Abstract. Recently, an attempt has been made to substantiate three largely contradictory versions of the intensification of Central Asia’s regional cooperation. First, an idea has been advanced that there are two countries behind this – Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, “reformatting the region in their own interests.” At the same time, Tashkent allegedly forms a “Central Asian market for itself”. Then it is argued that strengthening cooperation in Central Asia is a tool that the regional countries are using for maneuvering rather than actually giving support. The third version sounds like this: “the regional cooperation initiative should be considered within the overall growth regional activity in relation to the cooperation with the United States.” There are many versions, but what is the reality?
НОВАЯ ДИНАМИКА СОТРУДНИЧЕСТВА В ЦЕНТРАЛЬНОЙ АЗИИ И РОЛЬ ГЕОПОЛИТИЧЕСКИХ ФАКТОРОВ.
Аннотация. В последнее время предпринимается попытка обосновать три во многом противоречащие друг другу версии активизации регионального сотрудничества в Центральной Азии. Сначала выдвигается тезис о том, что за этим стоят Узбекистан и Казахстан, «переформатирующие регион в своих интересах». При этом Ташкент якобы формирует «центральноазиатский рынок под себя». Затем утверждается, что укрепление взаимодействия в Центральной Азии является инструментом маневрирования стран региона и не означает поддержку с их стороны. Третья версия звучит так – «инициативу регионального сотрудничества необходимо рассматривать в рамках общего роста активности в регионе по сотрудничеству с США». Версий много, но насколько все они имеют отношение к реальности?
Indeed, enhanced cooperation in Central Asia has become possible due to the new regional policy of the Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, which is recognized in all countries of the region and far beyond. It is not only Uzbekistan but everyone who was interested in settling regional problems that had not been resolved for years, normalizing elementary good-neighbourly relations, restoring political trust and developing mutually beneficial trade. That is why the situation in Central Asia began to rapidly change. Everyone had become tired of the yearly growing atmosphere of tension in the region and desired change.
Uzbekistan has signed treaties on the delimitation of a large part of its borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which has seriously reduced the potential for conflict in the region. Dozens of checkpoints have been opened on the borders with these countries, which has greatly facilitated travel of the citizens on all sides.
Visa policy has been liberalized. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have agreed on a 30-day visa-free regime. Tashkent and Astana signed an agreement on mutual recognition of visas. Other countries in the region may join the mutual recognition of visas. For the first time in 25 years, air and bus connections between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have resumed. Since 2017, high-speed passenger trains have been running between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Almost frozen in the past, trade relations show explosive growth. Uzbekistan’s trade turnover with the Central Asian states increased by 46% to $2.6 billion in January–August 2018 alone (comparing to $1.8 billion in 2017). Thus, regional cooperation solves specific problems and benefits everyone. This is not an American project, this is a Central Asian project implemented in the interests of the countries of the region.
What is Happening in Central Asia: Hypotheses and Reality
After the successor of the former Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoev came to power in 2016, he initiated large-scale reforms in Uzbekistan and thus attracted much attention from Western researchers. As a result there was a series of publications on the reforms. In fact, this factor was the main reason for the increased attention to Tashkent from the Western expert community .
Western experts proceed from the fact that for almost thirty years Uzbekistan has attracted attention from politicians and political scientists due to its important geostrategic position, demographic weight in comparison with its neighbors in the region, and economic and trade potential. However, even now – after more than 25 years of independent development – the country’s post-Soviet evolution remains complex. This can be traced from numerous sources and statistics made available since the early 2000s. The resignation of President Islam Karimov, who had been in power for a quarter of a century, has opened up new opportunities for further development of the country.
The Uzbekistan Strategy until 2021 refers to the creation of a belt of security, stability and good-neighbourliness around it, as well as to the settlement of issues on delimitation and demarcation of the state borders. In his address to the country’s Parliament in December 2017, the President said that the Republic had begun to implement the principle that reads “Central Asia is the main priority of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy”. In 2016-2018, serious steps have already been taken to strengthen good-neighbourliness. Strategic cooperation with Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan has been established, a number of important documents have been signed to further deepen the strategic partnership with Kazakhstan, and cooperation with Tajikistan has been also stabilized and strengthened.
Uzbekistan, which pursues a more open economic policy in the post-Karimov period, is still at the stage of settling disputes with its neighbors. Although it is expanding economic and investment cooperation with them, its financial and trade opportunities at this stage are much weaker than those of Kazakhstan. With Mirziyoyev’s coming to power, all observers have noted serious progress in the Kazakh-Uzbek direction. The first visit of the new Uzbekistan leader to Kazakhstan in March 2017, a week after his visit to Turkmenistan, played an important role in this situation.
To date, the most important issues to both sides are economic cooperation and security. Tashkent supported Kazakhstan’s initiative to hold interregional cooperation forums on a regular basis and plans to create special economic zones near the Kazakh border. In addition, the parties are considering the possibility of building an international center for cross-border cooperation, as well as a transport and logistics center in the border areas.
Kazakhstan’s accession to the EAEU leaves a certain imprint on economic cooperation with Uzbekistan. However, both countries have shown a willingness to find mutually acceptable solutions. Agreements have already been reached on issues such as the provision of conditions for export of jointly manufactured vehicles to other markets of the EAEU, assistance to the pharmaceutical industries of Uzbekistan with the state registration of pharmaceuticals in Kazakhstan, the formation of a working group to discuss the creation of a “Green Corridor” for the mutual supply of horticultural and other products, and the solving of arising difficulties with goods crossing the checkpoints of the two countries.
The new President of Uzbekistan continued Karimov’s line of priority development of relations with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan as the most developed Central Asian states. The President of Uzbekistan proposed combining the national transport strategies of the three countries to form a single Central Asian transport hub.
In addition to disputed border areas, regions of Uzbekistan, such as Bukhara and Samarkand, are home to a significant number of Tajiks. The same can be said about ethnic Uzbeks of the Sughd Region of Tajikistan. Violations against citizens of non-title nationalities occur on both sides of the border.
The stumbling block in solving regional water problems had been the extremely negative position of Islam Karimov. During the visits of the President of the Republic to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, some water issues were resolved. The Republic is no longer opposed to the construction of large hydropower plants in neighboring countries, believing that it will be able to participate in their construction and operation itself.
In early March 2018, the head of Uzbekistan paid a visit to Tajikistan for the first time in 27 years. This allowed observers to call the visit “historic”. For a long time, a difficult situation had remained on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. It was also complicated by the Uzbek enclaves of Sokh and Shakhimardan located in Kyrgyzstan and the village of Barak, the Kyrgyz enclave in Uzbekistan. In March 2018, an agreement was signed on parts of this border, including the disputed bordering Farkhod Water Reservoir: the territory where the Farkhad hydroelectric power station is situated is recognized as the territory of Tajikistan, while the hydropower facilities are the property of Uzbekistan.
Experts on Central Asia note that the main reason is the lack of political will in Bishkek and Dushanbe to solve the socio-economic problems and the problems of development of the border regions. We shall not forget that these places are ones of important routes for drug trafficking from Afghanistan. There are also various ways of smuggling – in particular, of Russian and Kazakh fuel in the Afghan and Tajik directions. The Sughd region of Tajikistan and Batken region of Kyrgyzstan are also zones of increasing influence yet are fused with crime and radical religious terrorist groups. The last few still scarcely show themselves but their as yet indirect participation in the border conflict can be continuously observed.
In September 2017, the presidents of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan signed an agreement in Bishkek on the demarcation and delimitation of most parts of the state border.
Another border problem is in the areas on the Uzbek-Tajik border that have not yet been cleared of mines. It is known that at the order of Islam Karimov some sites on the border between the two countries were mined. The demining process was to begin in May 2018. This work, however, has been hampered by the fact that according to insider information the maps of the minefields have been lost in Uzbekistan. Only 90% of the state borders between the two countries have been agreed upon and settled. But 54 plots near the border with nearly 11 thousand mines on them remain a danger to the local people.
According to experts, modern Tajikistan faces three main problems (in addition to the continuing difficult situation in the socio-economic sphere). These problems include: 1) the preservation of the latent threat from terrorism, Islamism and social explosion; 2) the situation in the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region; and 3) the problem of the Rogun HPP. A number of experts are already sounding the alarm about the growing negative consequences of the so-called “Chinese factor”.
Officially, Dushanbe has recently been actively promoting its own economic achievements. More than $5 billion of foreign investments have entered the Tajik economy over the past five years. $2 billion of this is from direct foreign investments. According to Emamoli Rahmon, the funds were directed to the manufacture of industrial products, the construction sector, energy infrastructure and tourism. The share of the private sector in the GDP structure reached 70% this year, which is 12% more than in 2013.
Despite the relatively modest economic and political weight of Tajikistan in Central Asia, the Republic is critical to maintaining the security and stability of the region. It is in the interests of Kazakhstan to support the sovereignty, stability and economic revival of the Republic. Kazakhstan is one of the main trading partners of Tajikistan. Astana and Dushanbe have been able to establish effective cooperation in three main areas: security, energy and integration.
Astana and Dushanbe should continue to coordinate foreign policy positions within the framework of international organizations of which they are members: the UN, OSCE, CIS, previously - EurAsEC, CSTO, SCO, OIC, ECO and CICMA. It is also necessary to continue military-technical cooperation. Kazakhstan and Tajikistan can successfully cooperate (and already cooperate) in trade, economic and investment areas, especially in such directions as mining, agriculture, construction and transport. It is assumed that Kazakhstan could invest in various projects in these sectors. In the energy sector Tajikistan is an important link in terms of further development of regional integration. It is necessary to support the efforts of Dushanbe, as well as Moscow and Bishkek to develop the Tajik hydropower industry (with objective consideration of the fair interests of all parties in river flows). Thus, the main objects of investment activity of Kazakhstan and Kazakhstan’s business are banking, mining and energy. Finally, Tajikistan is a small but necessary link in the Central Asia integration processes.
The multi-vector nature of foreign policy proclaimed by the Central Asian countries is not at all identical to its equal-vector nature. Perhaps, Turkmenistan of all the countries of the CA region is the most committed supporter of the Chinese project “Economic Belt of Silk Road” (One Belt, One Road) as a new model of regional cooperation and is willing to cooperate in this area and thus participates in the ongoing Chinese events.
At the same time, energy and transport projects are under the special control of the Turkmen President. These projects are not only of economic and commercial importance for Berdimuhamedov: they have already become an important geopolitical game. As Ashgabat sees it, Turkmenistan’s fuel and energy sector is not only a strategically important component of the national economy, but also an important link in the formation of the global energy security system.
The Turkmen policy-makers that came to power after the regime changed have chosen Kazakhstan as a priority in the Central Asian region to strengthen bilateral ties. The construction of the second branch of the oil pipeline to China, the admission of Japanese companies to their uranium mines, Astana’s negotiations with China and Japan, as well as with France on the construction of the first Kazakh nuclear power plant have aroused great interest in Ashgabat.
Kazakhstan can support the diversification of gas pipelines from Turkmenistan as a transit state as long as they are generally being laid through Kazakhstan’s territory. Based on this, it is more profitable for Astana to give preference to such projects as the Caspian and Chinese gas pipelines. However, as a co-supplier of gas to the new pipelines, Kazakhstan has the right to participate in such alternative projects.
In relation to the situation in the Caspian sea, Kazakhstan is interested in the fact that Turkmenistan had mediated its differences (probably on the basis of compromise; the mediatory role of Kazakhstan was also claimed here) with Baku and joined the unofficial coalition of former Soviet States, which would have presented a united front and returned Iran’s position to the status quo (those of 1991).
In general, Kazakhstan is extremely interested in involving Turkmenistan in all integration processes in Central Asia and the CIS. The main obstacle to this is the neutral status of Ashgabat, which can be overcome on the basis of bilateral agreements. Astana’s diplomatic and foreign policy activity should be aimed at achieving these goals.
In the future, Ashgabat plans to seriously increase production and export volumes of gas. There is evidence that Ashgabat intends to triple the current production figures by 2030. At the same time, many experts recognize Turkmenistan as the weakest link among Afghanistan’s Northern neighbors. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are members of the CSTO and SCO and have Russian bases on their territory. Uzbekistan has a sufficiently combat-ready army and actively cooperates with NATO. According to experts, the Afghan provinces bordering the Republic were taken under the protectorate by Tashkent with the consent of NATO. In these circumstances, the status of neutrality, which Turkmenistan has adhered to since gaining independence, may weaken the position of Ashgabat in countering terrorist threats.
The security and development of Central Asia are inextricably linked to the fate of Afghanistan. As President Mirziyoyev has repeatedly stressed, Afghanistan has always been and will remain an integral part of Central Asia. This is the essence of modern Uzbek politics in Afghanistan.
Kazakhstan President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev stressed that the state visit to the Republic of Uzbekistan, which took place in April 2019, coincided with the opening of the Year of Kazakhstan in Uzbekistan, and noted that these events will serve to further strengthening of bilateral relations between the countries. During Tokayev’s state visit to Uzbekistan, the presidents made a joint statement. Tokayev assured Shavkat Mirziyoyev of the “continuity” of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s policy. The stated goal of the leaders of the two states is to raise mutual trade to $5 billion by the end of 2020.
Further growth should also be expected. The presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan signed several agreements following Tokayev’s visit to Tashkent. The establishment of an International Center for Trade and Economic Cooperation on the border of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan is also being considered. The project will streamline border trade, improve infrastructure and create a major trade and logistics hub in Central Asia.
Russian and Chinese factors
2019 has brought a new dynamic to the development of the Central Asian region. Russia is ready to join the export-oriented energy infrastructure projects in Central Asia. The implementation of the CASA-1000 project depends on the pace of approval and funding. The project involves the construction of a 500 kV transmission line from the Datka substation (the Kyrgyz Republic) to Khudjand (Tajikistan) and from Sangtuda to Kabul and Peshawar, and converter substations with a capacity of 1300 mW at Sangtuda, Kabul and Peshawar with a capacity of 300 mW and 1300 mW respectively. Earlier it had been planned that Afghanistan would also buy the electric power. However, last year the government abandoned this idea, leaving the country with only transit functions.
Experts have drawn attention to the high risks associated with the implementation of this project. For example, sabotage of power lines by terrorists. This already requires those who fund the project to negotiate with the tribal elders of the territories these transmission lines will pass through. Afghanistan is a country where the will to build something strategically important is not enough; it is still necessary to be able to ensure the safety of the project. Otherwise, there is no justification for the investment.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is pushing for Afghanistan to be considered an important partner in the region rather than a threat to security. In turn, the authorities in Kabul have assured UN representatives that they are working to create conditions for the implementation of transit projects of the TAPI (Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India) gas pipeline, the CASA-1000 power line network and the railway from Central Asia and China to Iran and South Asia with access to the ports of Gwadar and Chabahar. This would open the shortest route to the Indian ocean for Central Asian goods and create an opportunity to import goods into the region. In addition, the energy-intensive market of Afghanistan (development of deposits of bismuth, antimony, iron ore, gold, and so on) requires additional projects and investments.
Russia is considering the participation of its companies in these infrastructure projects which were developed in the Soviet era. However, the Afghan authorities decided to hold a tender, which was won by China in 2007. Nevertheless, the field has been temporally abandoned for 10 years due to the lack of a constant energy supply. A similar situation is seen in the iron ore deposit of Hajigak, which is owned by an Indian company.
Russia has the unique experience of economic cooperation with Kabul, which it is ready to put into practice according to an NG source in the Russian government. These projects can be implemented within the SCO. In this case, it is natural to hope for investment from the Asian Development Bank.
One of the forms of alleged trade and economic control over the countries of Central Asia are two regional unions, which include Russia and China on the rights of “elder brothers”, which actually run these associations. It turns out that not to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) or the Eurasian Union means to be outside the regional integration. As for the Eurasian Union, Astana certainly plays the role of a participant interested in two important markets - Russian and Belarusian. Kyrgyzstan is looking for economic and financial benefits in the Eurasian Union exclusively for itself, because its economy is extremely small in terms of volume, and it is under the very strong influence of Russia, China and Kazakhstan.
Nevertheless, Kyrgyzstan receives a significant advantage from membership in the Eurasian Union in the form of cheap energy. Besides, Kyrgyz citizens, as already noted, have preferences in employment and registration in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. In turn, Russia has a strong position in the energy sector of Kyrgyzstan within this Association and can participate in the privatization of the railways of the Republic together with China (where Moscow and Beijing are likely to act not so much as partners but competitors).
However, China’s position in Kyrgyzstan has been somewhat shaken recently. It is necessary to take into account the fact that China, for example, considers Kyrgyzstan as a transit country due to the extremely small market volume. It is interesting that Russia and Kazakhstan once offered the Kyrgyz leaders to place their border guards and customs officers on the Kyrgyz-Chinese border. However, Bishkek rejected this proposal and promised to solve all border problems on its own. Kyrgyz citizens themselves transfer more than a billion dollars a year from Russia to the Republic, and in addition, they receive Russian passports on a simplified basis, and, accordingly, the right to purchase property in Russia. Due to their decent level of knowledge of the Russian language, they also have the right not to pass on the Russian driver’s license separately.
Things are not much better for Turkmenistan, whose borders with Afghanistan and Iran are protected only nominally on the Turkmen side. Perhaps, only Uzbekistan keeps its 180-kilometer border with Afghanistan quite secure, but only because ethnic Uzbeks live on the neighboring side, and they are much more willing to play “by to the rules” than to get into the smuggling and supply of drugs to the North.
In any case, idle arguments about who is controls more of Central Asia now – Russia (which is gradually leaving the region according to all observations) or China (which is interested in it as a source of energy and other strategic raw materials, as well as in the form of transport routes for its global project “One Belt-One Road”) – do not take into account the main point. Both Beijing and Moscow are, roughly speaking, fated to conduct business there simply because of their historical and geographical ties to this region.
Tashkent was one of the first to support Beijing’s initiative to develop the “One Belt, One Road” project, which will integrate transport corridors from Central Asia with international markets through China and Russia. China’s investment will help modernize the national economy. The heads of Uzbekistan and China, Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Xi Jinping, agreed to increase the volume of bilateral trade to $10 billion in the coming years at a meeting in Beijing. Xi Jinping also accepted the invitation of President Sooronbay Jeenbekov to pay a state visit to Kyrgyzstan in June 2019.
China is one of the largest trade, economic and investment partners of Uzbekistan. Last year’s trade turnover amounted to $6.4 billion and grew by another 50% in the first quarter of this year according to the press service of the Uzbek President. The volume of Chinese investments and loans in the economy of Uzbekistan exceeded $8 billion. At the meeting in Beijing, the two heads of state paid special attention to cooperation in attracting investment, innovation and technology to the economy of Uzbekistan, the development of new joint projects and the development of the transit, transport and communication potential of the region.
A number of projects within “One Belt, One Road” are already being implemented between Uzbekistan and the funds and banks created under this initiative. In particular, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has become interested in the Uzbek regional development program and financed a project to modernize the infrastructure of Bukhara region. The Belt and Road initiative is expected to expand the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan transport corridor. In February last year, the road from China to Uzbekistan was put into permanent operation and now it bears a regular cargo flow.
Traffic volumes indicate the need to implement the second stage of the transit corridor – the construction of the China–Kyrgyzstan–Uzbekistan railway. With its commissioning, China and the countries of Central Asia will have access to the Iranian ports of the Persian Gulf. In addition, rail corridors will allow Belt and Road countries to reduce transportation costs and use the savings to modernize their economies.
However, this project, according to Bishkek, directly contradicts the national interests of Kyrgyzstan itself. According to some experts, the route, which Beijing and Tashkent insist on, creates threats for the Republic, which will not be easy to neutralize after the construction is completed. Bishkek would only agree with the construction of the road if it were to connect the two Kyrgyz regions – the Europeanized North and the traditionalist South of the country. It is no coincidence that Kyrgyz experts actively insist on the construction of a North–South railway that would link the Chui and Fergana valleys, thereby solving the problems of transport connectivity of the country.
But such a project is of interest to neither China nor Uzbekistan. First, the length of the Northern route is almost 900 km. The railroad would require the construction of over 30 tunnels. The southern route is 300 km shorter and includes the construction of 20 tunnels. Russia, however, has shown interest in this railway project. In the next few months, the possibility of Russian equity participation in this project will be considered.
As a result, it is inevitable that all the Central Asian states, without exception, will be forced to strike a balance between Russia and China, whose interests in the region are quite different.
Intraregional Processes in the International Context
It is interesting to look at the situation from a geopolitical point of view. The popular arguments of many political scientists and experts in Central Asia about whether this region is necessary for the United States have long been irrelevant.
Since all five Central Asian states (the Americans persistently and perversely continue to bind them to the forever unstable and explosive Afghanistan) seek to preserve a friendly relationship with the US, these countries clearly do not cause special concerns primarily among the politicians and the military in Washington. Large American companies have, at least, long understood their business opportunities in Central Asia. The only question is whether they intend to continue to work there for the long term or not.
It is more difficult for small companies from the United States to work in the region. Although there are a lot of organizations in the United States that are supposed to help them in this matter, the reality is otherwise. All American companies, without exception, are afraid of the Chinese project “one Belt, One Road”, in which, one way or another, the entire Central Asian group of five are participating. The Chinese consider Central Asia solely as a transit territory, and it is essential for them that Chinese goods and services go through the region to Europe, Russia and Turkey with minimal losses and bureaucratic obstacles.
American business, in general, considers any regional integration – especially in terms of customs and other rules, duties, tariffs and supplies payment – as extremely important. After all, working in Uzbekistan (even if the market there is quite impressive in terms of the number of inhabitants), they are more interested in supplying their goods and products to neighboring countries (including Afghanistan). However, this is not possible in this region which has completely different customs, currency and other legislation. It is difficult to imagine (at least at the moment) that, for example, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan opening their borders and allowing goods and services to move freely between their territories.
The political arrangements that the United States government intends to implement with regard to Russia and China will remain very important for the entire Central Asian region. Washington’s attitude towards Russia will not just simply change for the better; in many issues (including, for example, sanctions) it will surely become increasingly tougher and more substantive. America is not planning on normalizing relations with Moscow, and this committed effort on the part of the United States should expected for a long time to come.
In this respect, all those contracts on trade, economic and other issues which Central Asia countries (especially Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which are part of the Eurasian Union) have with Russia can be subject to American pressure, financial and otherwise. At the same time, the Central Asian countries still have many very effective loopholes through which they will be able to get around even the toughest anti-Russian sanctions.
Although waging a trade war with China, the United States continues to negotiate with it on these problematic issues. The Chinese side either makes some concessions, or again “digs in its heels”; the negotiations are postponed, delayed, but still conducted – to the mutual interest of both sides. This, in turn, allows the Central Asian countries not to be particularly afraid (at least at this stage) of the fact that they may be punished by the Americans for the Chinese loans or joint projects under the Chinese initiative “One Belt, One Road”.
It is also quite obvious that China’s position in Central Asia is incomparably stronger and more promising despite all the increased (seemingly now) interest of a number of American companies in the Central Asian region (especially in Uzbekistan, whose President made a great impression on many American politicians and businessmen during his visit to Washington in May last year). Therefore, the Americans already recognize that in terms of investment they are unlikely to be able to compete with China on an equal footing (especially in terms of issuing large loans). Nevertheless, the niches that local authorities shall allocate to US business may promise good profits to Americans even under these conditions.
Nowadays the United States intends to strengthen their political, cultural and humanitarian presence in the region (with Uzbekistan being prioritized). Learning English and sending Peace Corps volunteers (no matter what they actually do there), conducting business seminars and receiving Uzbekistan delegations in the United States at all levels, opening American specialized schools and courses to study the modern business practices – all these are stages of a long term plan that the United States, despite the remoteness of Central Asia, intends fulfil in the next five to seven years.
For the coming decades, the balance of power on the Asian stage will be determined by the rivalry among the USA, China and Russia. The Silk Road could be an important instrument of such a rivalry. The Russia – China axis or American-Russian entente cordiale (cordial accord) would largely determine the future dynamics of power in Asia. If the future alliance develops in this way, it can be assumed that India, Japan, Australia and NATO member countries will be just minor players in the established dynamic balance of forces. But perhaps India will play a central role. In this case, the question arises as to how it will be involved in the new projects of the Silk Road.
As part of this discussion, we may recall that India, as we have already noted, has proposed its own programs, such as the Spice Route, the Cotton Route and the ancient sea routes, with a particular focus on the Central Asian region. These programmes carefully consider two scenarios for India’s active participation: as an independent initiator of an alternative to the Silk Road project or as an active participant in the existing initiative.
It would be important to understand which option creates better opportunities for strengthening India’s position. However, India’s active role within either of these two scenarios could change the whole picture of the New Silk Road diplomacy. The efforts of the current Indian government have poured new energy into the corridors of the Indian foreign-policy establishment, and they may result in a successful synthesis of various Silk Road initiatives.
The Middle East and Central Asia, two regions which are quite different from each other, survive a strengthening of the religious factor and inter-confessional rivalry, as noted by I. D. Zvyagelskaya.. There can also be observed the transformation of the concept of sovereignty, the emergence of new conflicts and an increase in the influence of international terrorism. From a geopolitical point of view, new regional powers are emerging and new alliances are being formed.
The main conclusion is that, unlike the Middle East, Central Asia has a broader and more rational set of economic, political and military means backed by many external forces, which shall ensure the balance of power and the preservation of stability in the region one way or the other. The comparison with the countries of the Middle East can be seen warning to all the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia not to repeat the fate of the Middle East countries, whose development has been pushed back by decades, even centuries, as a result of the so-called “Arab spring”, but to keep all the best achievements of the Soviet era in the social and technological fields.
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