18.02.2016 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

The US and Central Asia

45645645645Central Asia remains the stage for the three truly significant actors in this show: the US, Russia and China. However, the interaction of these three players in the Region is complicated. And if the US sees Central Asia (CA) as globally connected per ‘American model’, and China does as more related to China itself, then Russian scenario offers to Central Asia not ‘globalization’, but ‘regionalization’. Each of those involved is looking to reinforce its position in CA, but the methods and the means used are different as well, and are not always ‘democratic’ and ‘civilized’ from the part of the US.

Whereas Russia and China base their actions in CA on development of trade and economic cooperation, which may add to strengthening of industrial and economic potential of the Central Asian countries, Washington focuses its actions on politically charged creation of conditions to separate these countries from Russia or China, on bringing to power of political parties and forces, which would become a controllable tool of the US politicians and manufacturers, especially taking into account natural resources in the countries of the Region that are so interesting for the US.

A clear example, confirming what was before stated, is financial support for the amount of USD 5.6 bln, provided by Russia to the countries of Central Asia from 2008 till October 2015. The indicated amounts were directed not only towards implementing economic projects in the countries of the Region, but to social sphere and education. The non-repayable financial aid, provided by Russia to the countries of the Region within bilateral agreements alone, amounted to more than USD 3.5 bln. Besides, more than USD 570 mln were appropriated for the projects, implemented through the UN and aimed for measures of social protection and maintenance of access to the basic social facilities during and after the global crisis, and for promotion of interaction between the countries of the Region.

Trade and economic relations of Central Asian countries with Chine develops successfully, in particular, in implementation of the project called ‘The New Silk Road’; the first test train China-Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran launched, there are other successful projects as well.

The US interests in the region are well illuminated by the briefing of February 9th, 2016, held at the US Department of State by the Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom, who announced the appropriation of USD 953 mln from the budget of the US for Year 2017 mostly for CIS countries for “assistance for democracy and good governance, improve security.”

The US Department of State specified in its comments that this amount is appropriated for “assistance for a democratic Ukraine and other countries, particularly, in Central Asia, to counter Russian aggression.” As the US Department of State notes, the assistance will be direct, in the form of public diplomacy, and “other programs” as well.

Certainly, about one billion US Dollars is a significant amount, and these means will go mostly for propaganda of the US point of view in the media. Additional amounts will go to the already existing loyal sources, and besides, some new may be discovered. The “other programs” will include active handling of the journalists directly – there will be training and lections given about ‘the horrors of Kremlin propaganda’. The US loyal media would increase attention to any, even the most insignificant problems in the interaction with Russia, and if there aren’t any, they would be invented. The 2016 top priority topics already include economic crisis, difficulties of migrants’ life in Russia, and the thesis ‘Russia does not respect us’.

The other application of appropriated money, which is very important for the US Department of State, in CA would be as easily understandable, involvement with non-governmental organizations, working for “protection of democracy and human rights.” Some of the NGO, after receipt of additional funds, would concentrate on active counteraction to the initiatives on cooperation with Russia. Simultaneously, there would be work held with opposition, informal public leaders, and young people. Traditions of the US ‘soft power’ are such that if necessary the US Department of State may support the whole spectrum of political forces in the country, which may be used ‘for the benefit of the US’.

We had already reviewed many of these types of activities of Washington in Central Asia, in particular, on reaction of countries of the Region on such a ‘cowboy policy of the White House, on the activities of the ambassadors in the Central Asian countries, on the representatives of the US Department of State and ‘color revolutions’ on US scenarios.

As it became obvious that Washington’s actions in Central Asia do not bring planned success to the policy of the White House, the latter ordered to the assistants to prepare a deeper research on ‘US Policy in Central Asia’. Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has responded to this call and prepared a 47-pages Report on the topic, the authors of which were: Eugene Rumer – Director and Senior Associate, Russia and Eurasia Program, former CIA analyst; Paul Stronski – former director for Russia and Central Asia on the U.S. National Security Council Staff; Richard Sokolsky – former member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Office. The experts have analyzed policy of the US in the region from the moment when the States have got independence after the USSR had fallen apart; and they have nominally divided it into two stages: starting from 1991 till September 11, 2001, when the US ‘supported the regionnaires in strengthening the sovereignty and statehood’; and starting from 2001 till nowadays, when the Region, in reality, served for the US as ‘gates’ to Afghanistan. According to the authors, in these years Washington achieved some success: “independence and sovereignty of the States were established, CA became nuclear-free zone (secured the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan) and Russia no longer has a monopoly on the flow of Central Asian oil and gas.” However, there were ‘faults’ as well: poor situation with democracy and human rights, failure of the ‘New Silk Road’ project, including ideas of integration of CA with AfPak.

In present circumstances the Carnegie Endowment offers to the US Administration to have an individual strategy for each Central Asian country separately. The priority is the relations with Kazakhstan, which “has the resources and institutional capacity to play a greater leadership role, and its leaders show the desire to follow the reforms and create a modern economy even resembling Singapore model.”

Uzbekistan is in second place due to its geostrategic location; however, expansion of links with Tashkent is offered by the experts in the “post-Karimov” time – in case reform-oriented government comes to power.

It is said that Kyrgyzstan could be a useful partner, arguably the most democratic state in Central Asia, is also it’s least stable.”

Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are considered to be “troubled states; the United States has neither the resources nor the interests to change their trajectory.”

Analysis of situation and US activity in CA was in the focus of attention at the seminar, held January 27, 2016 in Almaty under the aegis of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, entitled “View on Central Asia: outside and inside”, during which the experts outlined 10 countries, which actively promote their political and economic strategies in CA: the US, Europe, Russia, PRC, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Japan and South Korea. Goals and ways of strategy implementation by the outside forces in CA are turned to be controversial, thus provoking additional tension in the Region. As it was noted during the seminar, the US is actively trying to make the CA countries free from the dominance of the influential forces: Moscow and Beijing. Weakening of attention of Russia from the CAR due to situations in Ukraine and Syria is used by Washington for achieving of its main regional goals:

  • Prevention of creation of common Eurasian space;

  • Establishing of another center of instability near Russian and Chinese boarders.

That is why in the nearest future the Central Asian Region would still be a theatre of active application of powers and ‘updated technologies’ from the part of Washington.

Vladimir Odintsov, political commentator, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.