Since they gained independence over two decades ago, all of the Central Asian states have successfully created new national identities. All five countries point to 1991 as their first year of independence and all have made Independence Day their main national holiday. Despite the similarity of their political regimes, the countries of Central Asia differ in a number of areas—relations among them are not always friendly, and their foreign policies are guided by different factors.
Central Asian States and International Actors
Central Asia at the Interplay of Foreign Policy and Nation-Building
The states of Central Asia have to manage several contradictory processes. The regime valorizes sovereignty as the main goal in the nationhood, while societies are more critical toward it and look with nostalgia at the Soviet past. The regimes want to open up to the world but shut off to their neighbors. Their foreign policy is therefore seen as a major element of their nationhood, whose principles must be adhered to.
Russia’s Interests and Chances in Central Asia
It is now evident that full-fledged cooperation between Russia and the countries of this region is a thing of the past. Most likely, the cooperation will center around Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, with the possible addition of Tajikistan. Besides, while Russia is working on being more influential in one Central Asian country, it may lose its influence in another. Meanwhile, new forces are actively working in the region. In this context, Russian diplomatic corps is in dire need of professional staff that is well-versed in the intricacies of the region and can speak local languages.
Kazakhstan: Between Moscow and Beijing
According to independent estimates, Russian companies account for the 8% of Kazakhstan’s total oil production and the 15% of its total gas production. At the same time, American companies are responsible for the 29% of oil produced in Kazakhstan, while Chinese companies comprise 24% of the country’s oil and gas sector. One can hardly expect Russia’s greater participation in Kazakhstan’s oil and gas sector, given the fast pace of China’s involvement in it.
The U.S. in Central Asia After 2014 and Relations with Russia
The political and geostrategic challenges facing Central Asia today are quite different from those of the 1990s, and so too should be Washington’s approach to dealing with them. The strategic landscape of Central Asia, and indeed Eurasia writ large, is increasingly multipolar. Regional stability is threatened not by Russian domination, as it was in the first years after the Soviet collapse, but by misgovernance, corruption, and mutual distrust.
China’s Inadvertent Empire
Raffaello Pantucci and Alexandros Petersen
In Beijing they may not have a coherent strategy for Central Asia, but no other outside force is as comprehensively involved, as dynamic or as committed to the long term in all six Central Asian states, including Afghanistan. Seeing this, Central Asian government and business leaders increasingly throw in their lot with China. Kyrgyzstan does so because it must. Turkmenistan, courted by many other countries, does so because it wants to. In the rest of the countries, the situation is somewhere in between.
Central Asia Today: An Afterthought
Martha Brill Olcott
When the U.S. pressed for ISAF forces to be introduced in Afghanistan it had not yet engaged in the nearly decade long fight in Iraq, which ousted Saddam Hussein but otherwise had very mixed results. Nor had it experienced the crumbling of the regimes in Egypt, Libya, and especially in Syria with the uncertainties, loss of life, and near total devastation that these three examples of regime collapse have brought to each of these countries. This will be the backdrop upon which any future U.S. decisions about intervention in the domestic affairs of another state will be made. And this will be the picture that the Central Asian leaderships and their citizens will keep in their minds as they decide how to go about building their political futures.
The Overregulated State
Internal state control practices lead to reduced labor efficiency and financial losses. Besides, they hamstring private initiative by the dynamic segments of society and severely impact on its socially unprotected segments. In some instances, obtaining social services is associated with additional hardship for their recipients and reduces rather than increases their chances to a normal life. Social costs that are directly related to state institution control practices are constantly growing and are almost impossible to keep in check.
The Chavez Phenomenon
Despite its revolutionary socialist rhetoric, Hugo Chavez’s “socialism of the 21st century” turned out to be surprisingly similar to the classic Latin American populism of the 20th century. Both are characterized by a pursuit of social justice, national unification against an external enemy, belief in the omnipotence of government and its ability to transform society in accordance with the ruler’s intentions, and a complete rejection of representative democracy. As a result of Chavez’s rule, Venezuela’s political system, which had no effective channels for the political representation of the lower classes, was replaced by a system in which political representation has ceased to exist at all.
Sergey Guriev, Pyotr Cheryomushkin, Igor Zevelev