Asia and Eurasia
Reasons for Peace in Central Asia

The latest sporadic skirmishes on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have inevitably caused a stir in the information space and prompted emotional predictions about the possible escalation of the next outbreak of tension. However, now, as has happened more than once in the past, we can be sure that a new episode in the complex border relations between two independent states will not cause a situation that truly endangers regional stability. This, of course, is not a reason to turn a blind eye to the tragic losses on both sides, or to abandon the idea of ​ensuring that even minor aggravations become impossible. Russia, like China and the powers of the region themselves, must constantly work to ensure that multilateral mechanisms for the prompt settlement of crises must be formed. 

However, in reality, Central Asia is one of the few regions of the modern world where we can observe stable interstate relations as well as the absence of any serious clashes over the past 30 years. Against the background of the Middle East, the South Caucasus or Eastern Europe, this region looks like a stronghold of sustainability and responsible behaviour. This, of course, cannot but cause sincere grief among our partners in the West, especially in the USA or Great Britain. We can regularly observe signs of such disappointment in numerous analytical publications and forecasts that promise all sorts of troubles and misfortunes for the region.

However, the region itself gives many reasons to think that all the financial and organisational efforts of the United States and its allies will most likely turn out to be unclaimed and fruitless. Over their three decades of independence, the post-Soviet states of Central Asia have proved that the region they comprise has every objective reason to be considered one of the most peaceful on the planet. This is despite a constantly growing population, a potential water problem affecting interstate relations and a significant number of unresolved territorial and border issues.

Several important objective factors speak in favour of stability in Central Asia and negate the possibility of  dangerous conflicts developing in the region. First, a simple glance at the map will tell you that the states of Central Asia are in a unique geopolitical position. They are in contact with two major powers that maintain extremely friendly bilateral relations, verging on an alliance - Russia and China. Neither of these states seek to create closed military alliances in the region in order to limit each other's capabilities, or to create artificial dividing lines, as happened in post-Cold War Europe.

Due to the fact that Iran, which is also not an ally of the West, adjoins Central Asia to the southeast, and unstable Afghanistan is located to its south, the states of this region present a problem in terms of logistical accessibility for the United States and its allies. In fact, it was only possible for the US to access Central Asia on a really serious scale during the period of its cooperation with Russia on the Afghan issue. After the Americans and their allies fled shamefully from Afghanistan, there were no grounds for interaction here, especially given the current crisis in Europe. Therefore, even if the Western countries seriously try to create a hotbed of tension in Central Asia, it would be quite difficult for them to do so, simply because they lack convenient direct access. We must not forget that in the era of the so-called “Great Game” between the British and Russian empires, both European powers were in direct contact with their possessions.

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It is becoming obvious that after the “Afghan exodus” a real war of compromising materials began in Washington. The State Department blamed the Pentagon, the Pentagon — intelligence, and intelligence agencies blamed the White House. Together they blame former President Donald Trump: he was wrong to make an agreement with the Taliban, organised the negotiation process poorly, etc. However, it was Joe Biden who turned Afghanistan into one of the most critical problems literally from scratch, Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov writes.
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Now only Russia borders the region, the British presence on its borders has disappeared into history, and as for the United States, which considers Central Asia in the context of its diplomatic struggle against Moscow and Beijing, the region is simply difficult in terms of organising the appropriate infrastructure. We understand that in this case we are not talking about radically inclined participants in social networks, but about their ability to directly influence the decision-making of states.

Second, even though the states of Central Asia are not yet ready to create stable permanent forms of cooperation among themselves, they are united by the presence of a constant external threat. The spread of radical religious ideas has been a challenge to the stability of these countries since the first years of their independent existence and, in the case of Tajikistan, has led to a bloody civil war. In Uzbekistan, counteracting radical movements has become one of the government's top priorities, and the problem is being successfully resolved. As for the other states of the region, they’ve also felt threatened by the emergence of radical ideas (and those who espouse them) with varying degrees of acuteness, and the elites are well aware that this is fraught with mortal danger.

Third, all the countries of Central Asia have relatively stable political regimes and established societies that can deal with the problem of chronic poverty, a pronounced uneven distribution of income, and the lumpenisation of the population, which have hit Ukraine or Moldova. The leaders of the countries of Central Asia, of course, still have a lot to do to pursue economic development and reduce dependence on the Russian labour market and energy prices. However, for such work they have a serious base. In all cases (except for Turkmenistan) the activities of the state are complemented by NGOs and local self-government at the grassroots level. This leads to the formation of governments that are responsible for their behaviour and are not tempted to fall under external control.

Fourth, the special relationship with Russia and the fact that Moscow has never intended to pursue a policy of "divide and rule" has played an important role in maintaining regional stability. When the countries of Central Asia gained independence, Russia never set itself the task of creating a rift in the region that would lead to permanent hostile relations between the newly independent states, in contrast to the actions of Great Britain in South Asia. Doing so would not have reflected the principles of Russian colonial policy or the state structure of the USSR era, and it was simply beyond the power of Russia itself in the early 1990s, even if such a thing had occurred to someone. Russia itself reacted quite calmly and with restraint to the difficulties that the Russian-speaking population faced after 1991 and never tried to use this factor to undermine the internal stability of the Central Asian countries.

Last but not least, peace in the region can have a stable cultural basis. Unlike the Middle East, South Asia or the Caucasus region, Central Asia is blessed with religious homogeneity. This creates a common basis for disputes to be resolved peacefully enough, through compromise. Although it should be noted that Muslim states rarely enter into bloody and devastating wars among themselves. The only major conflict of this kind was the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, but it arose amid unique conditions: both countries featured revolutionary regimes that pushed them into an implacable confrontation.

Summing up, we can say that Central Asia is really a stable ‘rear zone’ for Russia and China in the context of the conflict that is unfolding between these countries and the West.

The only reason for concern could be an increase in internal instability, as happened in Kazakhstan in January 2022. However, in this case, too, the crisis was quickly resolved, and the political elites have demonstrated an understanding that certain reforms are necessary.

We can objectively state that Central Asia does not face the threat of the emergence of a serious interstate conflict, or the formation of aggressive military blocs, such as those which caused the tragedy in Eastern Europe, the consequences of which we are all witnessing. The only thing we can fear are attempts at subversive activity from outside where the requisite socio-economic conditions exist. This, of course, represents a certain challenge, but the possibilities to stop it lie in the plane of cooperation between special services and law enforcement agencies, and not in the plane of especially large-scale diplomatic or military efforts.

New Regionalism in Central Asia
Ulugbek Khasanov
In the modern world, many countries, due to the devaluation of the stabilising mechanisms of the international system, strive to pursue a pragmatic policy based primarily on their own interests. The realistic and objective perception of such interests is becoming a topical issue, as well as their correlation with history, geography, economic feasibility and reality, writes Ulugbek Khasanov, Head of Regional Security & Conflicts Study Lab., University of World Economics & Diplomacy (Uzbekistan).
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Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.