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Russia as the Dominant Power in Central Asia

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: International Relations
Wordcount: 1863 words Published: 4th Nov 2020

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From a historical point of view, the Central Asian region is closely connected with the events that took place in Russia, China, Iran and the Hindustan Peninsula, and the Silk Road created strong conditions for inter-regional ties and trade. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent emergence of independent republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan laid the foundation for a new type of cooperation in the political, economic and cultural fields. Neighboring countries, such as Iran, Russia, Turkey, India, Pakistan and China, which have opposite strategic interests in terms of economy and culture, attach key importance to the development of new ties with the Central Asian republics.

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Located in the central part of the mainland, these countries experience a large number of economic problems, such as inflation, rising unemployment, declining production, lack of financing, as well as lack of water resources and adverse climatic conditions. They are extremely interested in gaining access to the markets of other countries, creating a regional transport infrastructure and establishing contacts with the outside world in order to solve the economic problems facing them and reduce their dependence on Russia. In the current conditions, the countries of Central Asia, intending to introduce diversity into the structure of their own economies, are engaged in the search for new business partners and therefore are committed to active economic cooperation in the region. The presence of colossal reserves of oil, gas, coal, ore and other rare minerals, as well as significant opportunities for cotton production indicate the huge economic potential of the countries of this region. Through participation in various summits and membership in a number of organizations, such as the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Organization for Economic Cooperation, the European Economic Community and the Central Asian Economic Community, these countries have already taken concrete steps towards new formats for regional cooperation. Difficulties associated with the joint use of water resources and transport infrastructure, as well as the regulation of visa laws, border clashes, ethnic tensions and ambitions of the Uzbek and Kazakh governments, are obstacles to regional cooperation in Central Asia.

Central Asia is traditionally included in the zone of interests of the Russian Federation, the priority and hierarchy of importance of which at certain stages was determined by various circumstances. In the aggregate of geopolitical, economic and military interests, the key areas of Russian politics in the region are based on the following long-term factors:

  • Central Asia is seen as a traditional “buffer zone” or security belt for Russia, in the context of ensuring the security of the southern borders;
  • The region’s special significance for Russia is determined by the oil factor and Russia's desire to maintain influence in the Caspian;
  • Of great importance for Russia is the territory of the region as a zone of basing power resources for taking appropriate measures in the event of full-scale conflicts, including nuclear, in nearby regions;
  • Of great foreign policy and economic importance for the Russian Federation is ensuring control over the main transport and communication routes and pipelines of the region.

The region represents for Russia a “zone of responsibility” for the Russian and Russian-speaking population, the preservation of the significant political role of the Russian language and culture. The current resumption of control of the geographical situation in Central Asia is all the more singular if we consider that Moscow started from a definable position of "unprecedented collapse". In fact, for most of the 1990s, Moscow's attitude towards the region was highly contradictory, not consistent and therefore not up to the tasks posed by the dynamic interaction between the two parties. At that time Russia was in a position of extreme weakness, but it joined the consideration of itself as a great power, a combination which contradicted itself in diplomatic relations. In essence, even in the background of the experience in Afghanistan, the ruling elite, during Yeltsin's term of office, relied on the Central Asian periphery with disdain, perceiving the new states as a ballast in which to minimize commitments, according to the general line of exclusive pro-Atlantic orientation inaugurated by Gorbacev and continued during the first years of Yeltsin.

This on the basis of the belief that the region would have remained under Moscow's control, given its structural dependencies, especially in the key sectors of the economy and security. Note also the negative effect of the lack of appropriate decision-making mechanisms, given that Russian foreign policy during this period was characterized by the chaotic and uncoordinated activity of its institutions. In this institutional garish, the orientation was to maintain the region in the condition of an exclusive reserve, closed to external influences - albeit open on the multilateral level to the OSCE structures - by pretending to be recognized as such desired by the international community ( see, in 1993, the request to that effect from Yeltsin in the UN office). In this way it was thought to reconstruct, in a new scale and on new bases, the exclusive military and strategic space of the USSR, also advancing the claim of a right of intervention against the successor states of the former USSR - a re-edition of the "limited sovereignty" of Brezhnevian memory - especially considering the numerous "Russophobe" presence. This line was combined with the aforementioned veiled chauvinism and insisted on a theme destined to remain central, that of the "Islamic threat", to be contained in agreement with the G7 countries as the basis for the formation of a common security system. Only with the advent of Evgenyj Primakov at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1996, he reintroduced a minimal basis of coherent action, in the framework of the reaffirmation of the general objective of regaining the status of sovereign power. In this context it is important to note Primakov's theoretical redefinition of relations between Russia and the Muslim world: from threat to essential counterpart of Russian diplomacy. A coherent response to the post-Soviet geo-political context, which re-evaluates the role of the Central Asian republics in Russian foreign policy as a platform towards Asia. However, despite the success in regulating, in conjunction with Tehran, the civil conflict in Tajikistan (1997), these objectives could not be achieved, given the general destructuring and the course of foreign policy affirmed in Uzbekistan precisely as a result of the abandonment of the region by Moscow in previous years. There was a growing gap between ambitions and concrete capacities

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With Putin's ascending to power, the Central Asian direction therefore required a radical revision of the approach, as well as presenting himself as a favourable ground for the reaffirmation of Russia as a great power on the international scene, as in the other areas of the post-Soviet space the room for manoeuvre was lower. The military and security plan emerges as privileged, also in view of the background of the members of the new elite in power and the constant role of the Ministry of Defence in keeping the old contacts with the former Soviet republics operational, as well as the conservation, on this level, of a relational structure embodied by the control of a large part of the old Soviet external frontier, unlike the dismemberment that occurred on the economic level. The scenario for a military reaffirmation came thanks to the Islamic incursion into the Fergana valley in 1999. Although they are partially favoured by the Russian anti-Uzbek, the events are “securitized”, presented in such a way as to build the base of a public speech in support of action aimed at summarizing regional security control - even the Americans had a similar reaction by creating the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) program - and organizing "buffer zones" and instruments against foreign military presences in Central Asia. The theme of the Islamic "threat" is fully exploited to send a strong message of "return" also on the political level and to justify the willingness to support existing regimes.

The CSI framework already appears obsolete and unable to correspond to post-Soviet geopolitical developments. Moscow acts primarily through the structures of the CIS Collective Security Treaty, a structure with mechanisms similar to those of NATO which, after the exit of Uzbekistan, grouped Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. According to a scheme that continues to be applied, military engagements reinforce economic ones. On this level the Eurasian Economic Community (EvrAzEs), later the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is affirmed, established at the end of 2000 on the initiative of the Kazakh president Nazarbaev to replace the customs union between the aforementioned countries minus Armenia. Putin in particular puts order in the energy sector, bringing back to the national interest the big state companies whose interests will thus intersect with those of the government, in contrast to the situation of the Nineties, in which giants such as Gazprom they found themselves leading their own line in contrast to the state. In general, the government is ready to support the expansion of companies, when they conform to the logic of national interest. In addition to reasserting himself in the competition for the Caspian hydrocarbons, Putin enters the hydro-electric sector: the state monopoly RusHydro, ex RAU-UES, advances his conception of the "Eurasian electricity market" which sees him manager of a north-south bridge between the network Central Asian and the rest of the world. Thus the Russian national interests in the region are affirmed, which, in addition to maintaining a general geo-economic conformation oriented towards Russia, create unlimited points of transit, in particular in the framework of strengthening relations with China, India and Iran, powers with the which, always with extreme realism, Moscow declares itself ready to cooperate in the impossibility of controlling alone the emerging challenges from the region. All this at the same time signalling to these and to the other states the will to act as an intermediary between the regimes and the external world.


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