Central Asia Spurning All Anti-Terror Coalition Suitors
In the two weeks since Saudi Arabia announced that it was forming a yet another "coalition" to combat Islamist terror, the allegiances of the former Soviet states have come under increasing scrutiny. All of them, however, appear to believe that they have little to gain from picking a side and continue to spurn the advances from various suitors, including Russia and the United States in addition to the Saudis.
When Saudi Arabia announced its 34-member coalition of majority-Muslim states, there was a conspicuous lack of any post-Soviet republics in its ranks. Azerbaijan said it was considering the idea, and apparently still is.
A Saudi newspaper reported that Tajikistan's ambassador to Riyadh said that Dushanbe was considering the idea, and that President Emomali Rahmon would discuss the idea during his visit to Saudi Arabia in January. But the same day, that was denied by the country’s deputy foreign minister, Parviz Davlatzoda, who told the Russian news agency TASS, "We do not consider this at all."
Part of Tajikistan's reluctance is no doubt due to Moscow's hostile attitude toward the Saudi coalition. The Russian press has heaped scorn on the notion of the coalition; one journalist asked President Vladimir Putin about it, noting that "This will be an anti-Russian alliance, and it includes Turkey. This is very dangerous." Putin played the good cop, though:
With regard to the coalition created in Saudi Arabia. We do not think this coalition will have an anti-Russian slant. You mentioned Turkey, which we do not consider hostile. They have committed a hostile act against our plane, but saying that we consider Turkey a hostile state would not be true – our relations have indeed soured, and I am not sure yet how we will get past this situation, but in any case, the ball is not in our court, but Turkey’s. However, the coalition will also include Egypt and other countries. This alliance was initiated by Saudi Arabia. We have both different and similar approaches to resolving the Syrian crisis, and we maintain contact with Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, the U.S. has its own coalition; President Obama is fond of claiming that 65 countries have joined forces with the U.S. against ISIS, though few of those are anything other than a name on a list. The U.S. coalition is not limited to Muslim states, and it includes one post-Soviet state: Georgia, which will generally sign up for any American initiative.
Washington, too, is busy trying to recruit the Central Asian states to its coalition. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Daniel Rosenblum held a conference call with regional reporters last week and was asked about Uzbekistan's potential participation. "We're continuing to talk about that with our partners in Uzbekistan," he said, according to news website CA-news.org. (The State Department did not release a transcript of the call.) "There is a role for every state and we will discuss this with Uzbekistan, what role it will be able to play."
Putin, in his press conference, did take a shot at the shot at the Saudi and U.S. coalitions:
On a separate note, in order to effectively address the challenges facing us in fighting terrorism, we must join our efforts rather than disperse our possibilities. In fact, I am not quite sure what has happened. The United States has created an alliance that includes all those countries, including Saudi Arabia. What is missing? Why was it necessary to create another alliance, if there is already one led by the United States? Do they have a plan of their own? Are there any internal contradictions? There may be contradictions.
Russia, of course, is conducting its own bombing campaign against ISIS (more precisely, against anti-government rebel groups in Syria), in a coalition of sorts with Iran, Iraq, and Syria. But its efforts to get its post-Soviet nominal allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization on its side have proven fruitless.
What is perhaps most remarkable about this is that, first, these rosters of coalitions are nearly meaningless except as a name on a piece of paper, and yet the post-Soviet states are sitting it out. And second, that in spite of the largely symbolic nature of these coalitions, Russia seems -- Putin's public pronouncements notwithstanding -- to see them as expressions of loyalty or disloyalty. As one headline put it, "What Will Tajikistan Choose? The CSTO or the Islamic Anti-Terror Coalition?"
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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