Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has become commonplace to write of a new "Great Game" in Central Asia, pitting Russia, China, and NATO countries led by the U.S in a race for influence and access to the region's energy and other resources. But despite all the worries about the potential for international conflict, the distinctive feature of the current crisis in Kyrgyzstan is the reluctance of all the major powers to intervene there.
The riots in southern Kyrgyzstan, which first broke out Thursday, have now left hundreds of dead and thousands of injured, according to the latest reports. But the specific precipitating event for the fighting remains unclear. Kyrgyz and international analysts offer diverse possibilities, including a resurgence of longstanding tensions between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, opportunistic looting motivated by economic and class jealousies, a plot by supporters of recently deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiev to return him to power by demonstrating the incapacity of the current interim government led by President Roza Otunbayeva to maintain order, and great power conspiracies by Russia, the United States, or other foreign powers to advance their regional interests at Kyrgyzstan's expense.
According to one report, during the last few days the Obama administration turned down a request by the interim Kyrgyz government to provide military assistance. Moscow then declined an even more direct Kyrgyz appeal to send Russian soldiers to restore order in the country that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev earlier had described as falling within Moscow's sphere of influence
Nobody has thought to ask for Chinese intervention, despite Beijing's co-leadership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which just held its annual leadership summit. Beijing is eager to preserve its economic interests in Central Asia as well as political stability in this border region near China's volatile province of Xinjiang. But Chinese policymakers have made it clear that, at least for now, they prefer Russia to assume the burden of enforcing regional stability. As for the government of Uzbekistan, it has tried to play down fears that it might deploy troops to protect Kyrgyzstan's ethnic Uzbeks from the violence that has led approximately 100,000 of them to seek refuge on Uzbekistan's territory.