This podcast episode focuses on the shift in power in Central Asia and the evolving roles of China and Russia there.
Biden’s rhetorical support for the region will make it easier for Central Asian and South Caucasus governments to bring their issues to Washington's attention. But a Biden administration may not have the bandwidth to take on many new problems.
Sadyr Japarov’s meteoric rise was fueled by a fortunate combination of two political assets: popular radical rhetoric, and connections with influential people. But it’s unlikely they can both be juggled for long. One of them will have to be sacrificed.
There’s no point in expecting anything like the Belarusian protests—not to mention the revolution in Kyrgyzstan—in Tajikistan. In the decades he has been at the helm, President Rahmon has concentrated all the power in the country in his own hands.
The situation in Kyrgyzstan is in some ways similar to the last two revolutions. At the heart of it is not the revolt of a liberal opposition against a corrupt regime, but a brutal fight for power between regional and tribal groups disguised as political parties. The difference this time is the reluctance of world and regional powers to get involved.
President Mirziyoyev has already solved the issues for which his predecessor Karimov was condemned. Now he must tackle the problems that have arisen on his own watch. With every year, it will be harder and harder to pass off symbolic concessions as genuine reforms.
China is gradually laying down the foundations for the construction of a Pax Sinica in Central Asia. This is particularly successful in certain sectors of the economy, but Beijing’s policy has come up against constraints, both within Central Asia and outside of it.
China has always been considered a convenient partner for Central Asian countries, because it asked for virtually nothing in exchange for investment. But unlike with Western countries, which state the terms of cooperation in advance, with China there are unspoken rules, including a taboo on acknowledging any problems in the relationship.
Unlike in Russia and Kazakhstan, an effort in Kyrgyzstan to carefully orchestrate the transition of power backfired.
The beleaguered former presidents of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan are both typical clan leaders with notable numbers of supporters. Both cases illustrate clearly how complex and risky the process of handing over power remains in the post-Soviet arena.