Asia and Eurasia
Central Asia and Crisis in Europe

In terms of Russian foreign relations, the countries of Central Asia remain the most stable in the former USSR. There is no state or association for which the fight against Russian interests would be a central foreign policy strategy. Potential challenges and threats to stability are primarily related to internal factors, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.

The dramatic developments in Eastern Europe are not directly related to the main challenges and threats faced by the states of Central Asia and Russian policy in this strategically important region. What’s more, the issues that had occupied everyone’s attention just a few months ago — especially the fate of Afghanistan following the fall of the pro-Western regime there — have been moved to the background. However, the degree to which the European security crisis has indirectly affected the main processes in the region may turn out to be significant, if not decisive in terms of the ability of states to achieve their own development goals and repel the main threats to their stability, forcing them to adjust their foreign and domestic policies. From the point of view of Russia, this means the need to maintain attention to the most important processes and events affecting Central Asia, and that the influence of the scale and significance of the military-political clash with the West mustn’t be neglected.

At the same time, the most important feature of the impact of developments in Europe on Central Asia is that the consequences will by primarily long-term in nature. This means that the governments of the countries of the region cannot now fully assess the scale of this influence, and determine exactly what challenges it brings and what opportunities it opens. This seriously complicates decision-making and requires greater restraint in setting priorities for internal development and directions for seeking external resources. We cannot say with certainty what long-term consequences a partial severance of economic ties between Russia and the West will have on Central Asian countries, with respect to trade, their ability to solve some of the problems of socio-economic development through the export of labour to Russia, the creation of new transport and logistics routes, and connections to existing ones.

At the same time, the Central Asian states must implement elements of the strategy created in the historical period preceding the European crisis, while realising at the same time that the final results will inevitably be influenced by it. An alternative solution could be a transition, or a return, to a policy of closeness, but now not all the significant countries of the region are ready for this, for internal reasons.

In other words, the countries of Central Asia, like many members of the international community, are operating within the “fog of war” and the expected multi-variance of scenarios for the development of the general situation in the large Eurasian space.

Russia and China remain important geopolitical landmarks of the region, but now they could alter their respective positions in the context of the development of their growing conflict with the West. At the same time, the scale of influence accumulated by the United States and its allies in Central Asia after the Cold War may also change, as Moscow and Beijing make more or less decisive policy changes in the region, which both nations consider a strategic backyard. In recent years, Moscow and Beijing have considered the Western countries’ influence and penetration of the political infrastructure of the region to be the main factor that could contribute to its destabilisation in the long term, especially in combination with unresolved economic problems, social stratification, poverty and the spread of religious radicalism. However, in the future, the ability of the United States and its European allies to influence the internal situation in the countries of Central Asia may either increase or decrease as a result of the local regional governments adopting a more restrained policy.

The Russia-West collision, however, has effects that are more obvious among the Central Asian states. First of all, this entails, if not the complete destruction, then a significant weakening of the entire international order that emerged after the Cold War, which was based on openness and a free market economy. During their sovereign history, all the countries of Central Asia proceeded from the fact that the world around them is developing within the framework of immutable laws and principles that have practical expression in the most advantageous and generally accepted ways: of carrying out international trade, attracting investment, and creating jobs aimed at strengthening socio-economic stability. To a large extent, the Chinese Belt and Road strategy was also aimed at utilising the opportunities of globalisation, and the states of Central Asia placed serious hopes on the process.

However, any attempt to completely exclude a country as large as Russia from globalisation, especially given its position in a number of sectors of international trade and the transport and logistics system of Eurasia, can lead to fundamental changes. It cannot be ruled out that the consequences of these changes will be so severe that they will require Central Asian governments to rethink projects and plans that just recently seemed to make the most sense from the point of view of market logic.

At the same time, the countries of the region will be able to reap certain short- and medium-term benefits from the Russia-West conflict.

First of all, we are talking about the participation of companies from individual countries of the region in the creation of new financial, trade and logistics chains that could partially compensate for the losses associated with the economic war that the West is waging against Russia. Also, in the first weeks and months of the conflict in Eastern Europe, we observed the process of relocation of skilled labour resources from Russia to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, which could also contribute to the more intensive development of high-tech companies in these states, perhaps even the emergence of new clusters in this industry. In the event that these objective advantages are supplemented by investments, one can count on a positive overall economic effect, which, of course, will also be beneficial for Russia, since it will generally contribute to the internal stability of its neighbours and friends in Central Asia.

In the political field, we can now count on the fact that the Ukraine drama experienced by the European part of former USSR will become a factor in the temporary or permanent consolidation of political regimes in the countries of Central Asia. The tragic fate of Ukraine only emphasises the importance of a consistent policy of state building, taking into account the geopolitical situation, and now all countries in the region have demonstrated a high degree of understanding of this reality. At the same time, we cannot rule out that the accumulated internal structural problems could still come to the surface and sooner or later lead to a repetition of situations similar to the dramatic events in Kazakhstan. The state was on the brink of an abyss and only the decisive actions of its leadership and CSTO assistance prevented Kazakh society from sliding into the abyss of civil war.

Asia and Eurasia
The CSTO and EAEU in a New Era: From Abstraction to Practice
Timofei Bordachev
It is difficult now to operate with abstract schemes like the respected concept of “Greater Eurasia”, but it is quite clear that real interaction, which makes it possible to reduce the threats from a world economic war and even gain benefits from it, will do more for implementation in a common space than any ideas of a general nature, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.

The Collective Security Treaty Organisation, as well as bilateral relations between Russia and Uzbekistan, have continued to play a central role in the ability of the countries of the region to repel external and internal terrorist and military threats. In this regard, the crisis in Europe has not led to significant changes, and the future is unlikely to have any serious impact on the overall balance of power. Russia and China remain the main powers driving foreign and security policy for the states of Central Asia. For the United States, this region is of interest only from the point of view of diplomatic interaction with Moscow and Beijing. In this regard, we can expect, in the medium term, an intensification of US attempts to undermine stability in the countries of Central Asia, possibly with Washington’s traditional reliance on the most radical religious elements. Summing up, we can admit that in terms of Russian foreign relations, the countries of Central Asia remain the most stable in the former USSR. There is no state or association for which the fight against Russian interests would be a central foreign policy strategy. Potential challenges and threats to stability are primarily related to internal factors, and only the interaction between Russia, China and the states of Central Asia determines how dangerous these challenges and threats may turn out to be in the coming years.

Asia and Eurasia
Peacebuilding in Eurasia
Timofei Bordachev
The dramatic events taking place in Eastern Europe have lead to a truly massive military escalation in relations between the nuclear superpowers, so we can hardly look to the future with optimism or seriously think about the likelihood of a new international order, such as those that have arisen repeatedly in the history of clashes of states in international politics.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.