Russia wants to be a player in Afghanistan, and that means dealing with the Taliban. But the postponement of a planned international conference in Moscow, involving a once-reviled group, shows that Russia’s influence is still limited.
In the Caspian region, gas issues have been relegated to second place for both Russia and Iran, while the top priority is security. Both countries are trying above all to prevent the presence in the Caspian Sea of states from outside the region, especially any military presence. This chiefly concerns the United States, and no one is attempting to hide that.
Central Asia currently resembles parts of the Middle East before the Arab Spring. In contrast to other parts of the post-Soviet space, where Russian and EU interests are in direct competition, the region has the potential to be a place of cooperation in the name of common goals.
Tashkent is trying to get across the message to its neighbors that economic prosperity is the key to everything, and that this goal is worth forgetting other petty grievances and putting major problematic issues on hold. By proposing the development of unified approaches to the joint exploitation of transboundary rivers, the integration of the national economies of countries in the region, and the development of cross-border trade, Uzbekistan hopes that it can fashion a new format of cooperation with Central Asia’s other republics.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is growing closer to Uzbekistan-born Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who could help the president solidify his power as he continues to struggle against the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB) and its chief, Rustam Inoyatov. However, any belief that oligarchs will help modernize Uzbekistan is naïve. They will simply assume the power once wielded by the SNB.
The new leadership in Uzbekistan wants to replace the Soviet-era political-economic model, but Uzbek technocrats are still unable to effectively challenge the entrenched security chiefs. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is studying the experiences of Russia, Kazakhstan, and South Korea in hopes of bringing Westernized, apolitical economic specialists to Uzbekistan.
In any other post-Soviet country, the president’s choice of successor would have informed the choice of the ruling party, but not in Kyrgyzstan. There is a flurry of activity in Bishkek, which foreshadows a sharp collision at the Social Democratic party convention, and possibly a fracturing of the ruling party. As a result, the authorities may back a completely different candidate.
The Kremlin is still anxious about the expansion of Chinese influence in Central Asia, which is why it has turned the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, set up in order to work out widely accepted rules of the game for Eurasia, into a useless bureaucracy. Now, Beijing can develop relations with other SCO members without worrying about what Moscow thinks.
In the apparent battle between Uzbekistan’s two most influential politicians, security service head Rustam Inoyatov will have to either support the new president’s agenda, or attempt to return Uzbekistan to the way it was under the totalitarian late leader Karimov. But the resources he has to achieve the latter are getting smaller and smaller every day.
Putin’s recent trip to Central Asia showed that he is willing to pay Russia’s partners in the region for their geopolitical loyalty—even if some republics have refrained from joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).