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RIA Novosti
May 30, 2005
RUSSIA, U.S. DESTINED TO COOPERATE IN CENTRAL ASIA

MOSCOW (Sergei Markedonov, for RIA Novosti) - Many people in Russia see America's presence in the post-Soviet (Eurasian) area as virtually an attempt to end Russia's national sovereignty.

Alexander Dugin, a prominent theoretician of Russian traditionalism, recently said the United States was trying to penetrate the "canonical territory" of Russian diplomacy. However, the military-political presence of the world's No.1 superpower in some ex-Soviet republics might become an important stabilizing factor.

The era of "peaceful" and "violet" revolutions in the Commonwealth of Independent States is coming to an end. An era of "awakening" and political (and societal) self-determination of Central Asia is about to start. We witnessed the first attempt to secure the latter in the early 1990s in Tajikistan. A second Taliban state after Afghanistan was not established in this newly independent country only because Russia played the role of regional police force at the right time and the right place. Today, Russia does not have the strength or resources to prevent the export of Islamic revolution even beyond the borders of Central Asia.

The events in Uzbekistan can be called either a prelude or a dress rehearsal of the "green" revolution. In using force, the Uzbek authorities displayed their fundamental weakness rather than strength and might. The political culture of the Muslim East does not tolerate publicity. All political discussions are held here behind closed doors, and the rivalry does not leave the doors of offices. The use of military force is, if you want, an Eastern form of public politics, or an attempt to bring politics onto the street and include the crowd in the "sacred ritual." As a result, the authorities reveal their inability to discuss and solve all issues in the corridors of power, and, so, become accessible. Therefore, President Islam Karimov's questionable success in stabilizing the situation should not fool anyone.

The "awakening" of Asia will not be limited to Uzbekistan. Even Kyrgyzstan, with its secular state system and the highest level of democracy in the region, could not avoid revolutionary excesses and public and religious disturbances. The Kyrgyz-Uzbek border cannot be a bulwark in the way of Islamic radicals, who enjoy mass support in the region because of the total corruption of authorities and the absence of organized secular opposition. The Kazakh-Uzbek border also provides weak protection.

Recognizing the "transparency" of borders in Central Asia, we can easily imagine the Uzbek experience spreading up to Russia's remote regions. If you consider that Russia is quickly losing control over the CIS, the need to find an additional police force in the region becomes obvious.

Is Russia ready today to single-handedly police Uzbekistan, which is slowly drowning in the waves of an imminent Islamic revolution? Will the Collective Security Treaty finally work as it should? Both are rhetorical questions. In that respect, the growing presence of the United States in entral Asia can be viewed as an interesting prospect for Russian diplomacy.

The U.S. presence in the region does not contravene Russia's interests in any way. Contrary to common stereotypes and cliches, the U.S. is not striving to conquer all of post-Soviet Eurasia.

From the first days of its existence as an independent state, Russia identified the former Soviet republics as a zone of its priority strategic interests. As the legal successor to the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation aimed to play a particular role in Eurasian geopolitics. Representatives of the Russian political and business elites, and security bodies had a certain advantage in Eurasia over their counterparts from the United States, Turkey, Iran and Europe. The Soviet past united Russian officials, businessmen and leaders of the new independent states.

However, since 1991, Russia's geopolitical advantage has been slowly eroded. The Russian leadership believed the former Soviet republics would continue to be pro-Russian by default. In addition, they completely disregarded the principle of "national egoism." The Russian elite failed to offer an attractive modernization project to local elites, which meant Russia lost its military-political influence in the region. Consequently, America's penetration into Eurasia was, to a large extent, objective and reasonable. Russia needs stability on its southern and eastern borders. If Moscow does not have the resources to be a regional police force alone, then surely it will be better to share this role with Washington.

The emergence of the U.S. in Central Asia is not a part of a conspiracy against Russia. It is an objective reality, which Russia must willingly accept. Therefore, the United States and Russia are destined to cooperate in the region, as the former possesses the necessary material resources, and the latter has practical experience in governing political processes in Central Asian republics.

Sergei Markedonov, Candidate of Science (History), is the head of the ethnic relations department at the Institute for Political and Military Analysis.