Site map
0The virtual community for English-speaking expats and Russians
  Main page   Make it home   Expat card   Our partners   About the site   FAQ
Please log in:
To register  Forgotten your password?   
  Survival Guide   Calendars
  Phone Directory   Dining Out
  Employment   Going Out
  Real Estate   Children
   September 30
News Links
Business Calendar
Phone Directory
 Latest Articles
 Archived Articles
Analysis & Opinion
13.08.09 Central Asia Carpe Diem
Comment by Oksana Antonenko

As the United States and Russia make the opening of the Northern Supply Route through Central Asia into Afghanistan into a symbol of the “reset” in bilateral relations, Central Asian states are keen to take advantage of the newly availably opportunity to assert their interests. They have already tried in once after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, but will they do better this time around?

Eight years after the September 11 attacks, the international spotlight is once again on Central Asia. In 2001, this region was taken from the geo-political periphery and transformed into the frontline of the global war on terror. The arrival of the U.S. and other NATO troops in Central Asia - with Vladimir Putin’s reluctant endorsement - has turned the region into a unique testing ground for the post-September 11 U.S.-Russian strategic rapprochement. Moreover, as the ethnic Tajik and Uzbek-dominated Northern Alliance drove the Taliban out of Kabul, the world saw Central Asian states as contributors to the global security agenda.

But Central Asia’s moment did not last long. The American war in Iraq, growing concerns over democracy and the human rights situation in Central Asian states, and Russia’s (as well as China’s) uneasiness about U.S. bases in their backyards have all contributed to the rapid decline in international attention to the region, and Central Asians have thus been left wondering whether they have missed a window of opportunity to gain financial, strategic and political benefits. On the one hand, their hopes for more investment and large benefits from reconstruction projects in Afghanistan have not been realized. On the other hand, many regional leaders have been alarmed by the fact that the United States has “paid” for their cooperation by pushing the democracy promotion agenda – symbolized in Central Asia by Kyrgyzstan’s failed Tulip Revolution – which they see as a direct threat to their regimes.

As a result, following violent clashes in Andijan and Uzbekistan’s decision to close the U.S. base on its territory in 2005, Central Asia’s geo-political pendulum swung back toward Russia, which supported the stability of political regimes, opposed “colour revolutions” and endorsed the need to fight domestic “extremism” by all means available. In 2005 to 2008 Central Asia witnessed the rise of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), where Russia and China helped to set the regional economic and security agenda.

Russia’s dominance in Central Asia has been equally short-lived. The Russian-Georgian war sent shockwaves through Central Asia. While all Central Asian leaders blame the Georgian president for starting the war and do not openly question the legitimacy of Russia’s use of force, none have rushed to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A change in post-Soviet borders in the wake of military intervention is the nightmare scenario for all Central Asian states, which have many unsettled border disputes and tensions with their neighbours. The change in the American administration– with President Barack Obama rejecting democracy promotion and shifting the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan – also contributed to alterations in Central Asia’s geopolitical landscape.

Today the region once again finds itself at the center of international attention. Instability in Pakistan and the increased American military presence in Afghanistan have made the need for a Northern Supply Route through Central Asia ever more pressing. The United States and the EU have put increased emphasis on gaining access to Central Asian energy exports. China, which is emerging as a major geopolitical winner from the global financial crisis, has been steadily strengthening its presence in Central Asia, also gaining access to the region’s oil and gas resources. And Russia is keen to preserve and consolidate its influence in the region which has been the most susceptible to Russian-led integration projects, be it under the CSTO or EuroSEC.

All Central Asian states have by now developed stable (albeit mostly authoritarian and clan-based) regimes. They have successfully engaged in multi-vector diplomacy, travelling the world from South East Asia to the Persian Gulf and Europe. They have enhanced their regional profiles in Afghanistan, China and Iran. Finally, they are much more skilled in dealing with external powers, no matter how “great” the latter claim to be.

Kazakhstan will be chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation of Europe (OSCE) next year – the first post-Soviet state to take on this role. It has signed the advanced Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) program with NATO and sent its representatives to Afghanistan with the NATO-led ISAF mission. Kazakhstan has diversified its energy export routes, now covering Russia, China and trans-Caspian shipments to the West. The country has developed close ties with the EU and the United States, while continuing to support integration projects in Eurasia and remaining Russia’s close regional ally in political, security and economic terms.

Tajikistan has expanded military and economic cooperation with both Russia and a number of NATO-member states, including the United States. It has successfully achieved the withdrawal of Russian border guards and attracted multiple international assistance programs to strengthen its border infrastructure. Recently, Tajikistan made a move to limit the use of the Russian language by state officials, and is now asking Russia to pay for military bases on its territory, as well as to keep its promise to invest in controversial hydro-power facilities. Tajikistan also developed close economic cooperation with China, including strategically important infrastructure projects.

Following a period of declared strategic partnership with Russia, Uzbekistan has stepped up its dialogue with the West. In the past year it hosted many senior U.S. officials, including senior military and State Department personnel. It has agreed to give the United States the right to use its facilities at the Navoi airport for non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan while continuing to lease its facilities in Termez to German troops. It has managed to re-launch a dialogue with the EU, largely on its own terms, and to convince the union to lift the sanctions imposed following the events in Andijan. Finally, it has refused to join the new Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Joint Operational Deployment Forces that Russia has been actively promoting, and openly criticized Russia’s decision to open a new military base in the neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan has successfully secured funds to compensate for the severe impact of the global financial crisis by engaging in bold geopolitical manoeuvring. When Russia agreed to pay $2 billion for Kyrgyzstan’s decision to close the U.S. Manaz airbase, the Kyrgyz president changed the facility’s name to a regional transportation center and got the United States to pay higher rent for using the base. Kyrgyzstan agreed to open a new Russian military base in the south, but pushed it to the remote region close to the disputed border with Uzbekistan.

All of these examples show that the Central Asian states should now be in better position to take advantage of the new international framework. The challenge, however, is to overcome many old problems that undermine their collective regional potential. Firstly, there is still a reluctance to develop regional cooperation, which is essential for the successful implementation of energy and transportation projects. Secondly, there is still no strategic vision for economic development, and investment and aid are often used for projects plagued by corruption or populism.

Thirdly, settling border disputes and developing cooperation on the use of water resources are two essential prerequisites for achieving security in the region. Likewise, regional states need to assist in promoting cooperation among the external forces, rather than exploit the competition for opportunistic gains. Central Asian states should stop viewing Afghanistan as a source of income (e.g. rent from offering military facilities to the coalition troops or contracts for reconstruction projects in Afghanistan). They have to show real commitment and engagement in shaping the policy to stabilize Afghanistan together with other regional players. Finally, Central Asian states should re-think their approach to addressing domestic security challenges, including radicalization and extremism. While there is little hope for major political reform, it is important to enhance the security sector and allow Islam to develop both inside and outside the political system.

No one knows how long the current wave of engagement in Central Asia will last, until a new international crisis shifts attention elsewhere. It is up to Central Asian states themselves to secure their stable place in the new world order, in which regionalism is once again gaining momentum. If they stand divided and fail to implement reforms, their destiny will continue to be shaped by external forces.

Oksana Antonenko is a Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The source
Copyright © The Moscow Expat Site, 1999-2023Editor  Sales  Webmaster +7 (903) 722-38-02