Central Asia Between Own Interests And Interests Of World Powers

An article by: Editorial board

Competition and historical rivalry between the countries of Central Asia must be forgotten once and for all in order to give way to integration and cooperation.

The heads of five former Soviet republics of Central Asia will meet on September 14-15 in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. The leaders of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan will again try to bring their positions closer on issues related to the principles and specific forms of broader regional integration.

It is no secret that this process, vital for the economic and social development of the Central Asian countries, is marking time. In addition to the historical rivalry between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which in the 32 years since the collapse of the USSR and gaining independence from Moscow have not agreed on a common border, there is also Turkmenistan, which traditionally distances itself from participation in international organizations. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan did not want to sign the “Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation” proposed by Russia and three neighboring countries.

According to many international observers, competition and rivalry flourishes in the region, often fueled from abroad. In an area the size of India and Pakistan combined (4,003.45 thousands of square kilometers), the trio comprising the USA-EU tandem, China, and Russia seeks to advance their own strategic interests, ranging from access to natural resources such as gas, oil, and uranium, all the way to the military presence in this strategic point and the nerve center of Greater Eurasia.

The region is becoming increasingly important for the whole world in the context of the constantly changing geopolitical situation. Each of the Central Asian republics is trying in its own way to take advantage of the “flirting,” unfortunately, not always gallant, with the superpowers in order to gain a foothold in new advantageous positions. Suffice it to say that four international summits were held in the past year: the USA – Central Asia Ministerial Summit, the China – Central Asia Summit, the EU – Central Asia Prime Ministers’ Forum, and the Persian Gulf – Central Asia Conference.

In the new international environment characterized primarily by growing tension between the West, on the one hand, and Russia and China, on the other, global interest in the countries of Central Asia is increasing, which is a fundamental process that will provide them with both opportunities and risks. For Alexander Knyazev, an expert and scientist of the Russian Academy of Sciences, “the ability to crystallize the strategic interests of your country in the short and long term without irritating the high and mighties is a very subtle diplomatic art. So far, the Central Asian republics have managed to maintain a balance, but they have always done it on the edge of the abyss, risking at any moment to come under pressure from one or another international force.”

Even Moscow that would like to re-engage as many former Soviet republics as possible recognizes the fact that there is still no “integration” or even simple “cooperation” between the Central Asian countries. Internal dissent is detrimental to economic and social development. This was very clearly demonstrated by the severe energy crisis that hit the republics of Central Asia in the 2022-2023 winter season. And there were no attempts to help each other in this extreme situation.

In other words, weak integration processes in Central Asia are facing enormous challenges that often cause the flourishing of unfair internal competition, and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve bilateral and multilateral agreements. Such competition seriously harms international trade in the region. According to Knyazev, Kazakhstan, being the only republic bordering Russia, “systematically impedes the transit of goods from other neighboring countries to Russia and back.” This fact prompted Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Russia to invest in the construction of the “Southern Transport Corridor,” which will help to avoid passing through the territory of Kazakhstan. The situation is detrimental to the economic interests not only of Russia, but also of China that insists on building a differentiated, modern, and freely accessible transport network in the region.

As a whole, in the 21st century, the countries of Central Asia are facing a number of challenges, the resolution of which requires joint efforts, political will, and coordination of actions. The rivalry should be left behind to ensure that only integration and cooperation can guarantee them a prosperous, stable, and sustainable future.

Giornalisti e Redattori di Pluralia

Editorial board