On November 5, European Union (EU) leaders met with prime minister-level Central Asian representatives in Bishkek for the inaugural EU-Central Asia Economic Forum. The delegation from the EU was led by Executive Vice-President and Trade Commissioner of European Commission, Valdis Dombrovskis. A broad discussion covered three areas of cooperation highlighted by the Forum: green recovery, digitization, and strengthening the business climate. Subsequently, the participating EU leaders vowed to sustain the flow of investments and aid in accordance with current programmes. They also did not push Central Asian countries to implement concrete or radical reforms in the proposed areas. Alternatively, the Central Asian delegations expressed a desire for a more aggressive EU strategy.
Since 2019, more than 40 protests were held against ‘Chinese expansion’ in Central Asia. Yet Central Asian elites have hardly had a bad word to say. On the contrary, they suppressed these protests, denied that China’s goal was expansion and even requested their publics be grateful to China. No wonder some Russian commentators are worried about Russia’s waning influence.
The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan is transforming the regional landscape and unnerving neighbouring countries. Central Asian countries face migration flows, humanitarian challenges and political uncertainty. The post-American Afghanistan also provides Moscow and Beijing, as well several other regional powers like Tehran and Islamabad, with opportunities to enhance regional engagement as the world moves towards multipolarity.
The primary condition for a successful foreign and domestic policy is a constructive understanding of one’s place in the world and in the region, which allows for the pragmatic formulation and implementation of national development goals. In recent years, a new foreign policy strategy has been initiated in Uzbekistan, the key task of which is to create an atmosphere of trust, good-neighbourliness and cooperation in Central Asia. How this approach is being rolled out reflects the emergence of a new geopolitical reality. Strengthening cooperation and political trust between the countries of Central Asia are making it a more independent, predictable and stable region, with respect to world politics.
China has quietly but dramatically changed its economic approach to the countries of Central Asia—a shift with enormous consequences not only for the region but for Beijing’s relationship with Moscow. Until recently, China had provided loans to the countries of the region to build railway routes across Central Asia as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. These routes linked China with Europe, bypassing the Russian Federation (see EDM, March 21, 2019). Now, it has largely ended such projects and, instead, is investing heavily in manufacturing firms in Central Asia. On the one hand, this suggests that China may now plan to use Russian routes more heavily, at least in the short term, something Moscow will certainly welcome. But on the other hand, it means that the Central Asian countries are likely to become both more economically independent of Russia and more closely integrated into China’s growing economic empire, an outcome that will further diminish Moscow’s influence in the region and could even reduce the willingness of Central Asians to move to Russia as migrant workers. Neither of these effects is likely to please the Kremlin.
After the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) seized power in Afghanistan, developments there have led to growing instability in Central Asia and can worsen even further, Chief of the CSTO’s Joint Staff Colonel General Anatoly Sidorov warned on Thursday.
At talks with US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov pointed to the unacceptability of a US military presence in Central Asia.
He told TASS that Afghanistan had been discussed at a meeting with Victoria Nuland. “We emphasized the unacceptability of a US military presence in Central Asian countries in any form whatever,” Ryabkov said.
The Wall Street Journal said earlier referring to its sources that Russia and the US had allegedly discussed the possibility of the US military using Russian bases in Central Asia.