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Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 23:08 GMT
Analysis: Chechen war divides neighbours
Russia's offensive has been given a mixed political reception

By Eurasia Analyst Malcolm Haslett

The war in Chechnya is often seen as a war against Islam, or at least a war against Islamic extremism. It may seem surprising, then, that Russia's campaign has received its strongest support from some of the traditionally-Muslim areas of the former Soviet Union.

Battle for the Caucasus
Indeed the Chechen war has had the effect of bringing most of Central Asian republics much closer to Russia.

There may be some sympathy for the Chechens, as Muslims, among the populations there. But among the ruling elites, such is the genuine fear and loathing of what's seen as Islamic fundamentalism that officials in places like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have found it difficult to conceal their very real pleasure that Russia is, as they see it, hitting back at the religious fanaticism.

Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, for instance - who only a few months ago was talking of quitting the Russian-led CIS Security Pact - now seems only too happy to co-operate in joint military exercises with troops from Russia and the other Central Asian republics.

The recent emergency in Kyrgyzstan, where Kyrgyz forces for weeks battled against a mainly Uzbek force of Islamists, has seriously rattled the secular authorities in all these republics.

Less enthusiasm

But elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, with the notable exception of Belarus, which is just about to sign a union treaty with Russia, there's been little official enthusiasm for the Chechen war.

Russia suggests Chechen rebels are being helped by Azerbaijan and Georgia
In Ukraine, for example - though many citizens, particularly in the 'Russified' east of the country, may support Russia's action - the newly re-elected president Leonid Kuchma has assured his people their republic will not get involved. No "Ukrainian lads", he said, risk being sent there.

And in the Caucasus region the mood, both official and popular, is even less pro-Russian.

Azerbaijan and Georgia have both clearly been offended by Russian suggestions that they are wittingly or unwittingly giving the Chechen rebels support, and see it as an attempt to intimidate them.

Russia has said it will introduce visas for people travelling from its two southern neighbours. Georgia, meanwhile, has accused Russian forces of several times infringing Georgian territory in its attempts to seal the mountainous border between Georgia and Chechnya.

As for the third Caucasian republic, Armenia, it does have close military ties with Russia and given its strained relations with its mostly Muslim neighbours there is a degree of anti-Islamic feeling there.

And yet its leaders know that if they want to build up their country's fragile economy, they'll have to develop relations with the West - and that means restoring relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. If that happens, Armenia's reliance on Russia for 'protection' may well be seriously reduced
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See also:
23 Nov 99 |  Europe
Ingush president expects long conflict
19 Nov 99 |  Monitoring
Uzbekistan voices security concerns
03 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Central Asia's Islamic battle
19 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: East-West relations must shift

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