Russia and Central Asia: Problems and Prospects

Meena Singh Roy, Research Officer, IDSA


The new Central Asian republics are of considerable significance to Moscow and the Russian policy assigns paramount importance to this region. Instability in Central Asia is rife and can easily conflagrate on the Russian border. In addition, Russia is also concerned about the negative ramifications of developments in Afghanistan and importance Taliban's assistance to the Chechen rebels. For Russia the economic importance of this region emanates from its rich natural resources and trade relations with this region. It is in this context that this article deals with the role of Moscow in Central Asia. Given the historical legacy of Russia's control over the region, its overwhelming superiority in military strength and geographical proximity, together, create an enduring condition where the Russian role in Central Asia cannot be undermined for years to come.

The unexpected demise of the Soviet Union was indisputably one of the most astonishing geo-political events of the century, comparable only to the collapse of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires during World War I. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of Central Asia changed the map of Asia, literally as well as figuratively. The impact of the new strategic reality is just beginning to be felt in the surrounding regions. The full effect of these events on the politics of Asia is still to be determined. There is no doubt that the developments (positive or negative) in Central Asia will be greatly conditioned by: (1) events within the Russian Federation and the political choices of its new leaders; (2) the strategic doctrine and consequent political and military decisions of the new Bush Administration in the US;1 (3) the role of China, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and India; (4) developments in Afghanistan; (5) the policies of the European countries in Central Asia; (6) and the role of countries like Japan and Korea which will have a significant impact on the developments in Central Asia. The geo-strategic location and presence of rich natural resources2 are attracting countries like Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Japan, Korea and others to this region. The West, the US in particular, has substantially increased its influence over these states. This clearly endangers Russia's position in this strategically important region. Given the geographical proximity, historical links and presence of a multi-million Russian diaspora in this region, Russia considers Central Asia vital to its interests. Andranik Migraman, a prominent political commentator and advisor to Yeltsin, has argued that the ex-Soviet Republics are a "sphere of ... [Russian] vital interest" and that they should not be allowed to form alliances "either with each other or with third countries that have an anti-Russian orientation".3 Therefore, in the coming years, the role of Russia in this region should not be under-estimated. The region's leaders and academic experts on foreign affairs also share the view that for the foreseeable future, no other state has the combination of interests, power, and access to be able to counter Russia in Central Asia.4 Despite having lost its superpower status, Russia remains, a major player in world politics. Thus, it cannot afford to stand aside, passively watching the changes in the military and strategic balance of power. It is interested in collectively working out a new concept of the world order in the 21st century.

After Vladimir Putin's election as the president of Russia, there is certainly a greater sense of realism in Moscow about the future and the country's place in the world. Russia cannot be indifferent to the fact that the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia have become areas of competition. Russia's rule over this region lasted for more than 100 years, and it has always considered it an extension of its own territory. During the Tsar's time, Central Asia was important not only economically, but also politically. From the military view-point, the region was used as a buffer zone. Today, after having lost direct control over these states, Russia still regards this region as crucial to its security. The Central Asian Republics (CARs) constitute the soft underbelly of the Russian Federation. However, it is significant to note that before examining the Russian role in Central Asia, one needs to underline the prevailing conditions in this region. Any development (positive or negative) would have implications for Russia.

Prevailing Conditions in Central Asia

Throughout the Cold War, the land-locked Central Asian states remained isolated subjects of the Soviet Empire. Their emergence as independent states ended a long period of Russian domination and initiated a traumatic transition period characterised by serious problems in the new states. The Central Asian states are struggling with the legacy of the Soviet era. These states (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan) gained independence far earlier than anyone could have expected, and probably faster than most would have wanted, forcing them-without political, economic or psychological preparation-to face a brand new world. Thus, the states of Central Asia are now trying to understand the most fundamental elements of statehood. What are their state borders and what do those borders imply? What is the cultural character of the new state? Who are its inhabitants, and who should be its citizens? How permanent is the ethnic mixture of the state? Who are the likely allies and rivals? Will the state's future be best fulfilled in independent national policies, or in some kind of federation, confederation or union? How will the states survive economically? What are the intentions and attitudes of the states surrounding them? What are the most immediate external and internal threats to their national existence? These extremely complex questions need at least tentative answers if the new geo-political realities of the region are to be accommodated. The problems in Central Asia are legion.5 During the past six to 10 years, the countries of Central Asia have changed drastically, advancing in some areas and regressing in others. This process is further complicated by the polarisation of the region's various ethnic groups. Although the CARs have a common history, each state has its own model for its future development.6 The 55 million people who live in this region are now confronted with several problems,7 which could threaten regional security. Indeed, with or without the development of oil and gas exports, the region will remain fragile for the forseeable future. The problems faced by the region that rquire immediate settlement are mainly:

l Islamic extremism: In the CARs, the population comprises mainly Muslims, and the youth, thus, is inclined to radical actions. The neighbouring country of Afghanistan is an Islamic theocracy, from where Islamic ideology is exported. In this case, radical preachers from some Muslims countries are paving the way for it in the ideological vacuum. Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have become hotbeds of Islamic extremism. According to some reports, the Jordanian-born Chechen Field Commander Khatlab and Central Asian fellow-militant Jumabai Namaughani have declared that the creation of new Islamic states in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is their objective. They propose to do so with the backing of the fundamentalist movements in Afghanistan, Pakistan and West Asia.8 The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), financed by Osama bin Laden, and extremist Wahhabi groupings, is said to be operating in Fergana Valley, creating instability in the region.9

l Drug trafficking and smuggling of arms: Today, Central Asia has become an invaluable area for the global narcotics trade, particularly with the opening of borders between the newly independent states. The CARs are used as markets for the shipment of drugs. Afghanistan produces 75 per cent10 of the world's heroin supply, over 65 per cent of which is now transported through Central Asia.11 The emergence of crime and terrorism in Central Asia shows that powerful criminal organisations are working together to destabilise areas where most of the contraband trafficking is concentrated. An unstable Fergana Valley and Caucasus would guarantee that the flow of drugs from Afghanistan to the West operates smoothly. A lucrative drug trade in Central Asia poses a major threat to its stability. Economic instability and poverty in the region make it more vulnerable to this problem. In the southern part of Kyrgyzstan alone, four million people are involved in the dealing, moving, growing or processing of raw opium.12

l Threat posed by organised crime and corruption: In the CARs, the masses are poor while the elite sections have become rich because of their closeness to the corridors of power, their defaulting on loans and then financial corruption and monopoly over the major exports. The elite is uncertain of the future, and, hence, prefers to transmit its money to Western banks, resulting in a capital outflow from the CARs. There is complete absence of moral standards in society, and organised crime and corruption are rampant.

l Demographic pressures. Overpopulation, along with the restricted land resources, poverty, and traditional large families, presents a range of problems, specially in Uzbekistan.

l Conflicts among elites (clan struggles). In Tajikistan, this has resulted in civil war. The crisis of identity has resulted in clan struggles. People do not identify themselves with the country, but with their territory, tribe, or the seat of power.13

l Ethnic and religious diversity in these states has become a cause of concern.

l Militarised conflicts near the borders have serious security implications for these new states. The Central Asian countries have territorial disputes with each other. Borders determined during the Soviet period are mainly conventional; some districts have been transferred from one republic to another several times.

l Problem of mass migration and refugees. Due to instable conditions within these states and Afghanistan, the influx of refugees has become a serious challenge for the CARs.

l Management of water resources. For a region of desert and steppes, conflicts over the allocation of scarce water resources are inevitable and pose the single greatest internal threat to regional security. Water will become increasingly scarce in the years to come. Salinity in the Khorozen region of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan has caused the prevailing west-east winds to sweep up tonnes of salt and carry it to the Timen-Shan mountains and the Pamirs. Deposited on the high mountains, this salt is gradually melting the massive glaciers that are the source of water for the entire region.14

l Environmental security issues. An ecological catastrophe is looming due to the drying out of the Aral Sea and the Balkhash lake. There is a decline in industrial output and shortage of food in some of the states. This, in turn, is increasing the dependence on foreign sources for food, especially in the case of Kyrgysztan.

l Chronic decline in living standards. It is estimated that in 2025, the population of the region will reach 90.8 million, whereas the resources situation is highly problematic.15

l Lack of information. This is another important factor which prevents the Central Asian states from charting close partnerships in various economic, cultural and political spheres. Some of the states in this region have a relatively free Press whereas others exercise tight control over the Press. In fact, communication space is also fragmenting. Most of the information about the Central Asian states comes mainly from Moscow. The Central Asian states suffer from a lack of information about the region.

l Deterioration in the educational sphere. There has great been degradation in education, literacy, and the qualification of workers.

l The structural crisis of the state and the political system. The states are not in a position to execute their administrative functions and fulfill social responsibilities in the educational and public health domains. One witnesses open corruption and non-professionalism, and withdrawal of the state from social obligations. Political institutions are weak.

l Transit and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD): The Central Asian region also remains highly vulnerable to the smuggling of fissile material for WMD. During the Soviet period, Central Asia was the raw material base for its nuclear programme. After independence, Kazakhstan has closed its nuclear test range and has committed itself to being a non- nuclear weapon state under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but it has not lost its potential of being a nuclear power. Uzbekistan has the world's third largest uranium deposits. Tajikistan also has uranium reserves as well as capability for enrichment. Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, has a lot of nuclear waste left over as a legacy of the former Soviet Union. Thus, there is a serious threat of the proliferation of WMD.16

The economic, political, and public life of the CARs is heavily dependent on Moscow. The current chaos of ethnicity and identity is a legacy of the Soviet era. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian states for the first time faced the necessity of real cooperation with each other, beyond Moscow's tutelage. Their ties with each other, however, remain fragmented. The geographic interdependence of the Central Asian states necessitates cooperation to resolve water and land disputes, internal migration, and many other concerns. According to official sources, relations among the Central Asian states arc flourishing. However, such collaborative efforts are in the purview of top officials, while the rest of the government establishments, as well as economic and cultural entities, are not involved. As a result, regional cooperation attempts typically have an official façade, concealing the isolationist ideologies at the top levels of state decision-making and the resultantly growing disintegration. As has been very rightly summed up by Tabyshaliena,17 the Central Asian states are trying to be increasingly independent of each other at a time when numerous common problems are reinforcing the need for integration and cooperation in the region. In the current situation, the dynamics of the Central Asian states imply common consent, negotiation and accord.

The search for national identities and the unstable social environment in Central Asia may lead to conflict situations. If these potential sources of tension are not identified well in advance, they may easily turn into destructive and brutal conflicts, significantly reducing the potential for political, social and economic reforms. Promotion of democracy and peaceful conflict resolution within the region is of utmost urgency; the damage from a conflict will be far costlier than its prevention. Today, despite their differences, the promising signs of regional cooperation have started becoming visible. The prospects of a stable future in post-Soviet Central Asia lie in peaceful cooperation and regional initiatives aimed at easing tensions and resolving the numerous common problems. Therefore, the international community should promote steps towards regional cooperation, preventing any attempt at political hegemony by different players in Central Asia. In this context, Russia can play an important balancing role.

Russia's Security Threats

Any attempt to understand Russia's evolving role in Central Asia would be futile without identifying the major security threats that Russia is facing today. The traditional political-military dimension of security has largely lost its dominant role in contemporary Russian perceptions of security. The National Security Concept, drafted by the Security Council of the Russian Federation and approved by a presidential decree on December 17, 1997, indicates, for instance, that "the analysis of threat to the national security of the Russian Federation reveals that most of those threats are currently and in the foreseeable future of a non-military nature, emanating predominantly from inside the country and concentrated in the political, economic, social, environmental, informational, and spiritual fields." While the concept recognises the absence of any threat of large scale aggression against Russia in the foreseeable future, it lists a number of risks and threats related to traditional dimensions of security, including the following:

(a) Attempts by other states to diminish the role of Russia as a powerful centre within an emerging multipolar world, manifested by support to activities aimed at violating Russia's territorial integrity using inter-ethnic, religious and other domestic disputes, or territorial claims against Russia.

(b) Existing and potential local wars or armed conflicts in the proximity to the Russian borders (such conflicts are considered "the most likely threat to Russia").

(c) Proliferation of nuclear and other WMD and related technologies and means of delivery, especially in countries close to Russia (considered as a "serious" threat).

(d) Maintenance or deployment by the great powers, or by their coalitions, of armed forces in regions close to Russia's borders, even if these powers do not have aggressive intentions towards Russia (considered a "potential" military threat).

(e) Future development of military technologies and new generations of weapons.18

In addition to the above mentioned threats, there are some non-traditional threats, which are playing a growing role in planning for Russia's security. These include the threats posed by drug trafficking, terrorism, organised crime, degradation of the environment, challenges of mass migration, and Islamic extremism. An analysis of Russia's threat perceptions and Central Asia's position in these, reveals that the CARs are centrestage in these perceptions. These new states, because of their inherent weaknesses, are faced with problems like ethnic and religious disputes, drug trafficking, arms smuggling and Islamic extremism. These problems also pose a threat to Russia. Moreover, the fight among the various countries for greater control over the enormous energy resources of Central Asia further endangers Russia's role in this region. Therefore, under no circumstances, will Russia allow its position to diminish in this region. To safeguard its interests in the CARs, Moscow is making every possible effort to maintain a central role in the post-Soviet era.

Russia's Role in Central Asia

It has already been stated that Russia, due to its past links and geographical proximity, considers Central Asia vital to its interests. Initially, the Russian politicians had seemed to be almost ignoring Central Asia. Preoccupation with its own political and economic turmoil did not permit Russia to pay much attention to the other former Soviet Republics. The foreign policy strategists of Russia were then too busy with reconfiguring a relationship with the West. It was believed that the West would open up its coffers to help Russia ward off its economic crisis and bring about a smooth transformation from a centrally controlled economy to a market economy. For some time, Moscow had no coherent policy towards the CARs. Central Asia remained on the periphery of Moscow's attention and the CARs were not regarded as " important objects of Russian foreign policy activities."19 But later, the CARs came to be recognised as an integral part of the zone of Russia's special interests.20 Moscow's new assertive mood is most marked in the "near abroad" as the new republics are called in Russia. In May 1992, Yevgeni Ambartsumov, then chairman of the parliamentary committee on international affairs, observed that "Russia is something larger than the Russian Federation in its present borders. Therefore, one must see its geopolitical interest more broadly than what is currently defined by the maps. That is our starting point as we develop our conception of mutual relations with, our 'own foreign countries'".21 The necessity of active development of relations between Russia and the Central Asian states was stressed in a document presented by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of 1992, entitled "A Concept of Russia's Foreign Policy". In December of the same year, former deputy Foreign Minister F. Shelov-Kovedyaev, in a paper presented at a conference of Russian experts said, "In order not to lose its position, the Russian Federation should have changed its tactics by July or August, it should have made active use of various means to influence the situation in the 'new foreign states', including differentiated approaches to the development of economic relations."22 In a speech in late February 1993, President Yeltsin declared that Russia "continues to have vital interest in the cessation of all armed conflicts in the territory of the former USSR" He called for international authorisation of Russia's peace-keeping role in the region.23 Subsequently, in April 1993, the Russian Security Council accorded top priority to relations with the CIS countries.24 The Russian military doctrine enunciated on November 2, 1993, regarded the stationing in neighbouring countries of troops from a third country as one of the security threats to Russia.25

In July 2000, the document known as "The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation" once again specified, "A priority area in Russia's policy is ensuring conformity of multilateral and bilateral cooperation with the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States to national security tasks of the country. The emphasis will be on the development of good neighbourly relations and strategic partnership with all the CIS member states."

It further stated: "We attach priority importance to joint efforts toward settling conflicts in the CIS member states, and to the development of cooperation in the military-political area and in the sphere of security, particularly in combating international terrorism and extremism. Serious emphasis will be made on the development of economic cooperation, including the creation of a free trade zone and implementation of programmes of joint rational use of natural resources. Specially, Russia will work for the elaboration of such a status of the Caspian Sea as would enable the littoral states to launch mutually advantageous cooperation in using the region's resources on a fair basis and taking into account the legitimate interests of each other."26 Now, under the leadership of Putin, Russia is taking steps to develop and further strengthen the relationship with the CARs. Efforts are on to further consolidate and expand bilateral ties with the former Soviet Republics.

Both the South Caucasus and Central Asia are explicitly mentioned in the National Security Concept as the regions where Russia's influence is being challenged by regional and extra-regional actors. These challenges include political, economic, cultural, and even religious and linguistic activism, and to some extent military-political activism by a number of countries, especially Turkey, Iran, the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The engagement of at least some of those countries may bring about an erosion of Russia's southern "security buffer" in the south Caucasus and Central Asia. Therefore, to overcome the challenges emanating from the south, the two basic policy options that are commonly discussed are: first, that Russia, while exerting pressure on the countries of the region should seek to minimise the influence of third countries. As its economy gradually recovers, Russia should be able to resume a hegemonic rule in the region. The second option emphasises the need to ensure Russia's economic interests, and, thus, focusses mainly on opportunities for cooperation rather than on challenges. In its recent policy towards the CARs, Russia seems to follow the second option of cooperation with these states. Most of the Soviet successor states are members of the collective defence arrangement within the Tashkent Treaty on collective security. Russia also has bilateral mutual assistance and military cooperation agreements with a number of CIS states in the region.27 The 201st Division of the Russian Armed Forces is located in Tajikistan. The collective security agreement defines major sources of military dangers and factors which might contribute to military dangers evolving into direct military threat.28 The participation of the Central Asian states in the Integrated Air Defence system established by Russia under the CIS has further consolidated this cooperation.29 Russia and four former Soviet states have agreed to set up a new economic organisation, the Eurasian Economic Community. On October 10, 2000, this new body was established by the leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Tajikistan in a meeting in Astana. The five countries agreed to gradually pull down economic barriers and encourage free movement of goods, capital and workforce. Russia showed willingness to put up with certain economic losses resulting from the opening of the domestic market to its partners. It also forfeited the right to dominate the grouping, although it will control 40 per cent of the votes in the new union. According to Putin, the main tasks before the five member-states of the Eurasian Economic Community will be fighting international terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and illegal arms sales.30 A day after they formed the Eurasian Economic Community, the five former Soviet states, joined by Armenia, met in Bishkek to resuscitate the 1992 Collective Security Treaty. The six nations resolved to set up a rapid deployment military force to repulse both external aggression and internal insurgency. Moscow also agreed to supply weapons to its allies at the same discount that the Russian Army gets, or at nearly half the price they fetch in the international market. Moscow's new attempt at economic and military integration is driven, above all, by shared fears of the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia. The Taliban's recent military gains in Afghanistan and Islamist incursions into post-Soviet Central Asia have convinced Moscow that it will be cheaper to make the states in the region strong enough to stand up to the threat of religious extremism and terrorism than to fight it on Russian territory.31

Keeping in view the Russian role in the CARs, its long-term interests in the region can be defined as:

l First, maintaining political and economic stability in the region. It would be in Russia's interest to prevent escalation of inter-state and internal conflicts.

l Second, safeguarding Russia's economic interests in the region. A variety of intermediate products and manufactured goods make Central Asia an important commercial partner for Russia. Central Asia's industrial and agricultural potential remains an important element of the former Soviet integrated economic complex. It is a traditional supplier of many raw materials (cotton, leather, wool) for the Russian light industry, and a traditional and relatively large market for the Russian industrial export.32 From the economic and political points of view, Kazakhstan is perhaps the single most important Central Asian state for Russia, mainly because it was the second largest republic of the former Soviet Union. It is the only Central Asian state bordering Russia, and its Russian population is reported to be in excess of six million. It is the home of significant ex-Soviet defence industrial facilities, including the space launch complex and nuclear weapons testing facilities. Its vast agricultural areas developed during the "virgin lands" campaign in the 1950s are of strategic importance for grain-hungry Russia. It has also been termed as the "second Kuwait" on the basis of its petrol reserves. In the CIS, Kazakhstan is the second largest petroleum producer after Russia.33 If we take Uzbekistan, there are large enterprises in the Russian Federation that depend upon cotton imports from Uzbekistan, even ten years after the Soviet disintegration. Looking at the sheer statistics, one might come to the conclusion that the economic relations between Russians and these countries are close to zero, but that is not exactly the whole picutre.

l Third, the preservation of the various contacts between Russia and the Central Asian countries and the prevention of a vacuum that could possibly be filled by forces hostile to Russia.

l Fourth, ensuring Central Asia's ecological security. The countries of Central Asia have been witness to some of the greatest environmental disasters, especially in the Aral and Caspian Seas. Air pollution is also a major and growing concern in this region. These environmental problems increase the tension in this region and are a cause of worry for Russia.34

l Fifth, the prevention of the spread of Islamic extremism. The war in Afganistan, marked in the last two years by the increasing dominance of the Pakistan-supported Taliban movement over most parts of the country, has become a major source of concern to Russia as well as number of regional actors, specially India, China, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. On January 16, 2001, Kabul recognised the government of the breakaway Republic of Chechnya and allowed the Chechens to open an embassy in Kabul. During the next few weeks, there were reports that 200 Taliban cadres had left to fight in Chechnya, while Chechen refugees, particularly young boys and the families of leading Chechen commanders, began to arrive in Kabul and Kandahar. A joint training camp has been set up in Mazar-i-Sharif to train Islamic dissidents from all over Central Asia.35 These events clearly endanger the Russian security. Moscow's Ambassador to Dushanbe, Maxim Peshkov, told reporters in the Tajik capital that "the situation in Afganistan is the number one problem for Central Asia and Russia."36

l Sixth, the prevention of drug trafficking and arms smuggling.

l Seventh, the prevention of disruption of communication lines crossing Russia, and access to new transport arteries and to oil and gas pipelines oriented to the "far abroad". Russia is interested in having access to transport routes through Central Asia to the world market. It wants to retain control over the supply of metals, and strategic and raw materials from the region. Russia has a vital interest in the oil and gas complex of Central Asia, which is important for Russia for several reasons. First, this complex is developing vigorously, compared to the other industries, and is successfully overcoming its previous "enclave" character by integration into the world energy economy. Second, it possesses enormous resources. Third, it has successfully formed a joint-stock system, which furthers the creation of a powerful lobby. Fourth, while pursuing economic advantage, it is simultaneously fulfilling the strategic role of ensuring Russian control over oil and gas production and transportation in the "near abroad", and preventing Russia from being isolated, by building new pipelines across its territory. The activity of the Russian oil and gas producing companies and associations in Central Asia is growing, above all in Kazakhstan, where a struggle for the control of oil export has already started. The same is true to a lesser degree of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.37

l Last, ensuring the security of the Russian population living in this region. Of the 25-26 million Russians living in the non-Russian republics, around 10 million are in Central Asia. No Russian government can afford to be indifferent to the well being of Russians living in Central Asia, or regard this issue an the internal affair of the CARs.38 Russia's interests are not limited geographically. It has a large Muslim population, eight per cent of the total population or 14 million people.39 Islam will grow as an issue because of the centrifugal forces in Russia itself. Therefore, it is very important for Russia to take preventive measures to ensure that radical elements do not infiltrate Russian society

Commenting on Russia's interest, Andre Korthunov, who is the president of the Moscow Public Science Foundation, and director of the Open Society Institute, said, "Russia is a status quo power in Central Asia. It prefers to see only gradual change and if it is a choice even between rapid transition to democracy on the one hand, and keeping stability, on the other, I guess right now that, in Russia, the predominant view is: 'let's keep stability, let's be very cautious, let's not push them in the direction of western type liberal democracy, because if the price is to lose stability, it's too high a price to pay'."40 Therefore, for Russia, the major challenge in this region is to maintain stability. At the same time, Russia because of its geographical proximity and military strength, would like to remain the paramount power in the region. In the years to come, Russia will play a significant role in Central Asia. Any Russian disengagement from the Central Asia would undermine its security interests in the long term mainly because of the following:

l It would promote political destabilisation in the region and create various areas of conflict.

l It would sharply decrease the effectiveness of Russia's border security, already endangered by the infiltration of weapons from Afghanistan via Central Asia.

l It would automatically confer on Central Asia the increased influence of Moscow's geo-political rivals.

l It would symbolise further decline of state power and have a strong negative influence on the integrity of the Russian Federation. This would manifest first as increased centrifugal tendencies among Turkic people and as growth of separatism among the Russian Siberian territories.

l There are 12 million Slavs in Central Asia. Political instability there would cause an influx of refugees into Russia, and this would cause a humanitarian catastrophe, given the poor state of Russia's economy.

l Left alone, Central Asia would become a security risk due to the drug traffic. An influx of the Central Asian drugs into Russia would create a security threat.

l It could also disrupt Russia's relations with Kazakhstan which is both strategically and economically of great significance to Russia.

l It would encourage the West to use Russia's weakness to undermine its position in vital areas of Central Asia.

The historical legacy of Russia's control over Central Asia, the overwhelming superiority of its power in this region and the geographical proximity together create enduring conditions whereby the Russian role in the coming years in this region cannot be undermined. Any Russian government will seek to assert and maintain its preeminence in Central Asia, just as other great powers (the US in Central and South America, France in its former African colonies) have done in areas they deemed vital. This will occur despite Russia's numerous problems and diminished power. In fact, Central Asia is an area in which Russia has special interest and advantages. Broadly speaking, there are five main areas of interest for the Russians in the CARs: local wars and armed conflicts; political Islam; energy security; the future of the Russian speaking population; and prevention of the influence of any unfriendly country in the CARs, which will determine the future policy of the Russian government in Central Asia. The links between Russia and Central Asia have more to do with their mutual interdependence. The Government of Russia should take this opportunity to promote long-term stability and positive change in the new Central Asia.


1. It should be stressed here that the United States today represents an indisputable force and reality. It is the absolute power not only in terms of military power, but also its political, financial and economic powers. Therefore, its role in the CARs should not be ignored. The US, in its 1999 strategic doctrine for Asia, stressed the priority given to this continent in so far as the American national interests are concerned. The United States East Asian Strategy Report is based on "preventive security" to be attained either through direct intervention or, preferably, indirectly by means of external elements acting with the political-diplomatic, financial and technological-military support of the United States ("bilateral alliance," presence in the region US, and "comprehensive engagements.")

2. Yelena Kalyuzimova and Dov Lynch, eds., The Euro-Asian World: A Period of Transition (London: MacMillan Press, 2000), pp. 29-30.

3. Alexander J. Motyl, Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine After Totalitarianism (New York: Council on Foreign Relation Press, 1993), pp. 122-123.

4. Rajan Menon, "After Empire: Russia and the Southern Near Abroad" in Michael Mandelbaum, ed., The New Russian Foreign Policy (New York: Council on Foreign Relations), 1998, p. 101.

5. Ali Banuazizi and Myron Weiner, The New Geopolitics of Central Asia and its Borderlands (London: I.B. Tauris, 1994), p. 20.

6. Mike Collett White, "Asian Unrest Shows Region's Vulnerability," The Almaty Herald, August 17-23, 2000.

7. Rajan Menon, Yuri E. Fedorov, and Ghia Noida, eds., Russia, The Caucasus and Central Asia: The 21st Century Security Environment (New York: East West Institute, 1999), pp. 226-246; and Gary K. Bertsch, Cassady Craft, Scott A. Jones and Michael Bech, eds., Crossroads and Conflict: Security and Foreign Policy in the Caucasus and Central Asia (New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 240-269.

8. Dadan Upadhyay, "Central Asian Nations to Back Russia in Fight Against Terrorism", Indian Express, September 27, 1999.

9. "Fundamental Threat Rising in Central Asia", http://www.stratfor.com2000.

10. Tamara Makarenko, "Crime and Terrorism in Central Asia", Jane's Intelligence Review, vol. 12, no. 7, July 2000

11. Krika Dailey, "Government and International Response to Human Right Abuses at Tajikistan," November 4, 2000.

12. Makarenko, n. 10.

13. Leonid Bakayev, "The Taliban Phenomenon: Regional Implications for Central Asia in the Context of Geopolitical Tendencies," paper presented in an international seminar at IIC, New Delhi on November 19-21, 2000.

14. S. Frederick Starr, "The Security Environment of Central Asia," Emirates Lecture Series, 22, Abu Dhabi, The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, 1999, p. q.

15. Anara Tabyshalieva, "Post-Soviet Central Asia: Sub-Regional Cooperation and Peace," in Peace and Security in Central Asia, Occasional Paper Series, New Delhi, IDSA, September 2000, p. 78, 94.

16. A.U. Juamabaev, "Emerging Regional Security Challenges", paper presented in the India-Central Asia Seminar in New Delhi, on September 11-12, 2000.

17. Tabyshalieva, n. 15.

18. Bakaeyev Asker, "International Security and Strategic Environment in the Context of Problems of Southern and Central Asia," paper presented in an international seminar at IIC, New Delhi, September 11-12, 2000, p. 4.

19. Uwe Halback and Heinrich Tiller, "Russia and its Southern Flank", Aussenpolitik (English ed.), vol. 45, no. 2, 1994, pp. 156-157, 162; and Boris Z. Rumor, "The Gathering Storm in Central Asia," Orbis, vol. 3 (1), Winter 1993, p. 90.

20. Irina Zviagelskaia, "The Russian Policy Debate on Central Asia," former Soviet South Project, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, 1995, p. 1.

21. Rumer, n. 19, Winter 1993, p. 91.

22. Vitaly Naumkin, "Russia and the Central Asian Five: Common or Separate Paths?" Paper presented in Seminar on Russia, Central Asia and the Arabs, held at Cario on April 26-29, 1993, pp. 301-303.

23. Hannes Adomei it, "Russia as a Great Power in World Affairs: Images and Reality", International Affairs (RIIA), vol. 71, no. 1, January 1995, pp. 46-47.

24. Andrei Zagerski, "Reintegration in the Former USSR?", Aussenpolitik, vol. 45, 3rd quarter, 1994, p. 267.

25. Keesing's Record of World Events, vol. 39, no. 11, News Digest for November 1993, p. 39748.

26. "The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, Approval by the President of the Russian Federation," June 28, 2000 in <http://www.mid/eng/econcept.htm>

27. Jyotsna Bakshi, "Russian Policy Towards Central Asia-I", Strategic Analysis, vol. XXII, no. 10, January 1999, pp. 1577-88.

28. Asker, n. 18, p. 4.

29. Nikolai Novichkov, "Pact Strenthens Russia in Central Asia", Jane's Defence Weekly, March 22, 2000.

30. Vladimir Radyubin, "Moscow Forges 5-Nation Body", The Hindu, October 11, 2000.

31. Vladimir Radyubin, "Closing Ranks," The Hindu, October 22, 2000.

32. Mikhail Alexandrov, Uneasy Alliance: Relations Between Russia and Kazakhstan in the Post-Soviet Era, 1992-1997 (London: Greenwood Press, 1999), p. 62.

33. Glampaolo R. Capisani, The Handbook of Central Asia (London: I.B. Tauris, 2000), p. 39 and Mikhail Alexandrov, Uneasy Alliance: Relations Between Russia and Kazakhstan in the Post-Soviet Era (London: Greenwood Press, 1999). p. ix; and Jed. C. Snyder, ed., After Empire: The Emerging Geopolitics of Central Asia (Washington DC: National Defence University Press, 1995), pp. 57-59.

34. For details, see Nancy Lubin, "New Threats in Central Asia and the Caucasus" in Menon et al, eds., n. 7, p. 216-219.

35. "TheYear 2000 in Afghanistan", Public Opinion Trends, hereafter POT (Afghanistan Series), vol. xxvi, (4), February 1, 2001.

36. "Afghan Outlaws Threaten Central Asia," POT (Afghansitan Series), vol. xxvi, (3), January 19, 2001.

37. Zviagelskaia, n. 20, p. 26.

38. Anthony Hyman, "Moving Out of Moscow's Orbit: The Outlook for Central Asia," International Affairs (RIIA), vol. 69(2), April 1993, pp. 303-304. Also see for details, Stephen White, Russia's New Politics: The Management of a Post-Communist Society (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 252-253.

39. Snyder, n. 33, p. 188.

40. "Andrei Kortunov Examines Russia's Positions on Central Asian Security", November 14, 2000.