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Nation-Building in the Shadow of the Bear: The Dialectics of National Identity and Foreign Policy in the Kyrgyz Republic 1991–2012


Paul Christian Sander

Since 1991, Kyrgyzstan’s leaders have pursued a post-Soviet national identity. Their concepts failed to consolidate the country’s multi-ethnic society, and continuously antagonize civic values and ethnic myth. The author applies international relations theory to frame Kyrgyzstan’s identity crisis: The ruling elite has to manage tensions between their strong dependency on Russia as main donor and security provider and domestic challenges in their pursuit of a national identity. A legitimate national identity must represent both the foreign policy interests of the country and the demands of the Kyrgyz majority and ethnic minorities for representation. The Kyrgyz case unveils the complex dialectics of domestic pressure and external interests that have defined post-Soviet nation building in Russia’s near abroad.

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IV. Russia in Central Asia: Fixing the Dysfunctional Family-Relations?


“What is the need of the future seizure of Asia? What’s our business there? This is necessary because Russia is not only in Europe, but also in Asia, because the Russian is not only a European, but also an Asiatic. Not only that: in our coming destiny, perhaps it is precisely Asia that represents our main way out.”

– F. M. Dostoyevsky, 18814

1. Russian Objectives in Central Asia - An Overview

The question of both Russian intent and influence in contemporary Central Asia has been subject to controversial debates among scholars and politicians (Johnson 1998; Nixey 2012; Matveeva 2013; Malashenko 2013). The dominant narrative on Russo-Central Asian relations seems to be one of Russia’s decline and growing desperation with Central Asian states successfully emancipating themselves from Russian influence while increasingly relying on more diversified economic and political alliances. Nevertheless, Russia has been anything but a passive observer throughout the past decade: new infrastructure is being built with Russian money, its energy companies are visibly present throughout the region, new branches of universities open in Central Asian capitals and goods from Russia traverse the region en route to Afghanistan (Matveeva 2013: 478). The discourse of Russian decline failed to attach significance to the region’s strong economic dependency on Russia through labor migration, the threat of the influx of drugs from the region to Russia, Russian concerns about a potential “security vacuum” in the region, and the possible advance of Sino-Russian partnership in international...

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