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East: New Study Examines Prospects For Central Asia, Caucasus

  • Ben Partridge

A new study conducted by Britain's Jane's publishing group finds that the nations of Central Asia are becoming an increasingly important stronghold of the global narcotics business. As our correspondent in London reports, drug trafficking in Central Asia is adding to the problems of a region already overwhelmed by organized and casual crime, struggling to cope with poverty, and divided by internal political strife.

London, 22 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The new report says one Central Asian country alone, Kyrgyzstan, now exports more narcotics than either Myanmar (Burma) or Thailand, two of the world's largest producers of illegal drugs.

The report by British security experts appears in Jane's Sentinel, an analytical journal issued by Jane's publishing group. The report says Central Asia -- long a route for narcotics smuggling from Afghanistan and Pakistan -- is increasingly a source of illegal opiates in its own right. The report says this has important ramifications because a large part of the spoils of illegal narcotic smuggling goes to fund the armies of regional warlords.

The report says the five emerging states of Central Asia continue to present a mixed picture almost a decade after they won their independence after the 1991 disintegration of the Soviet Union.

With the possible exception of Kyrgyzstan, democratic principles are widely flouted. Tajikistan is still riven by a sporadic civil war. The region's economies remain, in the words of the report, "largely primitive." And the hoped-for wealth from the Caspian region's rich but largely untapped oil and gas reserves has so far rarely benefited the mass population.

The report notes that severe poverty, interethnic strife and separatist-minded movements are problems shared by many of the CIS countries. Many are suffering from the turbulence associated with the formation of newly independent countries.

The report finds that the long-term economic crises in many of the CIS nations have been aggravated by the Russian financial collapse of last year. It says this dragged down economies that had begun to make progress toward reform and stability. It has also worsened social and political tensions.

Analyst Paul Beaver, who contributed to the report, says the economic crisis could lead to a renewal of tensions in the CIS region.

"In some key areas, we are going to see a renewal of tensions. They really have not got their economic situation sorted out. They really have not got themselves sorted out in a number of key areas, which bodes ill for the winter."

The report identifies a number of disputes, primarily in the Caucasus, which could flare into open warfare or renewed separatist fighting:

-- No long-term solution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh has yet been found.

-- In Georgia, wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, though frozen at present, could reignite. The refusal by the Abkhazian and, to a lesser extent, South Ossetian authorities to allow Georgian refugees home could increase popular pressure for a further war.

-- In the Russian Caucasus, the fragile peace in Chechnya is under threat, while unrest is likely in the neighboring region of Dagestan.

Paul Beaver says the potential for a spread of tensions in the CIS region, including the Central Asian and Caucasus countries, is one reason why NATO is pushing its Partnership for Peace program.

He notes that 11 of the 12 CIS countries -- including all the Central Asian countries except Tajikistan, and the three Caucasus countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia -- have signed NATO's Partnership for Peace framework document.

Beaver suggests that NATO is trying to promote stability and ensure that the transitional nations will not be forced back into dependence on Moscow.

"The North Atlantic Council is trying to bring together some of the former Soviet states in Central Asia, going as far as Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzia (Kyrgyzstan). Really what they are trying to do is to ensure that there is no spread of fighting, of tensions, and they are trying to ensure that they all speak with one voice, that they won't be so poverty-stricken that they will go crawling back to Russia. That's a major NATO concern."

The report notes that the question of NATO enlargement has prompted strong and understandable opposition in Russia, which fears that it could perpetuate the division of the continent with "Russia on the wrong side of any divide."

However, the report expresses hope that as Russia itself becomes more involved in NATO's affairs and in joint operations in the former Yugoslavia, "then Moscow's suspicion and hostility to the alliance will be defused."