno-Karabakh, CU Issue 18, January 19, 2009
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