Yesterday's CIS summit in Moscow may have signaled a new tack in Russian policy in Central Asia. In an analysis, RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier says the Russian leadership may be using the fear of terrorism as an issue to bond the region and pave the way for Moscow to re-emerge as a dominant force there.
Prague, 26 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russian acting President Vladimir Putin may have scored a foreign policy victory in Central Asia at Tuesday's CIS summit in Moscow.
A year ago, the main concern on the minds of leaders of the five former Soviet Central Asian states was avoiding the effects of Russia's economic crisis.
This week, Russia and four of the five Central Asian members of the Commonwealth of Independent States shifted their emphasis to a new area: security.
One by one, the leaders of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan, in meetings with Putin, said their "number one" concern was fighting terrorists and extremists. And they said the solution lies with Russia.
During the meetings, the leaders agreed to draft a security program aimed at fighting terrorism and religious extremism across the CIS. The program was proposed by Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev.
Putin says the program could lead to an international anti-terrorist center within the CIS.
Putin also confirmed that Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and two other countries will participate in a joint military exercise on Uzbek and Kyrgyz territory in the spring. The largest military exercise held in this area in the last three years has been NATO's Centrazbat maneuvers under the Partnership for Peace program.
Our correspondent says Tuesday's agreements may enable Moscow to reassert itself as a dominant power in Central Asia by rallying the countries around a common enemy: Islamic terror. Russia can provide guarantees to Central Asia that other nations cannot or will not.
The shift in policy has the biggest implications for Uzbekistan, which has the largest standing army in the region and until now was seen as Moscow's successor in Central Asia.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov, in the past, has been openly critical of the CIS. Last year, he even pulled his country out of the CIS's collective security treaty. But yesterday, he changed course, going so far as to call Russia "the backbone of the CIS."
Since Putin's rise to power last year -- first as prime minister and then as acting president -- Russian-Uzbek relations have warmed.
In December, as prime minister, Putin chose the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, as his only Central Asian stopover. The content of Putin's conversations in Tashkent is not known. It seems, however, that more than cotton shipments from Uzbekistan to Russia were on the table.
Karimov also mentioned in his inaugural address last weekend that he is prepared to cooperate with Russia to fight terrorism in the region.
Moscow will have its hands full. Although Russia currently maintains a military base in Tajikistan, relations among the Central Asian states remain strained.
An insurrection by Uzbek-based Islamic rebels in Kyrgyzstan last year sparked off a round of mutual recriminations involving those two countries and Tajikistan, where the rebels eventually fled. At the time, Karimov accused the Kyrgyz leadership of not doing enough to put down the rebellion.