The Third Central Asian Conference of the Valdai Discussion Club. Day 2
Tomsk, the Russian Federation

The third Central Asian Conference of the Valdai Club was held in Tomsk on May 16–17. On the second day of its work, two sessions took place. The fourth session opened during the day, which was devoted to common security challenges facing Russia and Central Asia. It was held in a closed-door format.

At the beginning of the discussion, it was noted that the issues of security and prosperity in Central Asia are interconnected. And, as one of the speakers emphasized, regardless of anyone's wishes, the Russian Federation will continue to act as a guarantor of security in the region, as it has been doing for more than a century.

Under the current conditions, Central Asia can become a space of opportunities and communication. Indeed, today it is one of the few regions in the world through which a dialogue between the West and Russia is maintained. Today it is a stable region, where the growth of intra-regional and extra-regional trade is recorded. This indicates that the states here are able to negotiate, the expert explained, but in order to achieve their goals they need to defend their subjectivity.

The experts agreed that it is very important for the countries of Central Asia to act with a consolidated position on external platforms, despite the existing contradictions. This again raises the question of subjectivity and readiness to defend it in order to effectively respond to emerging threats. In particular, one of the participants in the discussion explained that after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, the countries of the region and Russia provided the United States with air corridors and airfields for the transfer of forces to Afghanistan. However, after this operation, a wave of colour revolutions began in the countries of Central Asia. Almost two decades later, the sudden withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has again created hotbeds of instability in the region. Now the conflict in Ukraine is becoming a source of tension.

The Ukrainian crisis did not present new challenges, but exacerbated existing ones by creating additional problems. Ethnic conflicts have been added to the list of “old” conflicts (water shortage, religious extremism and terrorism, as well as drug trafficking from Afghanistan). According to experts, the reason for this lies in the change in the national composition of all the states of the region – they have become mono-ethnic. Also of concern are the risks associated with the transit of power in the countries of the region, which does not always occur in accordance with legal norms, as well as human rights observation in general.

Experts noted that now the security of Europe is completely intertwined with the United States, and this has imposed certain restrictions. In particular, the northern part of the corridors of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative is blocked, which significantly limits opportunities for the region’s landlocked countries. The US continues to create problems in Central Asia with hotbeds of tension in southern Russia and western China, intensifying the confrontation with them.

The experts repeated their assessment that the Central Asian countries must acquire agency, which provides for a willingness to make independent decisions in the economic, financial and military spheres, without regard to external actors. But the question arises how external stakeholders will react to this and whether they are ready to recognise it.

An overview of the results of the fourth session is available in our podcast with Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Valdai Club.

The conference ended with an open discussion, titled “What We Know and Don’t Know About the World of Tomorrow,” which gave the participants an opportunity to discuss various problems of the region and answer questions from students of Tomsk State University. The discussion moderator, Programme Director of the Valdai Club Timofei Bordachev, summed up the results of the discussion for our website, and the full recording of the broadcast is available here.