One of the objectives of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent pro-Western diplomacy is to reduce instability along Russia’s southern borders. In the troubled area to the north of Afghanistan are five predominantly Muslim countries—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. When they were part of the old Soviet Union, communist propaganda constantly proclaimed that Islam was dead. But communism misjudged Islam’s staying power, just as it did Christianity’s.
Not one of the five countries has the remotest tradition of democracy and at least four of them are chronically unstable. Igor Rotar, a Russian who speaks the local languages, recently made a foray into the region on behalf of Keston Institute of Oxford, England, which has long been studying the countries of the former U.S.S.R. Rotar’s first trip was to the Fergana Valley, which is shared by Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.