Expansion of economic cooperation
For the countries of Central Asia, Russia is a key trading partner and one of the largest investors. Over the past five years, Russia's trade with the countries of the region has grown by 57%, rising from $23.6 billion in 2017 to $37 billion in 2021.
according to independent sources, the volume of accumulated Russian investments in this region exceeds $30 billion
, and the number of Russian companies participating has exceeded 10,000. Over 3,500 joint ventures involving Russian capital investments have been registered in Kazakhstan alone. The interest of Russian business circles, large and medium-sized businesses in cooperation with the region has never faded.
Amid unstable conditions, will it be possible to maintain or provide a new impetus to Russia's trade and economic cooperation with the countries of Central Asia? The leading think tanks have downgraded their forecasts for the region's economic development in 2022. For example, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development lowered its forecast
for economic growth in Central Asia by 1.5%. (In the Central Asian region, the GDP growth rate will be 3.2% instead of the previously forecasted 4.8%). At the same time, crises tend to offer new windows of opportunity for collaboration. It is only important to find these "shining windows", open them and continue to interact effectively in each other's interests.
Feel free to move forward, relying on accumulated experience
The trust-based nature of Russia's cooperation with the countries of the region, tested by time, provides sufficient grounds for strengthening and developing established trade and economic ties.
First, Russia and the countries of Central Asia are connected by their alliance-like strategic partnership;
Second, over thirty years of diplomatic relations, they have formed a solid legal and regulatory framework, consisting of almost a thousand bilateral treaties and intergovernmental agreements, over 70% of which relate to the economy
Third, ties between regions are characterised by a high level of stability
: 76 constituent entities of the Russian Federation are developing dynamic ties with Kazakhstan, with Kyrgyzstan - 71, with Tajikistan - 80, with Turkmenistan - 60 and with Uzbekistan - 75;
Fourth, from year to year, industrial cooperation between Russian enterprises and the countries of the region is being strengthened;
Fifth, interest in the Russian labour market remains high on the part of citizens of the Central Asian countries, which, according to experts, create about 10% of Russia's GDP
Sixth, the share of the Russian ruble in payments for the supply of goods and the provision of services under foreign trade agreements is growing. Depending on the country, this indicator at the end of 2021 ranged from 64% to 73%, which confirms the possibility of a smooth transition to 100% use of the ruble in mutual settlements
Seventh, the training of specialists from the countries of Central Asia in Russian universities is expanding. In the 2021-2022 academic year, their number approached 175,000, while the total number of foreign students in Russia was 324,000
. With the assistance of the Ministry of Education and Science of Russia, branches of leading Russian universities have been established in the Central Asian region. Over 115 universities and institutes in Russia and the region are involved in interuniversity cooperation.
In addition, the countries of Central Asia have rich natural resources, significant production and mineral resources potential, unique raw agricultural materials, as well as developed roads and other infrastructure. In terms of reserves of some types of natural minerals, particularly rare earth and non-ferrous metals
, the countries of Central Asia are among the top five world leaders.
Taken together, all this provides an excellent framework for elevating trade and economic cooperation to a qualitatively new level, especially regarding industry and high-tech production, agriculture and engineering, aviation, and energy, including nuclear energy. Tourism also has untapped potential for cooperation: the industry has undergone tremendous changes in the countries of Central Asia in recent years. An extensive modern hotel infrastructure has been created, significant efforts have been made to preserve historic architecture and create comfortable recreation areas for travellers, including ecotourists.
Expanding the horizons of cooperation
Russia and the countries of Central Asia have built and continue to build their relations as privileged partners since the very beginning. It is important that real-time “clock checking” is taking place not only at the bilateral level, and at the highest level, but also within the framework of regional organisations - the CIS, the CSTO and the SCO. The “Russia plus Central Asia” format has shown itself to be very popular and promising. The potential of this format, amid new realities, could be tapped to an even greater extent if it was utilised by sectoral ministries and departments, primarily by the economic bloc.
Russia and the countries of Central Asia have entered a new era of relations against the background of greater instability and unpredictability in the world. Difficulties cannot be avoided. However, Russia and the countries of Central Asia share a wealth of experience jointly overcoming emerging obstacles to independent development. Let's recall that during the acute phase of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic (2020–2021), Russia’s trade with the countries of Central Asia increased by $8.5 billion, defying all pessimistic forecasts. This is just one example, but it is very indicative. There is every reason to believe that Russia and the countries of Central Asia will easily pass the next "test" of the reliability of their interaction and the strength of their cooperation. Hard times don't last forever.