November 27, 2012: Strategy Page
Russia has offered Kyrgyzstan $1.1 billion to upgrade their army. The Kyrgyz government has sort-of accepted and the first shipment of weapons will arrive in seven months. Kyrgyz troops will receive new rifles and machine-guns, armored vehicles, trucks, helicopters, communications gear and medical facilities. Some of this equipment is designed for use in mountains, which Kyrgyzstan has a lot of. What Kyrgyzstan does not have a lot of is soldiers. Its armed forces have shrunk since independence (in 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved) to the point where the army only contains 15,000 troops. A quarter of those are draftees (who serve only 12 months), the rest are long-term volunteers. The only troops that can really be depended on are two thousand who received training from NATO. Russia is making this generous donation with the understanding that Kyrgyzstan will have less to do with the United States and NATO.
While Islamic radicalism has been declared the major threat by Central Asian governments, the real problem is corruption and bad government. These problems provide Islamic radicals with an opportunity (to promise clean government via a religious dictatorship.) Experience elsewhere (like Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan) has shown that this approach doesn't work. But Central Asians are desperate for some relief, and this gives the Islamic radicals some traction.
Kyrgyzstan recently changed to a parliamentary form of government, to eliminate the threat of a "president for life" problem so common in Central Asia. Elections were held two years ago, with the new government formed after much bickering.
The name of the country, Kyrgyzstan, means "Land of the 40 Clans." Democracy advocates, largely an urban minority, have not been able to get most people to away from a "clan first" mentality. Meanwhile, the drug gangs have reached key officials. The Drug Control Agency has been abolished, and that led to a 90 percent reduction in drug seizures. Government corruption, in general, is on the rise. Kyrgyzstan has long been considered one of the most corrupt nations on the planet and more democracy has not done much to change that.
Russia continues its energetic diplomatic, intelligence and police efforts to interrupt the flow of heroin from Afghanistan, through Tajikistan, then via Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, into Russia. These drugs are killing at least 30,000 Russians a year, and are a major cause of the spread of AIDS there as well. Russia believes that a quarter of Afghan heroin production (90 percent of the world total) is sold in Russia. The Central Asian nations, and Russia, are concerned about plans by NATO forces to withdraw from Afghanistan in the next two years. The fear is that the drug gangs will take over, as they are the wealthiest force in the country, and cash is a mighty weapon. Despite this, Russia has had increasing success in Tajikistan, with local police and border guards catching more drugs headed for Russia, and halting more drug refining chemicals being smuggled into Afghanistan.
Kazakhstan, with the help of the United States, has completed the removal of 13 tons of weapons grade uranium and plutonium (enough to make nearly 800 nuclear bombs) to a secure storage site (and eventual conversion into fuel for nuclear power plants). Kyrgyzstan is apparently content with the new deal (negotiated two years ago) for the continued use of Manas air base by NATO forces. The U.S. has been operating there for over a decade now, despite constant Russian efforts to get the yanks out.