Oh the games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say now
Never saying what they mean
-Joe South, 1968
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters yesterday it was too soon to determine the cause of the violent revolt that erupted in Kyrgyzstan over the past week. Of course, Secretary Clinton is obliged to feign ignorance for it’s her job as America’s top diplomat. Yet, as the world tries to piece together the puzzle of whether it’s an ethnic or political conflict, the Obama administration knows damn full well that 2,000 Uzbeks and Kyrgyzs now lie dead as a direct result of the geopolitical struggle between the U.S. and Russia over air bases and – believe it or not – the heroin trade.
This most recent wave of violence began in the ancient Silk Road city of Osh on June 11, when bands of Kyrgyz men attacked, looted and began slaughtering people in Uzbek neighborhoods. Southern Kyrgyzstan is still in chaos while roughly 400,000 have been displaced. Most of the violence occurred in Osh and other of the previous government’s strongholds like Jalal-Abad and Batken. Controversy surrounds the alleged slow reaction of the new government forces to protect the Uzbek minorities.
Mrs. Clinton has her hunches indeed, suggesting ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, overthrown in an April revolt, “may” be to blame. Interim President Roza Otunbayeva echoed this sentiment, saying that Bakiyev loyalists were trying to destabilize Kyrgyzstan in advance of a referendum on a new constitution on June 27.
What is curious is why land-locked Kyrgyzstan is treated as such a strategic asset by both the U.S. and Russia. But as the back story unfolds, the picture slowly becomes clearer. According to STRATFOR Global Intelligence, a little more than five years ago Western nongovernmental organizations and a handful of intelligence services joined forces with regional factions to overthrow Kyrgyzstan’s pro-Russian rulers. And a year and a half ago the U.S. and Russia fought over the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, which is crucial for the U.S. in supplying the war in Afghanistan (and crucial for the flow of supplying other valuables, which we’ll get to in a moment).
Ultimately the U.S. outbid the Russians who were very annoyed their old rival was able to establish such a footing within a region Russia traditionally dominates. The U.S. added insult to injury by announcing the construction of a slew of military training centers in Kyrgyzstan. In April, Russia returned the favor by assisting the effort to overthrow Kyrgyzstan’s government yet again.
Experts say Kyrgyzstan was on the verge of disintegrating on its own anyway, but competition between Moscow and Washington certainly accelerated the process. According to historian Alexander A. Cooley:
“Let’s be honest, Kyrgyzstan is turning into a collapsing state, or at least part of it is, and what was partially responsible is this geopolitical tug of war. In our attempts to secure these levers of influence and support the governing regime, we destabilized these state institutions. We are part of that dynamic.”
Yet when Otunbayeva called big brother Russia for troops to help quell the violence, the Russians demurred and sent aid instead. Russia did send several hundred paratroopers but only to guard its airbase in Kant. Moscow realizes sending Russian peacekeepers to southern Kyrgyzstan would ignite a military confrontation with Uzbekistan, who already views Russia’s intervention in helping topple Bakiyev as a threat. Russia would mostly likely prevail in a military conflict but they also know Uzbekistan could interrupt their natural gas flow.
Now the dirty little secret that nobody wants to look into is the fact that much of Afghanistan’s heroin reaches Russia through Kyrgyzstan’s Osh district which might explain why Russia and the U.S. are jockeying so intensely over it. What is shocking is that it’s Russia that now wants to stem the drug tide while U.S. intelligence wants to continue to reap benefits.
Russia is the world’s largest per capita heroin user, consuming $13 billion annually which kills 30,000 Russians every year. Recently Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov’s said that Afghanistan’s thriving drug trade was supported by the US and NATO and has become the “greatest threat to international peace and security”. Not to mention, according to the UN drug profits prevented the crash of the international banking system at the height of the global economic crisis. $352 billion in criminal proceeds were effectively laundered by financial institutions.
And the C.I.A. is allegedly no stranger to drug trafficking. The Russians believe they are taking advantage of the situation in Afghanistan today. According to the Daily Mirror, last year former Russian military Commander, Mahmut Gareev, claimed the US was not going to stop the production of drugs in Afghanistan because it covered the costs of their military presence there.
“Actually, they (the US and NATO troops) themselves admit that if drugs were smuggled past them, they wouldn’t interfere. Why? …. Americans themselves admit that drugs are often transported out of Afghanistan on American planes. Drug trafficking in Afghanistan brings them about 50 billion dollars a year — which fully covers the expenses tied to keeping their troops there.”
It does all have a conspiracy ring to it, but after connecting the dots it makes one wonder. Based on their performance in the run up to the Iraq invasion I never thought the CIA was competent enough to pull off half of these conspiracies. Some folks that I know who are close to the intelligence community have mentioned some of this to me before, but it’s hard to swallow, because there are just some games you don’t want to ever believe the U.S. would ever play.