By Wu Minwen
With the Russia-Ukraine conflict in a stalemate, Russian President Putin met with Kazakhstan President Tokayev in the resort city of Sochi by the Black Sea on August 19, giving some certainty to the recently somewhat teetering bilateral relations. In the same period, the US held the Regional Cooperation 2022 joint military exercise with the six countries of Mongolia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan from August 10 to 20. It’s clear that competition among major countries is on the rise in Central Asia.
The Eurasian continent is no doubt the center and pivot of global geopolitics now. The five Central Asian countries and their surrounding neighbors include almost all the main “chess players” and “axis countries” in the Eurasian geopolitical game, enmeshing Central Asia in the major-country competition.
The interdependence between Russia and Central Asian countries will last long.
Either from the historical and cultural perspective – Central Asian countries used to be members of the Soviet Union – or from the perspective of geopolitical interests, Central Asia is an indispensable link for Russia’s national interests and security. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has further strained the relationship between Russia and the US or the broader West. The more so, the more Russia needs to ensure steady relations and border security with Asian countries, especially the five Central Asian countries.
The five of them not only have inseparable cultural, historical and geographical connections with Russia but also depend on Russia – at least partly – for economic development and other interests. For instance, given their low level of economic development, a lot of young people in the five countries see Russia as the land of hope and future, and remittances from Russia become an important source of capital for them. Meanwhile, the two sides also enjoy close trade relations and great economic complementarity.
This means the relationship between Russia and Central Asian countries may change depending on the changes in the global situation and in Russia’s global standing, but their interdependence will last long by and large.
The US and the West will reinforce their influence in Central Asia.
The US and the West are using the Russia-Ukraine conflict to erode Russia’s national strengths and international influence – at the expense of Ukraine, and this also gives them an opportunity to reinforce their clout in Central Asia. That the US-led “Regional Cooperation 2022” joint military exercise involves Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan implies the growing infiltration of external forces in the region.
A dominant regional power is hard to come along.
Of the five Central Asian countries, only Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have a population of more than 10 million. Tajikistan is close to that line, while Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan have only millions of people. All being inland countries, they are on a low level of economic and social development with limited capacities. Major countries come to infiltrate and intervene for their own interests. In America’s global strategy, the appearance of any dominant power in any region would be considered a threat to its hegemony – first Asia Pacific, then Europe, and now Central Asia, where no such power has appeared so far.
Editor's note: The author is from the College of Information and Communication, National University of Defense Technology. This article is originally published on zqb.cyol.com, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.