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Eastern Cinderella, a Broken Web and the Turkish Card, Part II

Wednesday, 09 January 2002 12:00 AM

Let's look at the map of northwest and central Asia. The natives of the following countries and regions speak almost the same language:

All these peoples speak closely related languages belonging to the Turkic language group. Moreover, for centuries the Muslims of Central Asia (Uzbeks, Turkmen, Kazakhs and Kyrgyzes), of China's Xinjiang (Uighurs) and of Russia's Tatarstan and Bashkortostan (Tatars and Bashkirs) have considered Istanbul their spiritual, cultural and even political center.

They once again look to Turkey and Istanbul as focal points of Western civilization and progress. All of them (except for the Uighurs of Xinjiang, also known as Eastern Turkestan), are tired after a decade of post-Soviet chaos and poverty. They want a better life and pin their hopes on Turkey, its Western allies and, of course, America.

This "Turkish card" is extremely strong, and the West, led by the U.S., should play this card to the maximum possible degree in the geopolitical struggle against Moscow, Beijing and Tehran.

The aforementioned preliminary pacts on delivery of Israeli tanks and fighters to Azerbaijan, as well as on establishment of Turkish/NATO air bases near Baku and Tbilisi, should be seen as first steps only. Turkey will assemble various modern weapons from Israeli parts and kits (probably with the use of some Turkish parts) and supply them to Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Turkey and Israel don't want to stop in Baku, on the western coast of the Caspian Sea. They are interested in expanding to the Caspian's eastern coast. Israeli weapons assembled in Turkey would go to Central Asia as well.

Not long ago, Turkey initiated a large-scale program of military modernization. This program will continue for 30 years and cost about $150 billion. The Turkish army's old weapons are expected to be sold at a discount to Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Central Asian republics. Military integration of all these former Soviet republics with the West, with the assistance of Turkey and Israel, would greatly facilitate their economic and political integration.

The Uzbekistani military base in Hanabad (and not former Soviet military bases in the Baltic republics, as was long expected!) became the first spot on the territory of the former USSR to deploy U.S. forces. By the end of 2001, the total number of troops from the U.S., U.K., France and Turkey in Uzbekistan probably approached 2,000.

Uzbekistan, the front-line country in dealing with threats from Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan to the south and Tajikistan to the east, has finally obtained some security guarantees from the West.

And construction of oil and gas pipelines from the huge hydrocarbon deposits in northern Uzbekistan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Indian Ocean would become a source of real prosperity for this republic.

After all, the "Uzbek Cinderella" is jealous of her Kazakh sister and dreams of the same transformation.

In 1997, Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova formed a pro-Western/anti-Moscow political bloc called GUAM (an abbreviation taken from their first letters). In 1999, Uzbekistan became the only Central Asian republic to join this bloc, now renamed GUUAM. However, in 2000-2001 Uzbekistan was forced to abandon its pro-Western orientation and to bow before Moscow and Beijing. This history page is over now – if nothing extraordinary happens.

In December 2001, U.S. military transports delivered several hundred tons of essential equipment to Manas airport, close to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. According to a decision of the Kyrgyzstani Parliament taken in early December 2001, construction of a large military airfield for the U.S. and NATO would begin near Manas. When completed, this new airfield will receive 40 fighters and other military aircraft, as well as 3,200 military personnel from the U.S., Italy, France and other NATO countries.

This could be the most miraculous transformation, because until recently Kyrgyzstan was a very faithful client of Moscow and Beijing. Indeed, the Moscow-Beijing "web of influence" over Central Asia is now in shambles.

Turkmenistan, fabulously rich in natural gas, is known for its archaic political system and self-isolation, disguised as "neutrality." However, the new winds over Central Asia may awaken this republic as well. Construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean would become the decisive factor here.

What a bad surprise all these developments would be for Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami! It would be very naïve and even dangerous to think that China, Russia and Iran would accept these changes in Central Asia.

Moscow, for one, would never forgive such a betrayal by its former subjects. Moscow in the past got rich from Kazakhstani oil and other export goods transported across Russian territory; now even the prospects for arms sales to the Central Asian militaries are fading.

China would never accept the presence of U.S. and NATO forces on the threshold of Xinjiang, known for its separatist aspirations. Who besides the Central Asian republics will supply China's growing economy with large quantities of cheap oil, natural gas, metals and agricultural goods?

Iran now has to deal with the "Western threat" both from the east(Afghanistan) and north(Azerbaijan and Central Asia).

The geopolitical and military responses of these countries are still unknown. Let's be vigilant.

The urge for independence in the Russian Federation's predominantly Muslim republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, separated from Kazakhstan only by a 50-km-wide "ethnic Russian strip," has been quite strong since 1991, when the former Soviet Union collapsed.

During the past two years, the Kremlin – despite strong resistance from the local leadership and popular masses – has dramatically reduced the sovereignty of these two republics. Putin's brutal oppression or even genocide in Chechnya has also affected the Tatars and Bashkirs.

Bashkortostan and Tatarstan are slightly better off than other Russian peripheral regions, because they produce and export tens of millions of tons of oil annually. Moscow, however, takes the lion's share of their income. The two republics are not starving, but they have no money to rebuild their decaying infrastructures and to deal with epidemics of HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis.

Do they love Moscow, the Kremlin, and the FSB? Definitely, not. Are they jealous of the "Kazakh Cinderella"? It seems so.

These factors should be taken into account. They could come in handy at any moment.

Dr. Thomas J. Torda has been a Chinese linguist specializing in science and technology with FBIS, and a Chinese/Russian defense technology consultant with the Office of Naval Intelligence.

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Let's look at the map of northwest and central Asia. The natives of the following countries and regions speak almost the same language: All these peoples speak closely related languages belonging to the Turkic language group. Moreover, for centuries the Muslims of...
Wednesday, 09 January 2002 12:00 AM
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