KHABURZANIYA D. VERY IMPORTANT POSITION OF THE CENTRAL ASIAN REGION AS THE CROSSROAD OF THE WORLD’S THREE GREAT SUPERPOWERS` GRAND GEOSTRATEGICAL GOALS


KHABURZANIYA D. VERY IMPORTANT POSITION OF THE CENTRAL ASIAN REGION AS THE CROSSROAD OF THE WORLD’S THREE GREAT SUPERPOWERS` GRAND GEOSTRATEGICAL GOALS


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// Политика, государство и право. 2012. № 10 [Электронный ресурс]. URL: http://politika.snauka.ru/2012/10/518 (дата обращения: 30.04.2017).

INTRODUCTION

East-West-Russia: When Tastes Do Not Differ

The role of the Central Asian region in the world has changed dramatically after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 which was named by the Russia’s second president V. Putin the greatest catastrophe of the XX century. Five newly independent states in the heart of Eurasia being relatively weak has become the object of political struggle between more powerful countries. For instance, Turkey and Iran claim to influence the ex-Soviet Republics of Central Asia. However the main candidates to dominate in this region are Russia owning the largest territory in the world, China being the most populated country in the world and the USA having the world’s strongest economy, largest military fleet and most powerful nuclear potential[1].

What makes the Central Asian region be the geopolitical pie for superpowers? Firstly, Russia’s position can be explained by its central position on the post-soviet space and desire to play a significant role in its traditional zone of influence. Secondly, China being a leader of the Islamic world and the most advanced and influential country in the Western Asia has strengthened its position due to gas transitions from Turkmenistan through the Uzbekistan territory. And as to the US, its military presence in the region is being justified by the global aim – its leading role in the war against terrorism which was proclaimed by Washington after the tragic events happened in New York on the 11th of September 2001.  Due to the diplomatic aid from the Russian side the US Air Military Forces were allowed to use the airbases on the territory of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It was (and it remains) essential and strategically important during the Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan – the world terrorism’s breeding-ground.  All these arguments seem to be quite convincing at first glance but are they the only ones to justify the three countries` interests to this previously ignored region[2]?

This essay attempts to make geopolitical analysis of the Central Asian region from the point of external actors` role in its foreign political course. What are the objective positions and the true goals of Russia, China and the USA in CA now? Can the Central Asia’s Resource Curse become the reason for The Cold War II or in contrary be the ground for a strongly linked military and political union? Let’s see.

CENTRAL ASIAN REGION AND THE “GREAT THREE”

Central Asia and Russia on the Post-Soviet Space

The desire of Russia to expand its influence in the Central Asian region in general has been justified by two things. Firstly, as it was already said, this area is the traditional zone of interest for Russia on the post-soviet space; secondly – it helped the newly born Russian state to strengthen its position on the world’s scene. In particular, efforts of Russia to keep its dominant position in CA are determined by their geographical, cultural, historical, economic and military ties. After 1991 the Russian side obtained the right to locate its military forces in Kyrgyzstan; also there was strengthened coordination with Uzbekistan in Air Defense sphere

The Soviet Period (1922-1991) lasting for more than half of the century has become the common historical heritage for both Russia and CA. Moreover, many of the present state authorities in CA belonged to the Soviet political elite. In addition to this, the Russian language being the second language for Central Asian peoples makes communication between these countries easy. As to economy, CA for a long time has also been integrated to the Soviet economic space. And today the main routes for export of Caspian oil and gas go through Russia strengthening economic ties between these states[3]. Particularly in May 2009 one of the leaders of the state monopoly on gas and oil `Uzbekneftegas` said that Uzbekistan would plan to export the major part of its gas to Russia according to the agreement with `Gasprom` (15.2 from 16.2 m3  )[4].  Moreover, lots of labor immigrants from CA come to work in Russia, both contributing into the Russian economy (those who work legally) and financially supporting their relatives in their native countries. Furthermore, Russia is the main exporter of weapon to CA (who is dependent on it). The neighborhood with Russia makes its transportation much easier. So, close geographical situation (as we know, Russia and CA share common border with Kazakhstan) is the ground for improving economic ties. On the other hand the weakest link of Russian activity in the region of Central Asia has been the military aspect. In spite of opening airbases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in 2003 and 2004, Russian military positions are still to be improved. What makes the problem worse is the fact that Russian main interests in CA have been dictated by security and strategical thoughts.

Strategic issues mean firstly – integration of CA countries to CIS activity. On the one hand – it means making CA a reliable partner for Russia. On the other hand it reduces other countries` chances to expand their influence on CA.  The region has become the target for both Eastern and Western countries: Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the USA. Expansion of these countries to CA would turn the region into a buffer zone between Russia and countries which are not Russia’s direct partners and close friends. During the 90-s Russia has been weakening its positions in CA which it its turn increased its active cooperation with western countries expecting future economic improvement.  CA leaders also welcomed military cooperation, particularly playing as an actor of the NATO Partnership For Peace. Under the agreement of this military partnership CA officers were exercised in the USA as well as the US soldiers were trained in CA countries. The events followed in the second half of 90-s (such as the concept of NATO enlargement eastwards in 1999 and criticism of Russia’s actions in Chechnya) were the last blow for Russia. The New National Security Concept Of the Russian Federation proclaimed in 2000 expressed its strong dissatisfaction with western (and particularly the US) foreign policy. It claimed western expansion to be an international threat to Russia and made obstacles for Russia to satisfy its national interests in CA particularly.

Strategical concerns of Russia about Central Asian region are closely connected with more significant problem – security threats coming from regional conflicts along the Russian southern borders. One of the most violent ones was the Civil War in Tajikistan, lasting for five years (1992-1995) and considered to be one of the most bloodshed conflicts in the post-soviet space. Russia was under the threat by possible spreading of the conflict to its territory especially to the regions densely populated by Muslims. It could provoke spreading of Islamic fundamentalism to Russia. The problem is that Radical Islam developing in CA was a result of region’s Islamization process during 90-s and led to creating of Islamists and fundamentalists groups, for instance – Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The Islamic attacks in August 1999 in Southern Kyrgyzstan, Dagestan and Chechen War increased the threat of Islamic extremism In such conditions Russian Government announced the policy of strengthening its activity in Central Asian region and improve military relations with these states.

At first, a bilateral agreements on military, military-technical cooperation and common military trainings were signed by Russia and Uzbekistan during Russian President V. Putin`s visit to Tashkent in May 2000. Secondly after being supported by Russia Tajikistan became its main ally in CA. Also, the main priority for Russia was to control Tajik-Afghan border (14 thousand km long) by contingent of great number of border troops. Under conditions of partnership between Russia and Tajikistan 201 Motor Rifle Division (Russia’s peacekeeping forces) was reorganized into Russian military base.

As to other states, control of common border with Kazakhstan lasting 6500 km long is of great strategical importance for Russia.  No proper control gives the green light for drug trafficking, illegal trespassing and smuggling to Russia. Kyrgyzstan had also been fond of Russia’s border guarding, but only until its own Kyrgyz National Border Service was set up in the 1999 and replaced Russian border guards. Also Kyrgyzstan has been actively participating in the CIS common Air Defense System, locating Airbase Manas on its territory. This airbase was strategically significant during the US counterterrorist campaign in Afghanistan which was an American response to 911. (In 2009 the base was given to the US). The only country which ignores to any military cooperation is Turkmenistan. Following the policy of positive neutrality in accordance with which a country doesn’t enter any alliances, Turkmenistan hasn’t participated even in CIS Military Cooperation. In the end of 1999 this country in unilateral order announced the end of Russian-Turkmen Treaty on border cooperation signed in 1993 with demand for Russian border troops to leave the territory of Turkmenistan.

As we see, apart from Tajikistan, Russia did not contribute seriously in providing domestic stability in CA states. In fact the Russian involvement in Tajik War became the core issue for military partnership between Russia and CA states. This cooperation together with Uzbekistan agreements put the ground for closer strategical partnership between Russia and Central Asian States. To sum up, the major interests in Central Asian region have always been: firstly, integrating them to CIS, in order to develop economic partnership; secondly, to maintain the regional stability (security); thirdly, to restrict the influence of other countries on this region.

Central Asia and the USA

The US military presence swinged round impetuously after the 911. The core idea of US foreign policy in CA states has been promotion of democracy to these states in order to maintain stability and eradicate or at least reduce terrorists` activity there[5]. The military cooperation between America and Central Asian States started from the US antiterrorist campaign – Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.  In addition to this Tajikistan was another target for the US. This weak state being “a potential hotbed of Islamic radicalism” was also potential heaven for Islamic militants[6]. So, the US policy towards Tajikistan was based on two issues: Firstly, to provide law-and order on the territory of Tajikistan and along the Tajik-Afghan border; secondly, to decrease Tajikistan’s reliance on Russia; finally, to promote the democracy to the state which can guarantee protection from political alienation and radical opposition thoughts.

Leaders of CA states provided US with the right to use local airports – in Uzbekistan – airspace and airfields for attacks on Taliban and cargo flights in Northern Afghanistan; in Kazakhstan – over flight rights an transportation of humanitarian cargo; in Kyrgyzstan – airbase Manas for security operations[7].   The Afghan War became “on-the-ground foothold”[8] for justifying the American presence in CA.

In 2007 the American scholar Pinar Ipek predicted that the presence of the U.S airbase outside the Manas airport in Bishkek led to location of American Military Forces in the CA region “not temporary but long-term”[9]. According to the agreement signed in June 2009 Airbase near the international airport Manas in Bishkek was reorganized into Transitional transportation Centre of The USA with the entire infrastructure that previously had belonged to Manas. The president of Kyrgyzstan A. Akayev called the situation with Manas `a failure of Russian policy[10]. Still it clearly indicates strengthening US positions in the region what can not be said about Russia.

The great challenge that the USA are granted in CA is their objectives for access to energy resources in the region. It is strategically important for the USA: “Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan being the oil-and-gas-rich countries of the Caspian Basin – are important allies of the United States in fighting against terrorism and drug trafficking”[11]. Also, energy resources of Caspian Basin claimed to be of great significance for US to secure stability of the east-west energy corridor that is alternative energy resources to the ones in the Middle East[12]. On the other hand control over energy resources has been “crucial to balance Russian and Chinese influence in the region[13].

In general, presence of the USA in the region of CA is proved by three objective reasons: Firstly, as it was already mentioned, military  – due to the presence of US military troops and bases in CA republics; secondly,  economic: US is the largest potential market for Caspian oil and gas. Moreover, being the world’s most financially powerful country, US have enough resources for investing in oil and gas industry of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan (and Azerbaijan). And the last but not the least, cultural: it is not a secret that due to the products of mass culture, (for instance – music and cinema) USA is the major source of cultural winnowing in the modern world. Despite most of the countries in CA are Muslim, they are exposed to American cultural influence. It is obvious that despite being a relatively new geopolitical actor in Central Asian region, the US` influence is growing there.

Central Asia and China

China together with Russia has established “political hegemony” in Central Asian region[14]. Following the policy of “joint rule”, conditioned by strategical partnership these two countries initiated creating a regional group Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 1998. At first the group was named “Shanghai Five” and included Russia. China and three Central Asian states: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Turkmenistan, as we know, ignored membership in any alliance according to its positive neutrality position; Uzbekistan was the sixth member joining in the end of 2000. The decision to strengthen ties with Russia was determined by Uzbekistan authorities` understanding that Russia was “the only big power willing to provide troops to fight the insurgent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan”[15]. In June 2001 the Group was officially consolidated as Shanghai Cooperation Organization. At first their major goal was regulating the border relations – delimitation and demilitarization the Chinese border with China and CA states. Then their priorities changed making Islamic military activity the question of great importance.

Signed in 2001 the Treaty on Good-Neighborly Relations, Friendship and Cooperation  documentally secured partnership between Russia and China. The conditions of this Treaty included rising of arms sales between Russia and China and training Chinese soldiers in Russian military institutions. Military and political block based on faith and mutual understanding between Russia and China was the core to outline the geopolitical frameworks in Central Asian region[16].

China is interested in gas transportation from Russia and Central Asia. One of the routes included into the East-West Project which is to deliver gas from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to south-east China. According to the Chris Weafer who is Chief Strategist with UralSib Financial Corporation in Moscow, Central Asian states use all the benefits from the extremely advantageous position they have now: on the one hand, they supply energy-bearers; on the other hand, key transit routes run through their territory[17].  For Central Asian states China is a tremendous market of energy bearers and other natural resources.

Analytics argue that China tries to follow its own policy based mainly on economic relations and lobby its interests in Central Asian region. China’s strategy is based on three main principles: Firstly, to establish friendly relations with all the neighbor countries. Secondly, to make its neighbors feel safe and secured by means of good will, openness, honesty and following the principles of equality (equal rights) and cooperation. Thirdly, to help economic development of CA states by providing them with benefits from its own economic growth which is extremely significant for the weakest countries, for instance – Kyrgyzstan? It is one of the main transport channels linking Kyrgyzstan with “external world”. As to Kyrgyzstan, being located   close to China, it can’t help its feeling of weakness in contrast with the powerful neighbor.

China-Kyrgyz relations have been developing during the last decade mainly in the sphere of trade. Supplies from Kyrgyzstan include textile materials, wastes of black and colored metals: whereas China exports cars, equipment, food and mass consumption products. Besides, China supplies mainly ready made goods whereas Kyrgyzstan – raw materials and natural resources. As a result Chinese export is 212% higher than Kyrgyz one[18]. Negotiations between Kyrgyz and China leaders (Chu Tzin` Tao and Kurmanbek Bakiyev) held on the 14 of August 2009 in Kyrgyz capital Bishkek resulted in signing Common China-Kyrgyz Declaration of further development of relations of neighbourhsip, friendship and cooperation, besides nine other documents about cooperation in such spheres as technology, economy, infrastructural building, education, environmental security and struggle with drug trafficking and smuggling were signed[19]. K. Bakiyev called China a good partner in political and economic cooperation, paying attention to the fact that development of friendship and neighbourship with China is of high priority for Kyrgyz foreign policy. He added that there are no obstacles between these countries for developing bilateral ties.

Chinese leader in his turn highlighting geographical closeness of the two countries and partnership sad about the importance of strengthening and developing relations of friendship and neighbourship between them. In the sphere of economy he stressed the importance to develop “investing climate”, trade, transport, tourism; Speaking about the social and culture sphere he mentioned necessity in developing cultural and educational contacts; As to security sphere he stressed the significance to strengthen common efforts in struggle with terrorism and drug trafficking and cooperate within SCO to provide safety and security in the region. Chinese side expressed intention for further support of projects on bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation within SCO to contribute to mutual development.

It is obvious, that China, being the country of great economic power, has got an enormous potential for further development and increasing its influence on Central Asia particularly. This possibility is and can be provided only on condition of friendly relations with the Central Asian states it has been done in Kyrgyzstan.

CONCLUSION

While Russia is enlarging its military presence in Central Asia with the help of Collective Security Treaty Organization, China is increasing its political and economic influence on the region. Besides economic interests, China finds the energy security problem of great importance. Being rich in gas and oil Central Asia can guarantee China a lot of supplies while Chinese market has a demand. For China SCO remains an effective means of converting economical power into political influence at the same time using free guarantees of security reducing threats of terrorists[20]. Analysics consider that Chinese strengthening in CA can misbalance bilateral relations. While China is becoming the world superpower, Russian influence is decreasing even though Kremlin does not will to admit it, they say. In September 2009 Russia and China held the largest common military trainings in Shenyang province (General Embassy of The Russian Federation is located there). So, Russia and China claim to establish unprecedented strategical partnership[21]. The partnership with China passively gives Russia a chance to control the US presence (while China itself does not interfere in their relations at the same time supporting CA states financially). Nevertheless Chinese side is sure that Russia can effectively prevent westernitization of Central Asian states only by means of “open approach” but not with the help of winning over spheres of military influence[22].

The partnership between Russia and America after September 11 was not long-term[23]. American bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan seen as “American intrusion into what was previously regarded as a Russian preserve” caused great anxiety in Kremlin.

Nevertheless,  some analytics argue that in 90-s Russia and China  “had appeared unwilling, if not unable, to provide enough military support to CA and the question is whether Russia and China would now prove able to provide enough military support to the region”[24]. However as a response in 2002 Russian President V. Putin announced his intention to enlarge military marine forces and hold trainings in Central Asia. Then in 2003 and 2004 two military bases were opened in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Does not it look like an armament race during the Cold War period?

Both states hope to replace each other from this region struggling for its energy resource justifying their presence by providing security in the region. The USA highlights its efforts to maintain stability and security[25],  at the same time having chance to control Russian and Chinese influence there[26]; In its turn Russia providing border guarding with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan[27],  was disappointed with the possibility of the US assistance to local leaders in their struggle against terrorism and preventing the expansion of Islamic fundamentalism[28]. Relations between Russia and USA in Central Asia now can be characterized as the state of parity.

Finally, we see that Central Asian region is of great strategic significance for the three world’s superpowers. Each of them personally is willing to decrease its competitors` influence there not only by trying to keep friendly relations with them but also hiding its true and at the same time pragmatic goals by more generous motives. As one of the political correspondents on the First Russian Channel has said once, the Cold War was finished but the fighting regime has not been cancelled. Isn’t he right?

 

Bibliography

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  15. Мураталиева З.Т. Стратегическое партнерство Кыргызстана и России как средство укрепления внешней безопасности Кыргызской Республики. 2009. http://www.easttime.ru/analitic/1/4/732.html
  16. Мураталиева Н.Т. Особенности экономической политики Китая в Кыргызстане// Easttime.  2008  http://www.easttime.ru/analitic/1/4/496.html
  17. Центральная Азия: все карты на руках у Китая. 2009. http://www.inosmi.ru/world/20090819/251722.html

Status of Nuclear Weapons States and Their Nuclear Capabilities. (Data as of March 2008). http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/summary.htm (Access 23.12.2009).

Culter R. U.S.Intervention in Afghanistan: Implications for Central Asia //A Global Affairs Commentary. 2001.

Димитров П. Средняя Азия и Кавказ: Между Россией и США // Центр геополитических экспертиз. http://cge.evrazia.org/geopolitics_8.shtml

Watson  N. Russia finds growing competition for Central Asia’s oil and gas // Business New Europe.  2009. http://businessneweurope.eu/story1613/Russia_finds_growing_competition_for_Central_Asias_oil_and_gas

Ipek P. Challenges For Democratization in Central Asia: What The United States Do? // Middle East Policy. Vol.14.2007.

Akbarzadeh S. Geopolitics versus Democracy in Tajikistan. P.568.

Buszynski L. Russia’s new role in Central Asia // Asian Survey. Vol.45. 2005.

Culter R. U.S.Intervention in Afghanistan: Implications for Central Asia //A Global Affairs Commentary. 2001.

Ipek P. Challenges For Democratization in Central Asia: What The United States Do? // Middle East Policy. Vol.14.2007.

10 Nathan. Of Bases and Transit Centers // Registan.net. http://www.registan.net/index.php/2009/07/13/of-bases-and-transit-centers/

11 Ipek P. Challenges For Democratization in Central Asia: What The United States Do? // Middle East Policy. Vol.14.2007.

12 Ibid. P 96

13 Ibidem.

14 Culter R. U.S.Intervention in Afghanistan: Implications for Central Asia //A Global Affairs Commentary. 2001.

15 Ibidem.

16Ibidem

17Geropoulos K. No stopping the Chinese march towards Central Asia, Russia // New Europe. Vol. 844. 2009.  http://www.neurope.eu/articles/95520.php

18Мураталиева Н.Т. Особенности экономической политики Китая в Кыргызстане// Easttime.  2008  http://www.easttime.ru/analitic/1/4/496.html

19 Chinese Embassy in Russia web-site. http://ru.china-embassy.org/rus/xwdt/t351879.htm

20Центральная Азия: все карты на руках у Китая. 2009. http://www.inosmi.ru/world/20090819/251722.html

21 Ibidem.

22Bhadrakumar M. Russia parries US thrust in Central Asia // Asia Times Online.2009 http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/KH08Ag01.html

23 Laruelle M. Russia’s Central Asia Policy and the Role of Russian Nationalism // A Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center 2008. http://www.isdp.eu/files/publications/srp/08/ml08russiacentral.pdf

24 Nichol J. Report for Congress Congressional Research Service Kyrgyzstan’s Closure of the Manas Airbase: Context and Implications. 2009.

25 Akbarzadeh S. Geopolitics versus Democracy in Tajikistan.

26 Ipek P. Challenges For Democratization in Central Asia: What The United States Do? // Middle East Policy. Vol.14.2007.

27  Мураталиева З.Т., Стратегическое партнерство Кыргызстана и России как средство укрепления внешней безопасности Кыргызской   Республики. 2009. http://www.easttime.ru/analitic/1/4/732.html

28 Buszynski L. Russia’s new role in Central Asia // Asian Survey. Vol.45. 2005.



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