It seems as through Eurasia is taking a fair share of airtime in a world that has plenty of things to talk about. Away from COVID-19, The US Election, Brexit and Chinese trade wars, there has been plenty of tension boiling over in the region. The tensions around Nagorno-Karabakh, Belarus’ protests and the unrest following the Kyrgyz elections provide quite some concern that the region is increasingly becoming unstable and quickly prepared to descend into civil or international war to resolve differences.
Preserving the status quo in Eurasia remains one of Russia’s top foreign policy priorities. While some of the issues may relate to underlying anti-Russian sentiment, most of the actors retain strong ties to the Kremlin and are often dependent on Russia’s loans and support. Furthermore, the countries remain strong trading partners with Russia and there doesn’t seem to be enough anti-Russian feeling (yet) to threaten the influence that the Kremlin has on the region.
That Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia’s only democratic country, remains mired in political turmoil following allegations of widespread voting violations, is a worry though. Leadership competitions are not new in country, and the nation’s first two presidents post-independence in 1991, were forced to flee the country over public protests around vote fraud and corruption. Akayev, who served from 1991 to 2005 is holed up in Moscow while Bakiyev ended up in Minsk. Atambayev spent more than a year in jail following a fierce stand off between him and successor Jeenbekov – the current round of protests appear to have freed him. Only interim president Rosa Otunbayeva appears to have escaped an all too familiar fate for the leadership of the country.
Kyrgyzstan has dramatically improved its voting procedures over the past decade in a move that none of the surrounding countries have followed – there is not yet much real political competition in Kyrgyzstan’s neighbours. To that extent Kyrgyzstan has been leading the way in bringing in the democratic way of life for its citizens, led by its people’s determined contributions. One must hope that the struggle of its people for the freedoms, rights and aspirations to live in such a democracy will not be in vain.
Meanwhile in Belarus, the news of rigged elections will have surprised few. The response though of violent protests did raise a few eyebrows. Demonstrators filled the streets in numbers that until recently would have bene unimaginable, while President Lukashenko showed no sign of stepping down, arming himself to the teeth in a bid to show confidence but which portrayed more a lack of it. His moves remain unpredictable, with the latest ploy to put forward a puppet opposition for “negotiations” by visiting jailed members of the political opposition for discussions. This move was latched onto by Western media as the first signs of an olive branch – it isn’t.
Finally, Nagorno-Karabakh. This shockingly sad flare up of relations after relative quiet adds further fuel to the fire of events in the region. Worse, it now threatens a humanitarian disaster. There are fresh attacks, impacting more than just the soldiers, but destroying homes and lives and defying hopes of ending the immediate conflict in the enclave. The hopes from a Russian-brokered ceasefire have somewhat faded as I write this and the escalation has so far killed more than 700 people, including 80 civilians.
It feels as though the whole region is back to being on a knife edge – one sincerely hopes that these localised flare ups do not turn into something bigger or more destructive that could set back the progress of the last three decades of progress since independence. All this at a time when economies are likely to be shattered from the fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic.