07.03.2023 Author: Vladimir Platov

The United States doesn’t let up its anti-Russian pressure on Central Asia

In an attempt to maintain its waning global influence the United States does not lessen its desire to strengthen itself in Central Asia (CA), which remains one of the most important arenas of conflict with Russia and China. And this was amply confirmed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s actions in Astana on February 28, where, during the C5+1 meeting with the foreign ministers of five former Soviet Union countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan – he unsuccessfully tried to turn them against Russia and China, and thus isolate Moscow. Blinken’s outspoken anti-Russian stance during the Astana meeting on the eve of the C5+1 was also highlighted by US media. The New York Times, in particular, warned that the US chief diplomat would meet with Central Asian leaders and urge them not to assist Russia in circumventing Western sanctions.

The Central Asian countries, which serve as a bridge between Russia and China, maintain a reserved stance on the US’s aggressive actions. This was demonstrated by the reaction of Central Asian politicians to Antony Blinken’s attempts at the Astana meeting to focus on inducing the region’s states to fully support the US anti-Russian position in the Ukrainian issue, rather than on the traditional topics of regional cooperation on security, economy, and ecology. In response to Antony Blinken’s scaremongering in Astana about Russia and China’s allegedly aggressive policy in Central Asia, the Kazakh Foreign Minister emphasized that at the moment, the countries of the region do not see or feel any threats from Russia, and relations with Moscow are viewed as an alliance that operates within the existing joint multilateral structures with Russia.

This aversion to US initiatives to limit ties with Russia and China, including through the C5+1, a communication and influence instrument created specifically by Washington, is explained not only by the region’s traditionally friendly ties with Moscow and Beijing. These cooperative ties are numerous, as evidenced by the interstate associations in which the Central Asian republics participate: The SCO, BRICS, “the Belt and Road” Initiative, and the RATS Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, which is part of the SCO.

Nonetheless, Washington’s anti-Russian cavalry attack on Central Asian countries has not abated; in fact, a special emphasis has recently been placed on the region’s leading countries, such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. At the same time, the US is actively seeking to limit any ties between Central Asian countries and Russia. One example of the West’s aspirations is the intensive promotion of such transport routes in Eurasian space that would bypass Russian Federation territory. The so-called “Middle Corridor,” which circles Russia via Caspian ports in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, is being investigated. To promote and popularize this route, the US Institute for Foreign Policy Studies even prepared a special report in February, from which it follows that the main goal of pushing the project “Midway Corridor” is to cause trade and economic damage to Russia through Central Asian and Transcaucasian states. The active implementation of this venture began in 2014 with the opening of the Trans-Kazakhstan railroad, and then continued in 2017 with the construction of the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railroad under the external supervision of the United States.

The West linked certain hopes for the implementation of this “Middle Corridor” to the completion of Turkey’s Marmaray railroad near the Bosporus, which could increase the project’s throughput capacity to 10 million tons. However, the recent natural disasters in Turkey and a number of Central Asian countries have significantly hampered the implementation of the West’s plan.

However, a major impediment to this project is the extremely underdeveloped transport and logistics infrastructure in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia’s Caspian and Black Sea ports. Of course, Western investments could have avoided this if Washington and its Western allies had not previously chosen to invest their funds primarily in fueling the armed conflict in Ukraine.

However, a large part of the West’s investment restrictions in the “Middle Corridor” are due to Washington’s apparent desire to cut off the “Middle Corridor” in the east by Kazakhstan, preventing it from continuing to China. According to Washington’s new plans, the mentioned project can only remain a regional one, covering only the republics of Central Asia, Transcaucasia, and the EU, with a predominant load of only energy resources and refined oil products, while reducing the transportation of other nomenclature, which the Central Asian countries do not want to agree to. As a result, it is not surprising that not only the West, but also Beijing, has yet to invest in this project, particularly in its Black Sea-Caspian Sea segment, preferring to export goods to the EU via Russian territory.  And, despite the West’s reliance on it in pursuit of its policy of harming Russia, the “Middle Corridor” itself is not developing noticeably.

In these circumstances, Central Asian states prefer to focus on transport routes through Russian territory rather than the “Middle Corridor,” as infrastructure is already in place in Russia and there is no blatant Western-induced politicization. This is confirmed by the volume of freight traffic, which, for example, shows that dozens of times more cargo is transported via the Trans-Siberian Railway than via the “Middle Corridor.”

According to information published in regional media, the West has begun to actively consider options for disrupting transport routes that compete with the “Middle Corridor” in this situation. The United States and its Western allies have already shown their willingness to use terrorist forms of counteracting Russia by undermining the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. As a result, one cannot rule out the possibility that the West will take similar actions on infrastructure routes such as the “Northern Corridor” and “Southern Corridor” that pass through Central Asian countries, affecting Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan in particular. In this regard, Secretary Blinken’s February visit to Central Asian states and openly anti-Russian activities there, as well as Israel’s terrorist aspirations and air missile attacks on Iranian-controlled territory, were clearly no coincidence.

Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.

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