Reports that Russia is trying to persuade Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to send troops to Syria have sparked confused and carefully worded denials from those two countries.
Vladimir Shamanov, head of the defense committee of Russia's State Duma, told the RIA Novosti news agency Thursday that soldiers from the former Soviet republics could be sent to Syria to help police "de-escalation zones" there.
"Negotiations are underway now; the issue is being worked out to ensure that representatives of the Russian military police take part in solving problems related to ensuring order in Syria," Shamanov was quoted as saying. "Questions and proposals to our colleagues from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are also being worked out. There are intentions and the beginning of the negotiation process. The decision has not yet been made."
Shamanov's comments appeared after Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters on Wednesday that Moscow had proposed that Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan send military personnel to help secure peace in Syria after six years of civil war.
But on Friday, both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan issued cautious denials of the reports. "Kazakhstan is not negotiating with anyone on sending its soldiers to Syria," Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov told reporters, according to local media.
During a meeting in the Kazakh capital, Astana, in May, Russia, Iran, and Turkey agreed upon a plan to set up four de-escalation zones in Syria. In these zones, the countries would act as guarantors of a cease-fire — though the deal would allow attacks that target the Islamic State and al-Qaeda to continue. Both Syrian rebels and the U.S. State Department have expressed skepticism over the deal, and the United Nations has reported only been a limited drop in fighting in the zones.
However, Reuters reported in early June that the United States and Russia were now talking about creating a new de-escalation zone in Daraa province in southwestern Syria. Crucially, any deal would be outside the Astana framework and would not involve Iran, whose involvement in the previous deal raised concerns in Washington. Turkey's Kalin suggested Thursday that the United States and Jordan could monitor a de-esclatation zone in Daraa.
Neither Kazakhstan nor Kyrgyzstan have substantial histories of peacekeeping operations. They are both members, along with Russia and a number of other Central Asian states, of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. However, it is not clear if any agreement to send troops would be through that military alliance.
Both are also Muslim-majority nations, which some Russian officials suggested would help them if they came to Syria. "They know the habits and customs of Muslims," Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the defense and security committee in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, said in an interview with Interfax on Friday.
Erica Marat, an assistant professor at the National Defense University and an expert in Central Asia, wrote on Twitter that she expected reaction in Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan to be mixed. "Some may see this as an opportunity to strengthen war-fighting capabilities," Marat wrote.
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