The president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambaev, has said that his country would like European military assistance to help combat the threat from the Islamic State (IS) group.
Atambaev, who traveled to Europe on March 22 for talks with senior officials, told reporters in Vienna on March 23 that IS poses a direct threat to Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian states.
"I would like to remind you: IS has announced that one of the provinces of the Islamic caliphate should be created in Central Asia, specifically in the Ferghana Valley," Atambaev said.
To oppose IS, Kyrgyzstan needed military support, Atambaev said.
The Kyrgyz president said that so far, only Russia has provided assistance to Kyrgyzstan in the form of supplies of weapons and ammunition, in order to help the country "repel future attacks by Islamic militants and terrorist groups."
"We would be glad of the same military aid from Austria and other EU countries," Atambaev said.
He added that while Russia is a major partner for Kyrgyzstan in the areas of economics and security, the Central Asia state would not "swerve from the path of democracy."
Russian Influence In Kyrgyzstan
Russia has been steadily investing in Kyrgyzstan, prompting Western fears that the Central Asian country could become a Russian client state.
Moscow's influence resulted in the closure of the U.S. Manas air base -- built after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 -- outside the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
Russia operates four military bases in Kyrgyzstan, including the Kant Air Base near Bishkek. In 2013, Moscow pledged to supply over $1 billion worth of weapons and other military equipment to Kyrgyzstan as part of a program to modernize the Kyrgyz army. The Kyrgyz military announced in January that Kyrgyzstan had received over a thousand tons of military equipment from Russia as part of that program.
From The Afghan Threat To The IS Threat
The IS threat was not on the agenda when Russia pledged to help modernize Kyrgyzstan's military back in 2013.
Instead, both Moscow and Bishkek pointed to the threat posed by potential instability in Afghanistan as a main reason for the military modernization program.
In December, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu once again referred to potential instability in Afghanistan as necessitating the program, saying that the Russian-backed modernization scheme was being carried out "for several reasons -- the first and foremost is, of course, Afghanistan and the withdrawal of coalition forces."
In recent months, however, Russia and Central Asian states have begun to sound the alarm about the threat posed to domestic security by the rise of IS in Afghanistan.
Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov in December asked Russia for assistance to combat the IS threat, warning that "various representatives of the Islamic State group" had "penetrated into Afghanistan from Iraq and Syria."
Kyrgyzstan's intelligence agency, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB), has also warned that IS militants have started to penetrate into southern Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan's Andijon region in the east of the Ferghana Valley.
However, some analysts have suggested that the authorities in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in Central Asia have exaggerated the threat from IS as a means to implement crackdowns.
A recent report published by the Jamestown Foundation suggested that the threat posed by Islamic extremism in Central Asia "appears significantly more modest than is painted by both regional governments and the Russian authorities."
Russia has also used the rise of IS as a reason to increase its military and security presence in Central Asia.
In response to the "IS threat" in Central Asia, Russia has called for regional security alliances such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to be strengthened in order to take "preventative measures" against IS in Central Asia, including as a result of the group's foothold in Afghanistan.
Analyst Edward Lemon, who tracks Tajik militants in Syria and Iraq, wrote in November that Russian commentators are, "by hyping the threat of Islamist extremism in Central Asia...[encouraging] a myth, one that hypes the notion that Central Asia is in imminent danger of being overrun by militant forces."
-- Joanna Paraszczuk