Frontiers New and Old: Russia’s Policy in Central Asia Russie.Nei.Visions, No. 82, January 2015
For much of the post-Soviet period, Central Asia has been a backwater of Russian foreign policy. But things are changing. Circumstances in and beyond the region are driving a more committed approach in Moscow.
Central Asia is critical to Putin’s aim of establishing Russia as the leading player in the Eurasian Heartland, and as an ‘independent’ center of global power alongside the United States and China. While there is no serious intention to revive the USSR, the Kremlin is keen to ensure a primary right of influence over the affairs of the ex-Soviet republics.
However, there are numerous obstacles in the way of such ambitions. Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are no longer passive objects of Great Power diplomacy, but increasingly assertive actors. The United States will remain a key player in the region, even after the withdrawal of NATO combat troops from Afghanistan. And China is translating its powerful economic influence into a broader strategic presence. Despite the fanfare surrounding the Eurasian Union, Moscow’s position is weakening. Its capacity to dictate to others is significantly reduced, competition is greater, and the threats to Russian security are proliferating. Moscow faces a hard struggle if it is to avoid a sharp decline of its influence in Central Asia.