Is it naive to hope that the U.S. and Russia will work together to help Kyrgyzstan?
Is Kyrgyzstan offering a new opportunity for the U.S. and Russia to work together on security issues? This is what Washington Post columnist David Ignatius argues:
Watching the deteriorating security situation in Kyrgyzstan, we have a Cold War reflex to forecast a new flash point between the United States and Russia. In reality, it's the opposite -- this remote and feeble Central Asian country is offering a new opportunity for Moscow and Washington to work as partners....
What's refreshing about this joint U.S.-Russian approach to security is that it gets away from the reflexive -- and misconceived -- idea that the two countries are locked in a "great game" for influence in Central Asia. That 19th-century notion of inevitable competition was prevalent among many U.S. analysts during the 1990s, and it led to some half-baked strategies to expand U.S. sway and combat the Russians.
A more coherent view is that Russia and America should be natural partners in Central Asia. Certainly, they share the same enemies -- the militant Islamic groups and criminal gangs that threaten stability in the region. President Obama has been pushing that line since he took office, and U.S. officials say he has discussed Kyrgyzstan, and the need to avoid confrontation there, in nearly every meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
That Washington officials say there is no "zero-sum" game in Central Asia and the Caucasus is not new, they have been saying it for years. But the U.S.'s actions -- the efforts to build pipelines with the express purpose of avoiding Russia, pushing NATO expansion, reflexive support for Georgia -- belied those claims. If the U.S. is really serious about cooperating with Russia here, though, that would be huge. And Ignatius should know -- he is close (to put it gently) to the Washington foreign/security policy establishment. So for better or worse, you can take what he writes as indicative of current thinking in D.C.
A perhaps bigger question, of course, is whether Russia would be interested cooperating with the U.S. on this. It seems hard to fathom, and the Russians have been quite a bit more up front than the Americans in their view that influence in its near abroad is in fact a zero-sum game.
But things are changing quickly. If Russia is serious about its new, more pro-western foreign policy, and the U.S. is serious about its "reset," then Kyrgyzstan would certainly be the place to show it.