Shortsighted policies of U.S., Russia contributed to political unrest in Kyrgyzstan, Rowan professor says

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The hands-off approach the United States and Russia have taken thus far to address the violence in Kyrgyzstan is not unlike the policies both countries have maintained for years in the country, says Rowan University professor Lawrence Markowitz, a scholar specializing in the politics of Central Asia.

The hands-off approach the United States and Russia have taken thus far to address the violence in Kyrgyzstan is not unlike the policies both countries have maintained for years in the country, says Rowan University professor Lawrence Markowitz, a scholar specializing in the politics of Central Asia.

Both countries maintain important military bases in Kyrgyzstan but have contributed little in the way of institution building in the region, says Markowitz, an assistant professor of political science at Rowan, who has written widely on political and security issues and nationalist movements in Central Asia.

Manas, the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan, is significant because it services American efforts in Afghanistan. Likewise, Russia, which sees Kyrgyzstan as its backyard, also maintains a military base there. But neither the U.S. nor Russia has done much to quell the political climate in Kyrgyzstan, Markowitz says.

"Both the U.S. and Russia have pursued parallel policies that are equally shortsighted," says Markowitz. "The U.S. has pursued the shortsighted policy of putting a base there and not really focusing on long-term institution-building in that country. I think that was a contributing factor to the state decline and the involvement of criminal activity in politics.

"Russia's approach to Kyrgyzstan, and Central Asia generally, has been largely reactive, responding to the U.S. presence by reasserting its influence in the region."

Political strife--not inter-ethnic violence, as some believe--is at the root of the rioting in Kyrgyzstan, according to Markowitz.

"There's a visible component of ethnic strife, but underneath are real politics," says Markowitz. "The rioting is not really inter-ethnic at its roots.

"In Yugoslavia or Rwanda, you had cases of state-directed killings of different ethnic groups. That's not really what's going on here. In Kyrgyzstan, it's the use of violence as a tool in political competition."

As 100,000 Uzbek refugees flee Kyrgyzstan for Uzbekistan--and with the Uzbekistan border now closed--both Russia and the United States have responsibilities to assist in humanitarian efforts, Markowitz maintains.

"The humanitarian issue is enormously important and it's going to remain a major problem in the region for some time," says Markowitz. "Intervention is needed to assist refugees and to assist with a military presence to quell the violence. And then institutions need to be developed to rebuild the country so that this doesn't happen again."

Reach Markowitz directly at markowitzl@rowan.edu or 856-873-1320.

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