By Ryskeldi Satke
The appearance of the Russian Federal Security special forces units in Bishkek at the end of June 2012 has created unease in the corridors of the Kyrgyz government. There is no official release from the Kremlin on the objectives of the FSB troop deployment nor any known statements available from the authorities of the Kyrgyz Republic on the matter. It has been more than two months since Russian covert reinforcement arrived in Bishkek but no local media or newspapers have reported the event yet. According to confidential sources in the government of Kyrgyzstan, the number of the FSB spetsnaz is described as significant. The source indicates that Russian special forces landed at Kant air base, which is off limits for Kyrgyz officials, in the outskirts of Bishkek.
Such sudden move from Moscow cannot be ignored as irrational but rather perceptive. Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian state that holds a record number of foreign military bases. But this is not the first time the Kremlin has gone over its limits in the Kyrgyz Republic. In June 2010, while southern Kyrgyzstan dived into mass chaos during the ethnic conflict, Moscow deployed 150 paratroopers to Bishkek without an official request. Later, Russian officials explained the action was to protect families of servicemen at Russian airbase. Nevertheless, the explanation from the Kremlin could not fit with reality since there were no families located at the base in June 2010. Murat Laumulin, a chief researcher at the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies in Almaty, says that families of Russian troops based in Kant had left Kyrgyz soil at the end of February 2010. 
There are also reports of widening gaps between the political factions of the north and the south of the country. Kyrgyz analysts suggest that there is a motive behind the increased activity of the southern political factions in the Kyrgyz Republic that are preparing for political battles in autumn 2012. Some reports state that the Ata Zhurt party has been chosen by the Kremlin as a preferable option for Russia’s interests in Kyrgyzstan at this particular time. Meanwhile, the latest visit of Kyrgyz Prime Minister Babanov to Moscow outlined yet another burst of displeasure of the Russian official top branch with the current leadership of the Kyrgyz Republic. Russian Prime Minister Medvedev reminded his Kyrgyz counterpart about the issue of the debt (USD 500 million) that is owed by Kyrgyzstan to Russia. Specifically, Medvedev said: “It must be resolved, because this debt is not of specific individuals, but of Kyrgyzstan.” 
Kyrgyz media in the meantime responded to Medvedev’s pitch by pointing at Russia’s role in the 2009 presidential elections in the republic when ex-President Bakiyev received a “bribe” (of USD 300 million) from the Kremlin that was given to shut down the U.S.-NATO base Manas in Bishkek. Kyrgyz newspapers fired back at the Russian prime minister with facts of Russian money squandered by Bakiyev’s family, part of which was used in the elections of 2009 and the rest of it in money laundering operations with Asia Universal Bank, affiliated with the ex-president’s son Maxim.
With an already growing number of Russian troops in Kyrgyzstan, a recent surge of FSB reinforcements in the republic has caused speculations among the Kyrgyz political elite. According to some opinions in the country, Russia’s special forces intelligence popped up with a certain reason that is connected to the Kremlin’s immediate plans in Kyrgyzstan. Moscow already has the FSB surveillance team in the south of Kyrgyzstan stationed in the city of Osh, where previously an ethnic conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks had taken place. The Russian military explained the need for the FSB surveillance in the Ferghana Valley by expressing concern over the issue of the drug trafficking and religious extremism in Central Asian states. 
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has designated the city of Osh in its 2012 report as a major hub of the Afghan heroin and opium in the region. The motorway from Osh to the mountains of Pamir in Tajikistan, which has a vast border with Afghanistan, accounts for up to half of the drug flow through Tajik territory.
While Russian FSB spetsnaz probe ground in Kyrgyzstan, full-scale fighting broke out in the neighboring Badakshan autonomus province (GBAO) of Tajikistan in July. It hosts one of the major drug trafficking routes that go into southern Kyrgyzstan. Dushanbe-based media sources highlighted the killing of a Tajik intelligence official in the city of Khorog as a trigger for the central authorities to execute military operations against an armed group led by local warlord Ayombekov. Multiple reports in the region indicated Ayombekov’s involvement in the trafficking of Afghan opium and heroin. Tajik newspaper Nigokh even says that a majority of the population in GBAO holds Russian citizenship, including local drug smugglers. Aside from holding foreign passports, the newspaper also mentions close ties between local warlords and Russian authorities.
As trouble has exploded in Tajikistan’s restive province, Russia’s political experts have joined the campaign of fear widely promoted in the Russian media with claims of a possible spread of the Islamic threat in the Ferghana Valley of Central Asia. Simultaneously, Tajik opposition figures have made numerous appearances on Russian TV channels, predicting a widespread uprising against the regime in Tajikistan. Regional and Western analysts see a motive behind Russian media hype over political developments in the region. Recently, Uzbekistan dumped its membership in the Kremlin-led security organization, the CSTO. Alternatively, motivated by political interests, Dushanbe has begun to squeeze Moscow regarding a Russian military base (201st motorized division located in Tajikistan) extension agreement while negotiating with U.S. officials on geopolitical arrangements that are hard to refuse from Tajikistan’s point of view.
The Kremlin, outflanked by the Americans in its own backyard, persists in bilateral agreements with the states of Central Asia. And the only reliable ground Moscow has at the moment is the Kyrgyz Republic, which holds a rising number of Russian intelligence holdouts and military bases in the region. Kyrgyz analysts share concerns of an imbalanced equation that is taking place in Kyrgyzstan at the present. According to them, there is a possibility that the Ferghana Valley may become a staging ground for ethnic and territorial conflicts as Central Asia is still being transformed in the geopolitical process. The south of the Kyrgyz Republic could become a center for possible critical scenarios, Kyrgyz experts say, describing turbulence after the 2010 ethnic bloodshed. Moreover, sources in the government of Kyrgyzstan reflect on the volatile political field of the factional split between the north and the south that has been well figured by the Kremlin’s intelligence over the years. What’s more disturbing in the outcome of the current situation in the Ferghana Valley is that combined with internal political issues, the south of the Kyrgyz Republic has become a “black hole” for many kinds of illegal activities in the region (drug trafficking, arms smuggling, ground for black operations, etc.) by some opinions in the Kyrgyz government.
In August, Russia was able to press the Kyrgyz government with a positive outcome on the economic package and the extension options for the Russian joint military installation after 2014.  According to leading Moscow-based newspaper Kommersant, the Kremlin had the Kyrgyz side agree on the terms of the management turnover to the Russian economic team with the hydropower water dam (Kambarata 1) in the initial stage while the Kyrgyz government will still be in the deal with a restriction of not being able to operate its 50% share of the project until the Russian investment will be paid off. Regional analysts believe that Moscow’s forward involvement in the construction of the hydropower station in Kyrgyzstan means only bad news for Uzbekistan. Tashkent has been openly uneasy with the building of such projects in the upstream of the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers. One of the bright examples of Uzbek President Karimov’s displeasure with the trend can be seen in Tajikistan, where the stalled project of the Rogun dam has led President Karimov to name it a “stupid project.” Aside from the economic blockade driven by the Uzbek government, which Tajikistan found itself in after going forward with building the Rogun hydro plant, the relations between the Central Asian neighbors remain extremely severed as a result. With the Russian-Kyrgyz joint hydro station project advancement, there should be no doubt that the Ferghana Valley will go through some hot seasons ahead given the fact of the existing unresolved issues between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
On a separate note, the Kyrgyz government rushed to promote its success with its Kremlin counterparts highlighting Bishkek’s strategy of cutting the terms of the Russian joint military base. According to the Kyrgyz president’s spokesman, Moscow has been requesting a 49-year stay whereas Bishkek insisted on 15 years. Nevertheless, Russian newspaper Kommersant reports quite a different picture which says that the Kremlin wanted to have a 10-year lease while Kyrgyzstan offered 5 years, but in the end Moscow walked away with a 15-year agreement. Discrepancies between media reports in Russia and Kyrgyzstan suggest that the reality of the bilateral agreements is more complicated than it seems.
1. The Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan; Murat Laumulin, Chief Researcher of the KazISS under the President of the RK, Doctor of Political Science – April 2010 in Kyrgyzstan: as seen from Kazakhstan Central Asia’s Affairs QUARTERLY ANALYTICAL REVIEW 3(31)/2010 .
2. Kabar News; Babanov and Dmitry Medvedev discussed Kyrgyzstan’s debt (July 2012).
3. Kommersant; Российские пограничники опередили полицейских ОБСЕ (September 2010).
4. Kommersant; Пошли по базам (July 2012).
Ryskeldi Satke is a freelance contributor with research institutions and news organizations in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Turkey. His contact e-mail is: [email protected]