Russian Strategy towards the Caucasus and Central Asia: A Dominant Power on Defense?

By: Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.

FT- Cohen 2022

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.

Published in Feature Articles

 A Steadily Tightening Embrace: China’s Ascent in Central Asia and the Caucasus

By: Raffaello Pantucci

2111-FT-China-CoverChinese 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.

Over the past 30 years, the Japanese approach to Central Asia has been to secure the Japanese presence in the region by offering Central Asian nations an additional option of an international partner among traditional choices, such as Russia, and, in most recent history, China. The schemes offered to facilitate engagement between Japan and Central Asia were vibrant and diverse, reflecting the changing realities of the Central Asian region and the changing role and perception of the “self” in Japan. As is well documented in previous studies, the search for engagement schemes started with the 1996 Obuchi mission to Azerbaijan and Central Asia, spearheaded by the Member of Parliament and later Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, which produced a strong endorsement of wider engagement of Japan in the region. It resulted in P.M. Ryutaro Hashimoto’s 1997 Eurasian/Silk Road Diplomacy speech, in which the concept of the Silk Road was first used as a geopolitical concept, embracing Central Asian states, China, Russia and Japan in an imagined net of interdependence. While the administrations of P.M. Obuchi (1998-1999) and P.M. Yoshirō Mori (1999-2000) did not proactively engage with the Central Asia region, it was P.M. Junichiro Koizumi’s administration (2001-2006) that aimed to aggressively shake up the Japanese approach to this region by announcing the Central Asia + Japan Dialogue Forum, a set of annual inter-ministerial and high-level talks to support Central Asian regional integration and to facilitate a larger corporate presence for Japanese corporate interests, in the face of growing Chinese and Russian pressures.
Published in Feature Articles

 

Japan as no “other”: Decolonizing Alternative for Central Asia?

By: Timur Dadabaev

 Abe analyst 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.

Over the past 30 years, the Japanese approach to Central Asia has been to secure the Japanese presence in the region by offering Central Asian nations an additional option of an international partner among traditional choices, such as Russia, and, in most recent history, China. The schemes offered to facilitate engagement between Japan and Central Asia were vibrant and diverse, reflecting the changing realities of the Central Asian region and the changing role and perception of the “self” in Japan. As is well documented in previous studies, the search for engagement schemes started with the 1996 Obuchi mission to Azerbaijan and Central Asia, spearheaded by the Member of Parliament and later Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, which produced a strong endorsement of wider engagement of Japan in the region. It resulted in P.M. Ryutaro Hashimoto’s 1997 Eurasian/Silk Road Diplomacy speech, in which the concept of the Silk Road was first used as a geopolitical concept, embracing Central Asian states, China, Russia and Japan in an imagined net of interdependence. While the administrations of P.M. Obuchi (1998-1999) and P.M. Yoshirō Mori (1999-2000) did not proactively engage with the Central Asia region, it was P.M. Junichiro Koizumi’s administration (2001-2006) that aimed to aggressively shake up the Japanese approach to this region by announcing the Central Asia + Japan Dialogue Forum, a set of annual inter-ministerial and high-level talks to support Central Asian regional integration and to facilitate a larger corporate presence for Japanese corporate interests, in the face of growing Chinese and Russian pressures.

 

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Published in Feature Articles

By Stephen Blank

November 24, 2021, the CACI Analyst

As part of the continuing story of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan Washington is evidently still negotiating for bases in Central Asia. The idea here is to be able to carry out “over the Horizon” (OTH) operations in Afghanistan for counter-terrorist purposes. It also turns out that Washington and Moscow were discussing this issue in the talks between Chief of the General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov and General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Those discussions apparently derived from remarks made by President Putin in his earlier summit with President Biden in Geneva offering the U.S. the opportunity to base evacuation flights in Russian bases in Central Asia.

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Published in Analytical Articles

By S. Frederick Starr

November 23, 2021, the CACI Analyst

Relations between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan have been in a slump since the small country closed the U.S. air base at Manas in 2014. In the limited attention Washington has accorded Central Asia since then, Kyrgyzstan has not figured in a visible way. This could change: new nationalist Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov appears to have concluded Kyrgyzstan must balance its over-dependence on Russia and China. Bishkek has embarked on a path of cordial and productive engagement with the West, and especially the United States. His government prepared a document setting forth a full range of new relations with Washington and transmitted it to the U.S. State Department. It remains to be seen whether Washington will embrace President Japarov’s bilateral initiative and perhaps even expand beyond it by adding initiatives and projects of its own. 

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Published in Analytical Articles

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Staff Publications

Oped S. Frederick Starr, Russia Needs Its Own Charles de Gaulle,  Foreign Policy, July 21, 2022.

2206-StarrSilk Road Paper S. Frederick Starr, Rethinking Greater Central Asia: American and Western Stakes in the Region and How to Advance Them, June 2022 

Oped Svante E. Cornell & Albert Barro, With referendum, Kazakh President pushes for reforms, Euractiv, June 3, 2022.

Oped Svante E. Cornell Russia's Southern Neighbors Take a Stand, The Hill, May 6, 2022.

Silk Road Paper Johan Engvall, Between Bandits and Bureaucrats: 30 Years of Parliamentary Development in Kyrgyzstan, January 2022.  

Oped Svante E. Cornell, No, The War in Ukraine is not about NATO, The Hill, March 9, 2022.

Analysis Svante E. Cornell, Kazakhstan’s Crisis Calls for a Central Asia Policy Reboot, The National Interest, January 34, 2022.

StronguniquecoverBook S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, Strong and Unique: Three Decades of U.S.-Kazakhstan Partnership, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, December 2021.  

Silk Road Paper Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr & Albert Barro, Political and Economic Reforms in Kazakhstan Under President Tokayev, November 2021.

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.

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