10.03.2021 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

What Will US Policy in Central Asia be Under Joseph Biden?


Taking into account their geopolitical alignment, the US has devoted particular attention continuously to the five republics in Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – since the fall of the USSR, above all else due to Washington’s aspirations to devastate the continental space that forms a natural bridge that connects China and Russia. Back in the day Hillary Clinton, being the US Secretary of State and expressing the line taken by current US political forces, proclaimed that she would not allow “resurrecting the USSR” there, and in other words that meant calmly watching the region’s republics rebuild their strength after the year 1991, which devastated them.

To achieve its own goals, Washington created a new C5 + 1 formula, which envisaged expanding the Central Asian “five” by including Afghanistan in that, so that Afghan-style destabilization would automatically cover the entire enormous Central Asian region. Taking into account the geographical affiliation of Afghanistan with the region, and the influence of the processes taking place in this country on all of Central Asia, the countries in the five are theoretically ready to cooperate with Kabul, but only in keeping with plans that they develop on their own, without any “charitable” assistance from the United States. And only if at least some kind of stability is established in Afghanistan.

At the same time, the United States is trying to implement economic and investment projects as a counterweight to Russia and China, and specifically created the US-Central Asia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) platform to help accomplish that. Its goal has become Washington’s overt desire to take the countries in Central Asian under its political and economic control. However, according to the assessments made by Central Asian states themselves, the projects promoted by the United States within the framework of the C5 + 1 and TIFA formats very often contradict the interests held by them. And energy and environmental projects can serve as one example of that, including one involving participation on the part of the American organization Power the Future that blatantly runs against Central Asian countries’ interests without resolving the issue of the dire shortage of energy the region’s poorer countries are experiencing.

In particular, this is exactly what one project on using alternative energy sources that is actively promoted by Washington in Uzbekistan turned out to mean. It does not comply with either the country’s policy of gaining energy independence or the Concept for Developing Nuclear energy for the Period from 2019-2029 that was ratified by the President of Uzbekistan. And given the fact that the focus on developing its own energy sector is one of the main ones for the region, in Uzbekistan’s view these kinds of US projects look like a deliberate US shutdown of all strategic opportunities for the republic.

Washington is devoting special attention to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in its Central Asian policy. The decline in US interest in the other three Central Asian republics is explained by the openly pragmatic approach adopted by White House, both due to the assessment of it own limited capabilities and the undiminished growth in the positions of Russia and the PRC in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

The desire of the United States to have its relations in Central Asia with Uzbekistan stand out lies beyond any doubt, and stems from the fact that the republic is the only one in the region that borders all the others and Afghanistan. In addition, the large population there could help justify its choice as a key site in Central Asia.

However, as evidenced by data from Uzbekistan’s State Statistics Committee, participation of US investment in this republic’s capital stock from 2019-2020 was less than 3%. This means that, despite Washington’s desire to demonstrate the development of “special relations for cooperation” with this country, that is not aimed at improving the lives of ordinary Uzbek citizens, but at some other areas of “cooperation”.

As far as the new White House administration goes, it should be noted that Joseph Biden – incidentally, just like other US presidents – has never visited the Central Asian region over the many years spanned by his political career. During his election campaign, the Central Asian region – or the republics that compose it – did not constitute a stand-alone topic for discussion or heated debate. Therefore, it can be assumed that any significant changes in US policy in Central Asia in the near future are unlikely to be expected. It will most likely mean implementing the US strategy from 2019-2025 for the region that has already been announced.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Washington, demonstrating its desire to reinforce its relations with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which are the ones that will be predominant in the actions the United States takes in the region, continues to actively interfere in the domestic affairs of Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and act against Russia and China, promoting cooperation with the United States there in areas where Washington is counting on its “competitive advantage”.

The specific practical steps that the United States has already started to take serves as confirmation of this: On January 7, the creation of the Central Asian Investment Partnership between the United States, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan was announced; it intends to attract up to 1 billion USD for privately operated projects within five years. At the same time, Kazakhstan, while remaining the largest trading partner for America in the region (about 2 billion USD a year), will retain its positions under the new Joe Biden administration. As far as Uzbekistan goes, its role could be bolstered due to the Afghan theme running through security issues, as well as Washington’s desire to turn it into a regional leader.

Even now, the United States is making attempts to take control of the political and electoral processes in Central Asian countries, especially maximizing this kind of work in Kyrgyzstan to put politicians loyal to the United States in power. An uptick in this area even began under the previous White House administration: from 2019-2020, when preparing for and holding elections to the Jogorku Kenesh, Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Council (United States Agency for International Development (USAID) earmarked 2.5 million USD for these elections, some of which was allotted to lend support to pro-American candidates, including media support for them, and the second part was to help create and support the activities performed by the Public Foundation Common Cause). By the 2020 parliamentary elections, Washington had formed an impressive political resource in Kyrgyzstan: besides the Reform party, Washington placed its bets on a number of other political associations, such as Ata-Meken, the Social Democratic Party, and Bir Bol. Acting under the control of USAID and the US Embassy, the Common Cause Foundation formed the preconditions for destabilizing the post-election sociopolitical situation in the country. About a thousand young people from the American University in Central Asia were involved in this work; Andrew Kuchins was appointed as its president in the beginning of 2020, who worked in Moscow before Bishkek and directed the Russia and Eurasia program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a non-governmental organization that is essentially a CIA think tank.

In other words, Washington will try to continue using its time-tested tactics of interfering in the domestic affairs of foreign states and organizing “color revolutions” in Central Asia.

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