Russian Strategy towards the Caucasus and Central Asia: A Dominant Power on Defense?
By: Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
In the thirty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has sought to reassert its regional dominance over its neighbors through both direct confrontation and soft power. Despite the country’s progress with consolidating its sphere of influence, which includes the January 2022 CSTO deployment in Kazakhstan, Moscow’s goal of regional hegemony is far from assured. The rise of China, radical trans-national Islam, the potential spill-over of Taliban ascendancy in Afghanistan, and maturing of post-Soviet nation-states present roadblocks to Russian ambitions. Moscow must carefully manage its interactions with Beijing, keep Turkey, Islamism and Taliban in check, and respect nationhood in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is a tall order.
Since the dissolution of the USSR and the birth of the modern-day Russian Federation, Russia has gone to great lengths to reassert its post-imperial influence in the now independent post-Soviet Republics of Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus. The years immediately following the collapse of the Soviet system were defined by ethnic conflicts in Abkhazia, Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Tajikistan, with Russian leadership seeking to play the role of either suppressor, mediator, or agitator – whichever suited its interests – to become the region’s hegemon, at times in the guise of the guarantor of stability and security.
A Steadily Tightening Embrace: China’s Ascent in Central Asia and the Caucasus
By: Raffaello Pantucci
Chinese engagement with Central Asia and the Caucasus has been on a steady ascent.China accords considerably more importance to Central Asia than to the Caucasus, and theabsolutely central aspect of Chinese engagement is Xinjiang. Still, the economic push intoCentral Asia has continued, in spite of a slowdown in investment lately. Among outsidepowers, Russia is the only power that Beijing considers a genuine competitor, and even then that relationship is seen through the lens of cooperation at the larger, strategic level. China does faces challenges in Central Asia: one is the refocusing by various militant groups that now treat China as an adversary. Another is the risk that Beijing may inadvertently clash with Moscow’s interests in the region.
Japan as no “other”: Decolonizing Alternative for Central Asia?
By: Timur Dadabaev
Japan has been one of the first and most consistent partners of Central Asian (Central Asia) states in supporting their nation-building and regionalism. It was also the first country to propose the concept of the Silk Road to build interconnectedness and open partnerships for regional states. In this sense, the Japanese presence in the Central Asia region represents an engagement for diversifying and decolonizing Central Asia states’ relations with international partners. While Japan has been active through its ODA policy in the region, recent years demonstrate how Japan attempts to reconceptualize its engagement in Central Asia by promoting international partnerships with the EU to utilize mutual strengths to dynamize the EU and the Japanese presence in Central Asia. Through regional and bilateral connections, Japan is attempting to empower these regional states while also changing its own approaches to international cooperation.
Tokayev’s Reforms: An Evolutionary Model of Change?
By: Svante E. Cornell and Albert Barro
Much ink has been spilled in recent decades on the failures of democratization in the Middle East and Central Asia. Indeed, for over a decade and a half, Freedom House and other democracy watchdogs have been documenting a clear regression of dem-ocratic development. This has happened not only in countries considered in “transition”, but also in established democracies, where authoritarian tendencies have, unexpectedly, returned.
The Middle East and Central Asia have proven particularly resistant to democratic development. The resilience of authoritarian systems of govern-ment in these regions caused considerable frustra-tion, which switched to great excitement when popular revolutions against corrupt and dysfunc-tional government took place between 2003 and 2011. The wave of revolutions began in Georgia, followed by Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, upheavals quickly dubbed “color revolutions.” These were followed several years later by the 2011 “Arab spring”, which similarly generated great hope that democracy had finally come to the Middle East.
Except it did not work out that way. The color revolutions and Arab upheavals must now be termed a failure, as no country that experienced these upheavals has progressed in a sustainable way toward democracy. Some, like Libya, Syria and Yemen have descended into civil war. Others, like Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, experienced recur-rent political crises while continuing to be mired in corruption. For some time, Georgia and Tunisia appeared to go against the grain, and make sus-tained progress – but in recent years, those two have also backtracked. All in all, it seems clear that revolution is not a sustainable model to change entrenched authoritarian habits.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.