Russian foreign policy strategy towards Central Asia

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The problem of the integrity of the Russian Federation?s territory subsequent to the collapse of the Soviet Union has been especially relevant to the conduct of the country?s foreign and economic policy. Russian academics and policy-makers have struggled to develop a concept that could guide Russia?s revival in the former Soviet Republics, or the ?near abroad?. Two dominant worldviews have played prominent roles in this ongoing debate. The ?Westernizers?, who believe that Russia should follow a development path similar to that of the West, and ?Eurasianists? who argue that Russia has a unique identity and should thus embark on a development course apart from the West. Geostrategic and resource rich Central Asia is a key region of the Russian ?near abroad? and is particularly torn between these two worldviews. Russian foreign policy in the 1990s was focused on developing new relationships with the United States and other Western countries. Although, Russia wished to preserve its political, cultural, economic, and security influence in the region, it did not want to place an excessive burden on the country?s constrained economic resources. Russia?s foreign policy went through a definite shift with the election of President Vladimir Putin in 2000. But because of the West?s increased presence in the center of the Eurasian continent subsequent to the events of September 11th, Russia was only able to pursue a moderate at best foreign policy towards the region. However, due to the United States? misfortune in Central Asia, as the Uzbek government evicted US military forces from an air base at Karshi-Khanabad, Kyrgyz?s ?Tulip Revolution? and the death of Saparmurat Niyazov, the President of Turkmenistan Russia has been able to become more assertive in the region. It seems that current Russia foreign policy is based on the most pragmatic elements of the Eurasian pattern. The list of Russia?s recent defense and security achievements in the region is impressive. Moscow has forged a Russian-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Central Asia. Russian leaders have also enlarged the country?s on-the-ground military presence in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. And the Kremlin has an agreement in place, signed in 2005, that provides for the rapid deployment of Russian troops to Uzbekistan under certain circumstances. It also has used the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to expand its military as well as economic influence and most importantly use it as a tool to pressure the West to leave Central Asia. Russia has also created substantial progress on the economic front, using the energy industry as major block in building economic relations. Most notably, Russia forged an agreement with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan to transport the majority of their oil and gas exports through Russian pipelines making these nations as well as their trading partners dependent on Russia. However, Russia still faces many challenges and challengers to their more assertive foreign policy. Although the United States may be experiencing a perpetual downfall, China, Turkey, and Iran?s influence is on the rise. The Central Asian states are becoming increasingly dependant on China as a trading partner as new pipeline and transportation systems are built between the regions. Turkey and Iran are closely connected to the Central Asian States due to cultural, religious, and ethnic ties and have invested in business and infrastructure in the region.


Walter Richmond and Larry Caldwell




Ford Research Endowment

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