Cynical Butchers


by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

On Friday, Kyrgyzstan’s interim president, Roza Otunbayeva, flew to the site of this month’s ethnic violence — and raised the estimate of the dead to 2,000.

Some 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks have become refugees, with 100,000 safely across the border in Uzbekistan and 300,000 trapped in Kyrgyzstan. Their homes have been burned, their relatives beaten, raped or slaughtered.

The Kyrgyz military and police stood by and let it happen — or pitched in. The interim government couldn’t control them, once the ethnic cleansing began.

And it matters to us. Remote Kyrgyzstan has permitted our forces to use Manas air base (named for a Kyrgyz warlord) to shuttle troops and supplies into Afghanistan. The base is vital, but our continued presence was already iffy. Now the Yankees may be told to go home.

This latest bout of butchery also matters because it fits in with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s strategy of re-establishing Russian hegemony over Central Asia. That’s why he denied a Kyrgyz request for Russian peacekeepers.

Russian soldiers may show up eventually — but not until the situation worsens. The Russians, too, have a base in Kyrgyzstan, but their troops have been under lockdown. Putin’s waiting for the other Central Asian states that belong to his Collective Security Treaty Organization to turn to him and beg. Putin wants a cloak of legitimacy, a mask of collective action.

He also wants an end to US use of that air base. But he needs the Kyrgyz government to appear to make the decision on its own. There’s going to be a lot of backroom poker.

Putin’s long-term vision keeps the Chinese out and keeps the region’s gas reserves flowing through Russian-controlled pipelines. He seeks a cut-rate version of the empire of the czars. And he’ll do whatever’s necessary to get it.

But why did neighbor suddenly turn against neighbor? With an ax?

In April, an uprising in Kyrgyzstan deposed a would-be dictator, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. He fled to Belarus (Cuba with really bad weather). But Bakiyev and his clan still had support in the country’s south, around Osh, where an influx of Uzbeks had the locals simmering.

(I’ve been to Osh. It’s a dusty, low-rise place with a struggling hospital, a few glitzy car dealerships for gangsters, and patchwork neighborhoods that were mostly ethnic slums.)

The Uzbeks are more aggressive and ambitious than the Kyrgyz, thus more successful. And Osh sits at the edge of the prized Fergana Valley, where Stalin redrew borders to dilute local power: He thrust hostile population groups together, while dividing others, leaving the Kremlin as the only effective arbiter. That valley’s been the scene of bloody eruptions since the Soviet Union collapsed.

From exile, Bakiyev used his clan and gang connections to ignite a revolt fueled by ethnic cleansing. He hoped to make Kyrgyzstan ungovernable and disrupt upcoming elections. He wanted to show that only he could guarantee peace in the valley.

The degree to which Putin’s henchmen were involved remains unclear. But only Russia benefits in the end: The weaker Kyrgyzstan becomes, the more it needs Russian protection.

Neighboring Uzbekistan — a bigger, tougher state than Kyrgyzstan — has been uncharacteristically passive, acting only to close its border against additional refugees. Why? Because the Tashkent government wants Uzbeks to stay in Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan believes it should own the entire Fergana Valley. The refugees are pawns.

Uzbekistan could intervene militarily to protect them, but a broader conflict would give Russia an excuse to come back in force. Everybody’s waiting everybody else out.

The region’s hatreds always have been deep. Now they’re deeper. Beyond the dead, lives are shattered, neighborhoods burned out, and a weak economy’s gutted. And our diplomats are at a loss.

According to our State Department, ethnic violence is an illusion. Yet it’s stunningly easy to get men to slaughter their neighbors, if the neighbor’s dialect sounds odd or there’s a subtle difference in skin tone.

A short flight from Osh, in Afghanistan, the hatreds go deeper still.

Meanwhile, we don’t know if this pogrom was a one-act play, or if it’s only intermission. And there’s nothing we can do to make a difference. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2010 NY Post

Ralph Peters’ latest book is “Endless War: Middle Eastern Islam vs. Western CivilizationHis most recent novel is “The War After Armageddon,” is on the street. His most most recent non-fiction book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.” He is Fox News’ strategic analyst.

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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