Testing Revisionist Toolkits: Russia in Kyrgyzstan
Elgin, Katherine K.
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It is now commonplace in the West to describe Russia as a revisionist power, seeking to change the international system and regain its status as a great power. This perception became more popular after 2008 in Georgia but only truly solidified after Russian interventions in Crimea and Syria. Russia, however, did not act on its revisionist tendencies overnight. What were the mechanisms that allowed Russia to become revisionist, and how did it test these mechanisms? This paper argues that Russia’s revisionism started earlier than many claim – in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia more broadly in the early 2000’s. In overlooking these earlier historical developments, we risk misunderstanding Russian revisionist tendencies, the roots of which stem back to the ‘Colour Revolutions’ in Georgia, in Ukraine, and in Kyrgyzstan. In examining Russian revisionism, most scholars concentrate on the first two, but this focus only tells part of the story. While this paper does not try to understand the relative success or failure of Russian actions in these countries, it does demonstrate that Kyrgyzstan was in many ways a testing ground for Russia as it developed its revisionist toolkit. Through analysing Russian efforts to reduce U.S. influence in Central Asia in the early 2000s, this paper helps us to better understand how Russia developed techniques used in Georgia and Crimea, how Russia conceptualized their own abilities to intervene in other countries, and ultimately how Russia conceives of its ability to revise the international system with minimal external response.