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Kyrgyzstan Review, 10 years ago

[20.03.23] States In Central Asia, Caucasus Brace For Iraq Blitz Consequences

Governments in Central Asia and the Caucasus tightened security precautions March 20 after US President George W. Bush ordered the start of a military offensive to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Only two states, Georgia and Uzbekistan, firmly back the Bush administration's war effort. Others are increasingly wary of the conflict's potential consequences
Authorities across Central Asia and the Caucasus say police details are being reinforced around US and British embassies and other diplomatic facilities. In Kyrgyzstan, officials also announced that security measures around the US military air base outside Bishkek are being strengthened. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan announced that it has increased the monitoring of the country's airspace.
Although officials discount the possibility of military operations directly affecting either Central Asia or the Caucasus, the relative proximity of both regions to the theater of military operations has authorities concerned about ancillary problems. Specifically, both Georgia and Kyrgyzstan have expressed concern about undesired population movements sparked by the fighting.
On March 19, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Japaridze said that Islamic radical fighters currently in Iraq may attempt to flee the US blitz and seek a safe haven in Georgia
Political experts in Azerbaijan are worried about how the US attack against Iraq will affect the public mood. Observers say many Azeris oppose the use of force against fellow Muslims in Iraq. A few men have even appeared at the Iraqi embassy in Baku seeking to volunteer to go to Iraq and fight American troops
The economic ramifications of the Iraq conflict may also be enormous for both Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, two states that are relying heavily on the development of natural resources to fuel domestic growth. Already, Natiq Aliyev, head of Azerbaijan's state oil company, has warned that the Iraq war would create delays for the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline
In Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev's administration has voiced concern about a potential medium-term drop in global energy prices. A significant drop in the price of oil and gas could cause a budgetary crisis for the Kazakhstani government
Economic and social concerns have helped push Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to moderate their support for the Bush administration in recent weeks. All three countries want to avoid alienating the United States. At the same time, all three are wary of Washington's unilateral approach on Iraq
Turkmenistan, which casts itself as a neutral state, has largely refrained from commenting on the Iraq crisis. To date, Tajikistan is the sole Central Asian state to directly criticize the Bush administration, calling the attack against Iraq a "failure in diplomacy"
Political analysts note that the alignment of Central Asian and Caucasus states on the Iraq issue is related to geopolitical conditions in both regions. Both Georgia and Uzbekistan, for instance, are struggling to overcome economic dysfunction. Both also have a prickly relationship with Russia, which has opposed the use of force against Iraq, and which has increasingly sought to reassert its economic and political influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The combination of these factors thus encourages Tbilisi and Tashkent to back Washington in the hopes that their support will be rewarded with increased levels of American aid.
The other states in the region all have either much closer relationships with Russia, or, like Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, stand to suffer economically from the fighting in Iraq. Hence, their caution concerning the Iraq offensive appears to be growing.

Eurasianet, March 20, 2003


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