RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES IN CENTRAL ASIA: PROBLEMS, PROSPECTS, AND INTERESTS

Dmitry TROFIMOV


Dmitry Trofimov, Associate fellow, Institute for Applied International Research (Moscow, Russian Federation)


The latest changes in the Central Asian geopolitical configuration triggered in 2001 by the counter-terrorist operation in Afghanistan made the specifics and trends of regional strategies of Russia and the United States, two key players, more topical than ever. Even if their historical experience in Central Asia is incomparable, their real influence is gradually moving toward a balance. This makes their continued mutually profitable dialog on the regional subjects desirable, to say the least. It should be said that today the mutual trust level to say nothing of cooperation remains low despite the fact that anti-American and, correspondingly, anti-Russian sentiments are fading from official public politics and the two presidents’ approaches show positive developments. The foreign policy and military establishments in both capitals, on the other hand, are still thinking in confrontational terms and follow the traditional zero sum game.

Regional specifics with a very complicated algorithm of their own require an integrated and non-spontaneous approach from Russia and the United States: the national interests of the majority of the regional forces are at conflict with each other. There is a gamut of factors that are hard to predict and that can destabilize the situation in Central Asia to a great extent. The following circumstances should be taken into account.

1. The region is continuously sliding toward the Third World zone that makes the economic and political contradictions among the local countries deeper still.

2. Surplus able-bodied population is steadily growing (while the natural population growth remains on the 3 percent level) and its density is increasing in the conflict-prone and rapidly impoverishing territories. In the mid-term perspective tension and unpredictability will survive (this is especially true of the Ferghana Valley).

3. An unequal distribution of water resources amid degenerating ecological and hydrological conditions. This calls for a complete account of seasonal fluctuations of relations among the countries that are the major water suppliers and water users.

4. A threat of uncontrolled Islamization of enclaves and their possible autonomization that is always present in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the first place.

5. Ethnoterritorial and border problems that have so far avoided adequate and mutually advantageous settlement are pushing down the level of mutual confidence in the region and are adding to regional instability. Today, only Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are able to avoid conflicts and find mutually advantageous relations. There are three cases (relationships between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) of latent conflicts, of an absence or a background role of the mutual advantage factor. The relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are crisis-ridden while the sides are completely unprepared to look for long-term compromises together.

6. Personal factor: personal (and far from simple) relations among the local leaders are still retaining hypertrophied importance.

7. Low efficiency of regional mechanisms of multilateral cooperation. Central Asia has never been and is not a single political and economic unit while its individual countries rarely regard themselves as representatives of the entire region. Throughout the last decade or more the countries have already tested all sorts of collective security models and correspondingly varied organizational formats. One thing is clear: so far the Central Asian states have failed to set up an efficient and comprehensive system of regional security. On the one hand, this is explained by an absence of an adequate outside interest in the region. On the other, the relations inside the region are far from simple. The countries failed to tap the system of the mutually complementary division of labor they inherited from the Soviet Union. They used it to put pressure on each other. As a result the region was deprived of a much-needed balance of interests because the relations between states are based on an accepted disparity of forces. It seems that in future, too, many of the present problems and contradictions will be preserved: the region is torn apart by objective contradictions, and the Soviet-Asian mentality of the states’ leaders that breeds conflicts.1

8. To a great extent the Central Asian countries identify their priorities as connected with three major goals: domestic stability; foreign investments; required statuses in the region and their international recognition—realization of the countries’ own models of regional leadership (Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan); an antifundamentalist (Uzbekistan) and/or anti-drug (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) buffer; promotion of their own international initiative while blocking (sometimes with even more zeal) initiatives of other republics. The first task has been a priori registered as Russia’s responsibility zone, the second was entered in the Western “waiting list.” In the 1990s these expectations proved futile: foreign investments did not reach the region while lack of alternatives to the Russia’s guarantees of security fed the already quite obvious fears of its reintegration.

By the late 1990s the ruling Central Asian elites clearly demonstrated their desire to see parity or parallel presence of Russia and the West in the region (Russia and the United States in the first place). In this context the geopolitical configuration brought to the region by the counter-terrorist operation is strengthening their hopes of continued balancing between two centers of power and of gradual involvement in tripartite partnerships.

Central Asia in Russia’s Foreign Policy

Russia was shaping its Central Asian policy amid coexisting and often conflicting geopolitical trends: there was a choice between two possible strategies—that of engagement and that of withdrawal. Engagement meant a restored complete (allied) political and military control over the region or at least something close to it. Withdrawal meant an absolute rejection of the efforts to restore such control.2 The choice between the preferable forms of cooperation (political, economic or military) was no less urgent. Russia had to resolve the problem of correlation between bilateral and multilateral cooperation within the CIS.

Those who supported the withdrawal strategy were dominating the foreign policy scene in Moscow until late 1993 (and partly until early 1996) even though Russia’s foreign policy was far from consistent.3 The supporters of withdrawal were strengthening their positions with economic (the need to mobilize finances on a large scale meant that the Center’s former role of a donor should be buried) and political arguments (too close contacts with civilizationally alien autocratic regimes might indirectly affect the pace and trends of democratic reforms in Russia). On the whole, the predominant desire to speed up Russia’s integration into Western geopolitical territory pushed it away from many traditional Asian partners, the Central Asian states included.

In any case, even if Russia’s divorce from Central Asia was tactically correct the Russian leaders demonstrated a complete lack of flexibility very much needed to maintain adequate political relations with the Central Asian countries. As a result, they had to look for strategic partners and investors in the south and the west much earlier than they had wished it. Moscow let a good chance of establishing a favorable balance of forces and interests in the region with minimal costs for itself slip between its fingers.

Declarative to the extreme and therefore irritating line Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev was pursuing in defense of the ethnic Russians’ rights produced no results and created more problems in Russia’s relation with the region. Continued coexistence of several (departmental) foreign policy courses toward the CIS that survived throughout the 1990s worsened the situation still more. The same can be said about the obvious discrepancy between Russia’s declarations about the priority nature of its relations with the CIS and its real foreign policy course that pushed the CIS partners to the background. Russia’s stake on military-political cooperation (readily embraced in Tajikistan and coolly received in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan as a temporal factor) was another obstacle. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were consistently supporting bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation as a preferable or even dominating form of relationships.4 It should be said that Russia’s inability to distinguish between bilateral relations and contacts within the CIS resulted in Tashkent’s and Ashghabad’s persistent negative responses to integration within the CIS and aggravated the complicated relations between Moscow and these two Central Asian capitals.

By late 1995 Russia had finally formulated a more or less consistent Central Asian policy. On the one hand, this was prompted by another realization (that came too late) that Russia had to be present in the region for strategic purposes. On the other, it was its response to another bout of political and economic activity of the West (the U.S. in the first place) and three ECO members (Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan). In September 1995 this newly found course received a legal and organizational form in the presidential decree On More Active Reintegration within the CIS, followed by changes among the top figures of the Foreign Ministry of Russia and the decree of March 1996, On the Coordinating Role of the RF Foreign Ministry in Carrying out a Coordinated Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation. Reintegration was short-lived: between 1996 and 1999 attempts were made to revive the CIS and the CST that boiled down to a greater number of meetings at various levels with no or insignificant results. A new multisided mechanism was created to tie Russia and Central Asia together (the Customs Union of Four/Five, The Shanghai Five5) at the shortest time possible. It was at that period that newly appointed Foreign Minister Evgeni Primakov officially dropped the sensitive subject of the rights of “compatriots” in Central Asia to stimulate pro-Russian sentiments among the local elites.6

Vladimir Putin’s coming to power stirred up an energetic revision of Russia’s foreign policy luggage accumulated in all geographical and subject sectors (including the CIS and Central Asia). These efforts produced, in January 2000, a document called Major Trends of Relations between Russia and the CIS Members at the Current Stage. Its basic provisions served as the basis of the corresponding section of the new variant of Russia’s Foreign Policy Conception endorsed by President Putin in June 2000. These documents registered the following: (1) the CIS became an absolute foreign policy priority; (2) national security became another absolute priority; (3) partners were to be treated according to their readiness to take account of Russia’s interests, that is, in a pragmatic and differentiated manner; (4) economic interaction including promotion of the Russian business; (5) priority development of bilateral cooperation and a revision of priorities at all integration levels that were shifted from the all-embracing CIS to specialized EurAsEC and (partly) CST. It was also stated that the compatriots abroad should receive more active support.7

So far, Russia lacks similar documents related to the principles, aims and tasks of its foreign policy in the European, South Caucasian and Central Asian sectors of the CIS. There are disjointed semi-classified conceptions arranged according to the logic of the current Foreign Policy Conception. None of them has been fully formulated so far. Experts continue their discussions about the forms and methods through which Russia can put its national interests in various regions and countries into practice.

One can say that Russia has always been slow at a take-off yet we should admit that there were objective difficulties as well. The Foreign Ministry, the presidential administration, the Federal Assembly and all other departments needed time to accumulate experience and train personnel. I should say that at least until the mid-1990s state structures lacked specialists familiar with the region, well versed in the traditions of decision-making, local customs, and local tongues. There was no much-needed expert environment either.

During the last 11 years Russia accumulated such experience and acquired better understanding of local specifics—today it can postulate its own interests with more precision and formulate specific tasks demanding immediate attention.

On the whole, Russia’s national interests in Central Asia can be described in the following five points:

1. Stability in the region based on close partnerships with the regional states. One has to admit that any scenario for a landslide destabilization in Central Asia (such as its involvement in large-scale interstate conflicts causing bloodshed, financial losses, uncontrolled migration, etc.) may deal Russia heavy blows.

2. Unrestricted use of the Central Asian transit potential to maintain partner relations with China, India, and Iran. The SCO is designed to play a special role in case of China while the so far unrealized project of the North-South transport corridor will play a similar role in case of India and Iran.

3. Continued existence of common economic expanse with Central Asia that in future may prove instrumental in performing a breakthrough in Russia’s economic modernization. It is Russia’s long-term objective to remain on the capacious Central Asian market where it can sell its products and to preserve the region as a stable (and sometimes only) source of agricultural products. Russia has been importing 85 percent of the total amount of cotton from Central Asia, 70 percent of barley and, until recently, 54 percent of wheat. Russia regards its greater involvement in the use of hydropower and mineral resources (oil, gas, uranium, gold, silver, polymetallic ores, aluminum, and boron) as one of the long-term priorities.

4. Use of the region’s geostrategic potential to address Russia’s practical tasks and to preserve its status of a world and regional power. For example, the Baikonur space launch complex with over 70 percent of Russia’s space launches has practically no alternatives. The Sary-Shagan anti-missile test ground in Kazakhstan has retained its strategic importance together with the Russian radar stations on the shores of Lake Balkhash, the long-range communication point of Russian Navy in Kyrgyzstan and the recently opened Okno optical-electronic surveillance station in the Pamir foothills (Tajikistan) that belongs to the global Russian system of space control. The plans of setting up a Russian military base in Tajikistan (based on the 201st Motorized Rifle Division) envisaged in the 1999 treaty between Russia and Tajikistan require further serious consideration. (Today Russian military presence in Tajikistan makes it possible to grapple with individual problems of Tajik and regional security but was never instrumental in realizing Russia’s long-term political and economic interests.)

5. International recognition of Russia’s leading role in the region. This is demonstrated by informal, so-called sine qua non consultations of the regional powers and the countries outside the region with Russia before any decisions of fundamental importance that may affect the Central Asian geopolitical configuration are taken.

The above calls for realization of several practical measures.

1. The already existing multisided mechanisms should be used more effectively. Until recently Russia had at its disposal varied integration structures (the CIS,8 the CST,9 the Customs Five/EurAsEC, the Shanghai Five/SCO). They helped to a certain extent absorb the shock of Russia’s retreat from the region and created a checks and balances system of sorts. In the nearest future they should be used precisely in this capacity while economic cooperation within SCO and EurAsEC should be stepped up.

2. Russia’s southern borders should be property equipped. It has become clear that by the mid-1990s the initial idea of preserving Russia’s presence and control along the entire stretch of the Soviet southern border fitted neither realities nor possibilities. The CIS southern borders remain porous. To discontinue unwelcome influences from other countries Russia’s border with Kazakhstan should be adequately equipped. This is a very expensive measure (the cost may go up to no less than $1 billion) that, under definite conditions, may invite unwelcome political repercussions. At the same time, we should decide what to do with our southern borders (either with Kazakhstan or with the southern borders of the CST members).

3. Military cooperation. To preserve Central Asia within Russia’s orbit in the long term Russia should preserve the single military-technical space, which means that Central Asia should continue using its operational-technical standards including the operational planning methods, ciphers, the principles of organization of armed forces, military equipment and weapons.10

4. Use of the Central Asian hydropower potential. This is one of the key tasks to succeed in which Russia should carry out a series of interconnected and long overdue measures. In the first place, it should become involved in joint water economy projects to the maximal degree. The expert community agrees that Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the territories of which supply 86 percent of the region’s water flow should receive priority attention. Here I have in mind joint projects designed to tap the republics’ huge hydraulic resources. This will provide Russia with an important source of influence in the region and will allow it to take part, in the long-term perspective, in economically attractive projects of selling surplus electric energy to South Asia.

We should start R&D of corresponding tripartite projects of reconstruction of old and building new hydropower objects (stations and transmission lines, in the first place). Their shares should be put on the market. Foreign capital (from China, Japan, Europe, Arab countries and the United States) should be attracted together with Russian technologies, equipment, and specialists.

5. A set of tasks associated with the Caspian. To protect its interests in the Caspian in the conditions when the Caspian states are growing increasingly dependent on foreign capital, American capital in the first place, and when Russia’s own financial possibilities are extremely limited Russia should act in three directions: (1) insist on the priority use of Russia’s export infrastructure already in place; (2) promote Russian oil and gas companies and help them obtain the maximally possible shares in corresponding projects. It would be useful to increase the number of Russian firms acting in the region while they should be advised to form consortiums; (3) use every opportunity to block off projects that do not promote Russia’s interests using all possible measures including the sea’s still vague legal status.

Turkmenistan. It is advisable to sign as promptly as possible a long-term intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the gas sphere. Russia is planning to buy up to 40 billion cu m of gas every year (the figure includes 10 billion cu m envisaged in a separate agreement for 2002 signed by Itera). It is advisable to raise the figure to 50 billion cu m so that to become the only Turkmen gas exporter, at least, in the mid-term perspective. This will allow Russia to block off Western plans of reviving the ideas of a trans-Caspian gas pipeline and to strengthen its positions in the Caspian area. On top of this, when commissioned the Blue Stream project (that will have no rivals) will dominate over Turkey’s capacious gas market.

Kazakhstan. It is an absolute priority to increase throughput flow capacity of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) from 28m tons to 65m tons planned for 2010 as well as of the pipeline that connects Atyrau and Samara from 10m in 2000 to 15m tons.11 Experts believe that the pipelines will cover Kazakhstan’s export needs for the next 5 to 10 years. If Kazakhstan manages to realize its slightly inflated expectations to increase its export to 150m tons of oil every year by 2015 Russia’s infrastructure will barely cover 53 percent of Kazakhstan’s export needs.

As long as there is no chance that new oil pipelines ending in Novorossiisk will be added to the already existing ones there is a strong possibility that two alternative routes will be used: through Turkmenistan (leading to Iran) and across the Caspian that will connect Kazakhstan with the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, something that Russia does not want. To make the latter project profitable it should move at least 50m tons of oil every year (its estimated cost tops $2.5 billion). Azerbaijan can export 20m tons that explains American interest in Kazakhstani oil. In 2005 the Baku-Ceyhan line is to be completed while the Kashagan oil field in Kazakhstan will be developed. So far, Astana has not reached its final decision. It is in Russia’s interests to examine a possibility of increasing the flow capacity of the Baku-Novorossiisk oil pipeline or to consolidate attention Kazakhstan is giving to the Iranian route.

Iran. Cooperation with Tehran has produced first positive results in the Central Asian (Tajik) and South Caucasian sectors. This potential should be used to protect our interests in the Caspian to launch cooperation in the legal sphere to exclude unwelcome presence on the Caspian of extra-regional powers. We have to bear in mind, however, that this cooperation may be outweighed, in the mid-term perspective, by restored American-Iranian relations.

If Russia shows adequate activity in the Kazakh, Turkmen and Iranian sectors the current situation may help it consolidate its positions in the Caspian area. This can be regarded as an asymmetric response to the extending American military-political presence in Central Asia.

6. Compatriots. There is still a numerically strong Russian community in the region (in 2001 there were 6.5m of Russians, or 11.7 percent of the total population. The figure for 1989 is 9.5m, or 19.3 percent). Together with other Russia-oriented ethnic communities (Tartars, Bashkirs, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians and partly members of autochthonous but not title communities) Russians are a natural ethnopolitical ally of Russia and a relatively efficient channel of Russia’s influence.

In 1992-1994 an exodus of Russian speakers from the region created a dilemma—either proclaim Russia’s economic and other interests in giving jobs to skilled workers in full conformity with the withdrawal strategy or, in full conformity with the strategy of engagement, condition Russia’s relations with the Central Asian countries by the rights and situation of the Russian-speakers. The former required a corresponding program and considerable financial means to pay for the repatriates’ absorption. In the middle perspective, at least, the course was economically reasonable. The latter required funding of industrial enterprises and other structures in the regions with predominant Russian-speaking population as well as offering to Russian-speakers favorable terms of education and temporal employment in Russia. Granted a certain degree of flexibility both options could have been realized in the period of transition.

In fact, Russia had no clear strategy and staked on inconsistent declarations rather than on consistent foreign policy. This disoriented the local Russian-speakers, undermined respect for Russia’s foreign policy among the local elites and supplied the ruling class with a trump card called “stand together against Russia’s imperial pressure.”

One has to admit that for the middle term Central Asia will continue supplying Russia with workforce yet it is in the interests of Russia to remain, economically and geopolitically, in the region. With this aim in view it should not so much concentrate on stimulating the so far quantitatively limited immigration of Russian-speakers as to pay attention to turning the factor of their employment in the key strategic and science-intensive branches in corresponding countries into an element of mutually advantageous cooperation. Today, this has not been completely grasped on the two sides of the border—the local title nations are still clinging to ethnocratic attitudes.

7. The humanitarian sphere. Today, the humanitarian sphere is the cheapest and the most cost effective field in which Russia can consolidate its positions across the post-Soviet expanse. We all know that the former graduates of Russian institutes and universities as well as on-the-job trainees at enterprises in Russia form the most stable pro-Russian group of influence in Central Asian countries. This is true of both bilateral and multilateral levels. The quotas for the young people from Central Asia in Russian educational establishments should be considerably extended. We have already lost much time: the ruling elites of the former Soviet republics tend to educate the youth in the West. The Western countries in their turn are offering wider possibilities in the sphere of education as the “the most efficient investments in the region.”12 This means that the future generations of the Central Asian countries will be lost for Russia.

8. Work with opposition. Today, the old course at a straightforward cooperation with the ruling elites through the official leaders no longer meets the demands of the time and deprives Russia’s approach of the very much-needed flexibility. We should take into account our sad experience in Eastern Europe where we suddenly lost all support because of lack of stable contacts with opposition. Obviously, we should not borrow American tactics of emphasis on the human rights issue yet we should not reject contacts with prominent opposition leaders. Normally, in Central Asia opposition is latent, therefore we should use our contacts with the regional and clan figures.

9. Strategic partnership. Time has come to distance both at the conceptual and public levels from the failed idea of maintaining strategic partnership with all the CIS countries. Today, the very concept of strategic partnership has been devalued while our real partners and allies have become disoriented or turned into antagonists. Only Ukraine and partly Kazakhstan can claim the role of strategic partners for the following reasons: common long-term interests in the priority sectors related to the problems of global or at least macroregional dimensions; international prestige and real influence. We should take into account that our interests and those of the Central Asian and CIS partners are frequently opposing and that they demonstrate a low reliability level. In this context an undifferentiated approach results in empty declarations and supplies the partners with one-sided (at least political and propaganda) advantages. In case of necessity Russia should lower considerably the intensity and level of bilateral contacts and condition them by realization of concrete pragmatics tasks.

10. Relations with China. It seems that Russia can strengthen its positions in the Central Asian macroregion through maximally close cooperation with China (as well as with Iran and India). Bilateral contacts, rather than multisided structures, should become an absolute priority. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (and the ties between Russia and China within it) still has a lot of potential where Russia’s strategic tasks in Central Asia are concerned even if at present there is a certain lack of coordination: its organizational structures have not been completely formed while Uzbekistan’s destructive position is creating instability and unpredictability among the Central Asian “Four.” Cooperation between Russia and China in the spheres of transportation and pipelines as well as in developing the hydraulic resources of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan can bear fruit.

This tactically tangible cooperation is fraught with certain strategic problems. It is signally important for Russia to secure itself a role of an intermediary between its Central Asian partners and China where the border, water, and economic problems are concerned.

There is another, no less important factor: today, American military-political presence in the region does not directly threaten Russia and China’s national interests. It is rather a strong irritant that brings Beijing and Moscow closer together for tactical reasons and urges them to maximally use the “Shanghai” channel of their cooperation. Both prefer to keep within the limits that separate regional rivalry with the United States from confrontation.

The United States: Approaches, Interests, and Prospects

In Soviet times the United States encouraged, ideologically and politically, separatists across the Soviet Union yet selective approach was obvious. The U.S. was more or less consistently supporting the idea of independence of the three Baltic republics while independence of Ukraine was seen as a desired but hardly expected option. Washington was demonstrating its neutral attitude to the Southern Caucasus and its alienation from Central Asia.

These trends remained more or less the same during perestroika—changes came together with the Soviet Union’s disappearance. At first, in 1991-1993 the nature of relations with Russia, a lack of corresponding infrastructure in the CIS, and the Senate Democratic majority forced the United States officially recognize priority of Moscow’s specific strategic interests across the CIS. At that time Washington insisted on differentiated responses to Moscow’s military-political pressure on the newly free countries: this applied, first and foremost, to the Baltic states, followed by Ukraine, the Southern Caucasus, and Central Asia that came last. Kazakhstan attracted somewhat more attention than its Central Asian neighbors. At the same time, it became clear that the Americans had opted for the wait-and-see strategy that could ensure stability across the former Soviet Union and a relatively moderate model of disintegration of the formerly rigid ties inside the U.S.S.R. It was in 1993 when it had become clear that the CIS was ineffective and the relations inside it had developed into bilateral relations among its members that Washington revised its positions.

For a long time by force of habit the U.S. continued using the old Sovietological patterns that insisted on regional balance of forces, supporting centrifugal tendencies in the CIS, and using the old “human rights” lever. In the 1990s there were all sorts of possible configurations with replaceable elements: Russia (or without Russia)—Ukraine—Azerbaijan (or Georgia)—Uzbekistan (or Kazakhstan). For a long time the United States lumped together the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia when talking about its interests in eight countries.13 American CIS policy depended, to a great extent, on the “cooperation/rivalry with Russia” model, therefore the United States vacillated between “support of independence” and protection of human rights, on the one hand, and economic liberalization, on the other. In Central Asia the United States used one more instrument: frequent change of partners.

American foreign policy strategy in individual countries will be mainly shaped in future: today there are four official components: helping economic and political liberalization (in the interests of American business in the first place); U.S. involvement in settling conflicts (with an aim of becoming the local intermediary); regional cooperation in the sphere of security, and development of power resources of the Caspian Sea and hence realization of the Eurasian transport corridor to move local hydrocarbon resources to the western markets. All official statements about the need to diversify export oil routes are accompanied by an inevitable reservation: the trans-Caucasian route is an absolute necessity; the route across Russia can be accepted as being of secondary political importance while routes across Iran (favored by large companies, Chevron being one of them) are rejected outright.

More active American political and economic presence in Central Asia that became evident in the 1990s added bitterness to the old rivalry between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. At first, the Kazakh leaders were encouraged, yet by early 1996 American changed their mind. Washington decided that Kazakhstan’s patchy ethnic composition and its geographical and economic closeness to Russia would not allow Almaty to develop independent positions. This was why Washington turned to Uzbekistan. In the latter half of the 1997 Washington decided that it no longer needed the Uzbek card and returned to its former orientation to Kazakhstan. America turned to Uzbekistan once more when the counter-terrorist operation began and it will hardly move outside present tactical policies. One can expect that the United States will preserve its strategic orientation to Astana and its active involvement in other directions.

In any case, contrary to what the local elite wants individually the Central Asian countries will hardly acquire foreign policy priorities for the United States. They are irritated to a great extent that in Central Asia Washington is more concentrated on regional problems rather than on bilateral relations.14 The regional problems can be described in the following way:

(1) the best possible variant of developing and exporting oil and gas from the Caspian should be ensured. This means the western variant in the first place, priority of American companies and American technologies. In the long-term perspective the regional hydrocarbon reserves should decrease, at least to some extent, dependence of the United States (and the West as a whole) on the Middle Eastern oil;

(2) Central Asia should be included into the U.S. global and regional counter-terrorist strategy;

(3) middle- and probably, long-term military-political and partly economic dependence of the region should be created mainly to apply the policy of balances to Russia, China, Iran, and India. From the point of view of military strategy the United States wants to preserve a guaranteed access to the region rather than pay money for American military bases there. In addition, different departments (the State Department and the Pentagon) regard military presence, its duration and scope differently.

Obviously, the Central Asian leaders (Uzbekistan, in the first place, and Kazakhstan, to a lesser degree) will seek closer relations with the United States, at least in the neatest future. Their relations with Russia will be sacrificed to this goal if the situation demands it for the sake of considerable American investments and financial aid and in the hope of moving as close as possible to the “strategic partnership” in their bilateral relations with Washington. This has already been stated. Americans are not treating this prospect seriously though they do not hasten to explain this to the Central Asian leaders.

It seems that increased military-political presence of the United States in the region will not bring serious money (Kazakhstan may become the only exception) though it looks as if the Central Asian countries are expecting financial injections in their economies. What is more, America’s guarantees of security will be used as an element of political games.

One can expect a repetition of the pattern of the first half and the middle of the 1990s when there appeared certain coolness between Washington and the Central Asian counties. This time, the following factors will play the decisive role: disappointment of the Central Asian countries because their inflated expectations failed; the easily predicted rejection of the United State’s mentor tone; an inevitable displeasure with “lack of Washington’s adequate attention to one’s own country” and “excessive attention to the neighbor;” Washington’s already obvious and growing irritation with the local “bargaining” practices in the Central Asian states’ foreign policy sphere; Washington’s probable shift toward the human rights issue due either to the situation at home (presidential elections) or the White House’s displeasure with the cooperation level with some of its Central Asian partners or because of certain inertia of the human rights bias in its foreign policy. One should also bear in mind that scandals related to corruption files of certain Central Asian leaders (Nazarbaev in particular) might flare up and that the sides will not be prepared to take certain mutually expected decisions in relation to Russia and Iran.

At the same time, the United State while trying to push Russia to the side (but not to drive it out altogether) is not prepared to confrontation with it. Washington is satisfied with the present “cooperation-rivalry” level. One should say that the Central Asian capitals have not recognized this yet. Recently, the subject of “non-cooperation” with Iran has always been on the agenda in the relations between the United States and Russia as well as between the United States and Central Asia. These discussions are of more or less formal nature while the U.S. position leads nowhere. This, and the factor of European-Iranian and, especially, Russian-Iranian relations add confidence to Astana, Ashghabad, and Dushanbe in the their contacts with the Americans on the Iranian issue. Strategically, the Central Asian countries are not prepared to abandon their cooperation with Iran to please the Americans, at least in the sphere of promising transport communications.

* * *

Russia’s strategy in Central Asia is acquiring very much needed consistency yet lack of adequate resources makes any, even the best substantiated strategy, vulnerable and hard to realize. In the mid-term perspective this will undermine Moscow’s positions in the region on which new players (Western countries or China) will tighten their grip. Moscow should start discussing the terms of coexistence.

Naturally enough when shaping Russia’s foreign policy strategy Moscow should take into account the fairly serious geopolitical changes in the region caused by the counter-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, the most important of them being a much larger U.S. military-political presence in Central Asia. The fact that the Americans are using airfields and other objects of military infrastructure is not that important. What is important is an obvious desire of the Central Asian countries to step up their cooperation with the United States.

At the present stage of relations between the U.S. and Central Asian countries and of American policies as a whole Russia has to react in a very balanced way to the attempts of the regional countries to stimulate its confrontation with America in the region.

There is no doubt that the United States will try to use the opportunity to strengthen its positions yet the contacts between it and the local countries have their limits. In the first place the United States will hardly justify the hopes of the Central Asian capitals where the scope of financial and economic aid is concerned. Cooperation in this sphere will not replace the need of these countries to further develop their economic ties with Russia. The Central Asian leaders will be confronted with American pressure on the democracy, human rights, and economic reforms issues. All this will force the regional leaders to balance between Russia and the United States in an expectation to receive more privileges and guarantees from both. This will allow Russia to retain its positions in Central Asia without stretching its possibilities.


1 In October 1997 speaking in the Institute of Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Johns Hopkins University, Marine Gen. John Sheehan who headed the American participants in “Tsentrazbat-97” peacekeeping exercise pointed out that the Americans had not detected any serious outside threat to the Central Asian states—be it from the North or the South. Instability is mainly bred locally, by the Central Asian states themselves and their relations.
2 For more detail, see: M.A. Khrustalev, “Tsental’naia Azia vo vneshnei politike Rossii,” Issledovanie Tsentra mezhdunarodnykh issledovaniy MGIMO (U), No. 5, Moscow, 1995.
3 Still, at that time those who supported the two opposite strategies reached a sort of a consensus: it was agreed that Russia’s foreign policy should concentrate on ensuring external (military) security of Russia-CIS, that is, guarding the common borders.
4 However, until the Collective Security Treaty expired in April 1999 the leaders of Uzbekistan had not tried to withdraw from it thus securing a possibility of using the system if the situation on the border with Afghanistan or Tajikistan reached another critical point. As distinct from Tbilisi and Baku Tashkent’s decision to leave the treaty was not completely justified: it was made under the burden of a long history of mutual misunderstanding and irritation in its relations with Russia accumulated through the 1990s.
5 It was created as “4 + 1” that meant that China tacitly agreed to regard Russia as an “envoy plenipotentiary” of three Central Asian countries.
6 This course was partly justified by the extremely limited choice of instruments of influence the Russian Foreign Ministry could use.
7 V. Putin’s speech in the Foreign Ministry of Russia on 26 January, 2001.
8 We should bear in mind that the CIS will remain an amorphous and not very efficient organization that, however, should be preserved as an indispensable framework structure. It helps absorb shocks in relations between states (it was more than once that its summits demonstrated this by cushioning conflicts between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), as well as supply opportunities for unofficial bilateral consultations.
9 On 7 October, 2002 the members of the Collective Security Treaty signed in Kishenev the Rules of the Collective Security Treaty Organization that opened the road toward transforming the peacekeeping and security mechanisms into an international regional organization.
10 Until recently the CST played an integrative role. At the same time, there was an undifferentiated approach to the CST members and countries outside it where training of their military in Russia and prices for weapons and armaments were concerned. The latter problem was resolved by the decision of the Collective Security Council of 13 May, 2002.
11 Continued contradictions between LUKoil (the Russian participant in the CPC) and Transneft that owns the Atyrau-Samara pipeline negatively affect the organizational and technological aspects.
12 From a speech by the U.S. President’s Senior Advisor for Caspian Basin and Energy Development Elizabeth Jones at hearings in Senate on 13 December, 2001.
13 It is interesting to note that even after the beginning of the counter-terrorist operation in Afghanistan the American foreign policy planners continued looking at the CIS southern flank as a single unit. This confirms that the United States is interested in the Caspian area in the first place and, therefore, looks at the eight states as the Caspian states.
14 V. Paramonov has described this conceptual element of America’s geostrategy in Central Asia as the “principle of regionalism” (see: V.V. Paramonov, Geostrategia SShA v Tsentral’noi Azii, Author’s abstract of candidate thesis, Tashkent, 2002, pp. 18-19).

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