Envisioning Opportunities for U.S.-Russia Cooperation in and with Central Asia Working Group Expert Paper, Working Group on the Future of U.S.-Russia Relations, April 2019
Central Asia is conventionally seen as a conﬂicting space for great powers.
It was analyzed through this prism as early as the Russian-British “Great Game” at the end of the nineteenth century. This perception was revived following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which brought the Central Asian republics onto the international scene as newly independent states. The critical lens of analysis continues to be that the region is a place for global and regional powers alike to demonstrate their “muscle.” Yet this perception has to be questioned, for two reasons. First, each global and regional power occupies speciﬁc niches on the ground, with the result that direct competition is not so confrontational. Second, Central Asian states, far from being passive actors, are themselves setting the rules of the game in many respects and have succeeded at playing one actor off against another.
Since the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan in 2014, several commentators have called for a more ambitious and/or realistic U.S. foreign policy toward Central Asia, but they have not addressed the critical issue of how U.S. policy on the region interacts, overlaps, or competes with that of Russia. Yet seen from Central Asia, the United States has never had enough weight in the region to be chosen against Russia.