Two French academics -- Bayram Balci and Pierre Chuvin, both directors of the French Institute for Central-Asian Studies -- issue an impassioned call in today's "Le Monde" for the European Union to get involved in Kyrgyzstan "before further murderous rampages" take place there.
What the authors describe as "pogroms" against ethnic Uzbeks in the south of the country, carried out between June 10-14 with the connivance of local Kyrgyz authorities, claimed at least 356 lives and drove 400,000 from their homes.
The authors observe that with Russia and the United States both content to remain on the sidelines and Roza Otunbayeva's interim government a "prisoner of the Kyrgyz nationalist discourse," the EU must "find an operational consensus within its external policy toward Central Asia" and step in to support the democratization of the country.
Balci and Chuvin -- who are nothing if not rigorous and sober in their analysis -- neglect to add, however, that this would require nothing less than a wholesale about-face in EU foreign-policy making in the region.
Having briefly flirted with sanctions against Uzbekistan after the 2005 Andijon massacre, the bloc has opted for a trickle-down, authority-vetted approach to reforms in the region -- designed to keep channels of communication open but also to not antagonize potential suppliers of gas and oil.
Kyrgyzstan is the least consequential of the five Central Asian countries from a pragmatic point of view. It is, therefore, also one in which the EU takes a very abstract interest (although, as Balci and Chuvin note, Bishkek has been the bloc's "only good pupil in the region") and is all the more reluctant to get in the way of other partners' less abstract interests and thus risk jeopardizing its own regional policy calculus.
Since the flare-up of the crisis in Kyrgyzstan in April, the EU has deferred to the OSCE (conveniently chaired by Kazakhstan this year) to supply political mediation and police advisers. The donors' conference which took place in Bishkek last month, netting $1.2 billion, was choreographed by the World Bank.
Similarly, loath to step on anyone's military toes, the EU always picks its "security and defence policy" missions with extreme care. Unlike the Great Lakes region or Chad, for example, Kyrgyzstan is home to both Russian and U.S. bases -- meaning the chances of an EU intervention force ever landing in Kyrgyzstan are remoter that, say, those of a manned mission to Mars before 2050.
Kyrgyzstan's proximity to both Russia and Afghanistan means "consensus" among member states -- who conduct their own fully sovereign separate foreign policies -- will be all the harder to reach.
Which is to say that not even in her wildest dream does the EU's high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton -- soon to preside over a single EU diplomatic corps -- countenance undertaking anything more radical with regard to Kyrgyzstan than condemning violence as and when it takes place, releasing successive tranches of humanitarian aid, and helping Bishkek with the drafting of better laws.
-- Ahto Lobjakas