In August 2000, as in 1999, Islamic rebels tested the strength of Central Asian government forces. Kyrgyzstan was badly hit again; what is more, Uzbek soldiers struggled to battle the insurgents just 70 kilometers from Tashkent, the nation's capital. At about the same time, the Taliban (a radical Islamist group) almost succeeded in taking control of Afghanistan, dealing a heavy blow to the Northern Alliance (the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan)–its greatest opponent. Next year, a new invasion is feared. With the situation in Chechnya at an impasse, and the Arab-Israeli peace process in the Middle East in tatters, what does this mean for international security, and in particular for Russia and the United States?
Landlocked and poor despite all the natural riches of the Caspian, Central Asia could be described as an intersection where all of Eurasia's backyards meet. Called the continent's "black hole" by Zbigniew Brzezinski, it presents a major concentration of socio-political combustible material, which could be released in a constellation of rebellions and armed conflicts, as recent outbursts indicate. The problem, however, is that both in Russia and in the West these developments are usually viewed from the perspective of crisis management, calling for predominantly military solutions. This is a major analytical flaw–one that is waiting to turn into a political disaster. This memo attempts to analyze the nature of the conflicts threatening Central Asia, assess Russia's policies in response to them, and explore the potential for cooperation between the United States and Russia. […]