Central Asia and the Era of New Bipolarity
Nizhny Novgorod

On Wednesday, May 18, the Second Central Asian Conference of the Valdai Discussion Club ended in Nizhny Novgorod. That day, an open discussion took place on the urgent problems facing the region. In the framework of a free exchange of views, the participants assessed the most important new areas of interaction between Russia and the countries of Central Asia, identifying those issues and problems that have not yet fully manifested themselves. 

Let's recall that the theme of the conference was "Russia — Central Asia: Cooperation and Development Amid Instability".  An open discussion showed that the question of how to live in an era of instability is the most topical for all participants, without exception.

The world as we knew it began to crumble when the Covid pandemic arrived two years ago. One of the first signs of the new era was the “shutdown” of China and the associated disruption of supply chains. Today, with the introduction of new lockdowns in China, this topic has escalated again, and a significant part of the discussion was devoted to it. According to Yana Leksyutina, the closeness of China remains a big problem for Russia. This is especially felt in the field of logistics: Russian cargo cannot reach China (although cargo from China arrives in Russia without problems). And yet, despite this, trade growth in 2021 reached 30%.

However, the high level of political relations between Russia and China remains unchanged.
 According to Adil Kaukenov, the position expressed by China on the special operation in Ukraine was formulated even before the events themselves. Beijing expresses its commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict, but pointed to the responsibility of the United States and NATO for its emergence.

Vasily Kashin noted that China avoids direct steps towards the West, which could harm it. But, according to Andrei Grozin, even despite this, Western countries will increasingly perceive China as the number one enemy. This will inevitably affect Central Asia; its countries will be exposed to all sorts of obstacles to cooperation with China. Therefore, their main task is to develop an independent policy, the expert believes.

Meanwhile, the international environment itself has changed dramatically. According to Stanislav Pritchin, we are approaching the point where multi-vector policy becomes impossible, as it has become more difficult to maintain good relations with everyone, and countries are forced to make tough choices. The idea that the West can serve as an equal foreign policy vector for Central Asia along with Russia and China is illusory, the expert stressed. The role of Central Asia for Russia, according to him, is extremely important: this "strategic underbelly" is the most vulnerable and at the same time the most reliable place.
Pritchin pointed out that good relations with the West fundamentally fail to provide the countries of Central Asia with any rewards in terms of development, and they should not be afraid of Western sanctions. Rakhim Oshakbaev, however, objected to his assertion. The events of recent months, he said, have shown that it is a mistake to count on decision-making based on rational considerations and national interests. Perhaps the Central Asian elites are so vulnerable to Western capital that a hint of sanctions is more terrible for them than a threat to relations with such key partners as Russia and China, the expert noted.

The key trend of our era is the formation of a new bipolarity between the collective West and the collective non-West, Konstantin Kurylevnoted. This process will take 10-15 years and will be a period of unprecedented challenges, but also opportunities.

You will be able to fully familiarise yourself with the content of the discussion in the near future: a video recording will be available on the Valdai Club website and in social networks.