Essay, 2005, 16 Pages
1 Filters for the projection of Russia’s power in Central Asia
1.1 Russia’s domestic politics and its policy towards Central Asia
1.2 The process of state- and nation-building in Central Asia
1.3 The engagement of other states in Central Asia
2.1 Russia’s influence in the field of security and defence
2.2 Russia’s cultural influence
2.3 Russia’s influence on the Central Asian economies
3 Moving back into the Russian orbit? –Russia’s influence in Central Asia in the mid- term future
Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the relationship between the new states of Central Asia1 and Russia has been characterized by a great deal of dependence of the former on the latter. Reluctantly approving the dissolution of the Soviet Union and, thus, having gained de jure sovereignty from Moscow, the leaders of these countries have been facing the highly challenging task of state-building and of the consolidation of their nations.2 New state identities had to be defined that emphasize the difference from the other former Soviet republics. This process involved the setting up of a self-assertive policy towards their immediate neighbours, but also towards Russia. Moreover, the new Central Asian states looked for new allies beyond the territory of the former Soviet Union.3
While Russia’s influence on these weak new states remained substantial, in terms of economic relations and security, there seems to be a consensus among experts on the region that this influence has been gradually decreasing throughout the 1990s and even more so with the emergence of the US as a dominant player in the region in the aftermath of 9/11.4 Less research has been done on the question whether this trend is likely to continue in the short- and mid-term future taking into consideration attempts by President Vladimir Putin to strengthen Russia’s role in the region since summer 2002.5 This paper seeks to close that gap in the existing research body by an analysis of the factors conditioning Russia’s influence in Central Asia.
Before I present my main claim, let me outline an important theoretical consideration which my claim builds on. I start by assuming that Russia’s power6—before it can materialize as influence in distinct policy outcomes on the political-military, cultural and economic fields—has to go through certain “filters”.7 Thus, these filters can be understood as the intervening variables in the causal relationship between Russia’s power (independent variable) and Russia’s influence on the Central Asian states (dependent variable). I divide these filters into three categories: first, Russia’s domestic process of policy formulation towards Central Asia; second, the process of state and nation-building within the region; and third, the impact of policies pursued by other influential players in the region, above all the U.S., but also China, Turkey and Iran.8 In order to make a fair assessment of the impact Putin’s “strategic reassertion” might have on Russia’s influence in Central Asia, a close inspection of these filters will be essential.
My main argument in this paper is that Putin’s policy of a strategic reassertion has the biggest impact on the first filter (formulation of Russia’s policy towards Central Asia) that leads to the reinvigoration of Russia’s Central Asia policy. The structures of the second and third filters are far less effected by this policy change, but they provide levers Russia can use to exert its influence in the region. It is only after the first filter has been changed by Putin that Russia is now in a position to make more effective use of the levers provided by the second and third filter.
The paper is structured as follows: in the first section, the conditions shaping the filters will be more precisely outlined, giving also consideration to changes that have occurred under Putin. In section two, the impact and interplay of the filters on fields such as security, culture and economic relations will be analyzed. Further, it will be scrutinized how Putin’s strategic reassertion has altered this interplay. The final section looks what possible implications my argument has for the prediction of Russia’s influence in Central Asia in the short- and mid- term future and develops possible scenarios.
In this section I outline the conditions shaping the filters for the projection of Russia’s power in Central Asia (intervening variables). These are, first, Russia’s domestic politics and the resulting policy towards Central Asia; second, the process of state- and nation-building in Central Asia; and, third, the engagement of external players other than Russia.
The first filter concerns the nature of the political system in post-Soviet Russia and its impact on the policy Russia pursued towards the Central Asian countries. After 1991 Russia has been experiencing a period of arduous political and economic transition.9 During the first months of independence the launching of the economic ‘shock therapy’ and the power struggle between Yeltsin and the Supreme Soviet were to a large extent absorbing the attention of Russian politicians. Not surprisingly, Central Asia did not figure high on the agenda of Russian policy makers in 1991/92. However, when Russia began to focus its Foreign Policy on the ‘near abroad’, it became obvious that it was not willing to renounce its dominant role in Central Asia, a territory that Russians historically considered in the sphere of their exclusive influence since it had been conquered by the czarist army in the 19th century.10
By 1993 a consensus had emerged that Russia has to protect its vital interests in the region.11 The influence of the U.S. and of regional powers, such as China and Iran, has to be contained. A certain degree of stability ought to be maintained or established by preventing armed conflicts and securing the region’s permeable borders against trafficking and Taliban invasion from near Afghanistan. Since about ten million Russians live in the region, the protection of the rights of this ethnic minority is another priority on Russia’s Central Asia agenda. Not least, Russia wants to keep leverage in the region’s economic affairs, in particular in the exploitation of Caspian energy resources.
However, in pursuing these objectives Russia’s foreign policy makers had to cope with sharply reduced financial resources due to the drastically deteriorated performance of an economy in upheaval12 – a fact that represented a significant constraint on Russia’s role as the region’s hegemon, in particular in promoting CIS military cooperation and rendering economic assistance to the Central Asian states. Throughout the Yeltsin years Russia’s sphere of action had additionally been diminished by a lack of coordination among the involved actors, since the Russian state bureaucracy was highly fragmented.13 The result was an incoherent and volatile conduct that led to the perception of Russia as an unreliable international partner.14 In Central Asia, due to its inconsistency, Russia was widely perceived as the region’s non-benevolent hegemon.15
However, President Vladimir Putin’s policy towards Central Asia differs in some respects from the policy pursued under Yeltsin.16 Putin has given the region a significantly higher priority than Yeltsin did; he has tightened policy coordination and seems to be more realistic about what Russia can and cannot achieve in Central Asia. He strictly prefers the means of diplomacy over the rather heavy-handed methods used under Yeltsin.
The second filter is defined by the process of state- and nation-building in the Central Asian countries. The break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 left the Central Asian states in the icy waters of formal sovereignty. From the beginning, disintegration processes have been threatening the existence of these states.17 Lacking administrative capacities, their leaders faced a dispersal of political power, a process that has been most prominent in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, but could, to a lesser extent, also be observed in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Statehood remains a fragile good throughout the region. Not surprisingly, the type of political regime that emerged under these conditions has been an authoritarian one.
This political fragmentation has been exacerbated by the factors of ethnicity and economics. Poorly demarcated and permeable borders, drawn by the imperatives of Stalin’s ethnic policy, hardly reflect the ethnic mapping of the region, thus leading to a highly heterogeneous ethnic composition, which is intrinsically unfavourable for nation-building.18 As mentioned earlier, the economies of these new states built up within the framework of the Soviet planned economy have suffered hard from the disruption of supply and demand chains and are barely viable without assistance from outside.19 The fact that Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan dispose of relative huge reserves of oil and gas favours the prospects of their economic development.20 However, as landlocked countries they have to rely on neighbouring countries in providing transport routes.21
Since all Central Asian countries face these types of problems, cooperation might theoretically offer opportunities for development. However, owing to the relative weakness of the state and interconnected threats on statehood, the relations between the Central Asian leaders have rather been characterized by mistrust and envy and are predominantly guided by the logic of a zero-sum game.22 This may also explain why there is relatively little coordination that would strengthen the region’s bargaining position towards players from outside–a factor that is arguably conducive for Russia’s influence.
Thus, in sum, the second set of filters has ambiguous implications for Russia’s influence in the region. On the on hand, the weakness of these states leaves Russia leverage to keep them politically and economically dependent. On the other hand, independent statehood gives these states also strong incentives to define themselves as different from Russia and to look for other international partners.
A third filter is posed by the engagement of other regional powers and the U.S. After a period of relative isolation from sources of external influence under Communism, each of the new states has been eager to diversify relations with the outside world, above all with the U.S., but also with the region’s southern and south-eastern neighbours, such as Turkey, Iran, India and China.23 These states have developed an interest in the region and have, to different extents, been successful in actively projecting their influence.24 This engagement offers the Central Asian states alternatives of their dependence on Russia.
Based on the common cultural and religious heritage of Islam, Turkey and Iran have sought to reinvigorate relations with Central Asia after 1991 and have provided economic assistance. Moreover, Iran may be used as a possible transit route for external trade. However, relations developed far less than they potentially could have had judging by the expectations on both sides at the beginning of the 1990s.
1 The new Central Asian states are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
2 Shirin Akiner, 1998, Social and Political Reorganisation in Central Asia: Transition from Pre-Colonial to Post- Colonial Society, in: Touraj Atabaki, John O’Kane (eds.), 1998, Post-Soviet Central Asia, London: Tauris, pp. 1- 34.
3 Anthony Hyman, 1993, ‘Moving out of Moscow’s Orbit: The Outlook for Central Asia,’ International Affairs, Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 288-304.
4 Anthony Hyman, ibidem. More recently: Martha Brill Olcott, 2003, ‘Taking Stock of Central Asia,’ Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 3-17.
5 Recent articles that address this issue are: Roy Allison, 2004, ‘Strategic reassertion in Russia’s Central Asia policy,’ International Affairs, Vol. 80, No. 2, pp. 277-293; Peter Rutland, 2003, ‘Russia’s Response to U.S. Regional Influence,’ NBR Analysis, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 27-50; Paul Kubicek, 2004, ‘Russian Energy Policy in the Caspian Basin,’ World Affairs, Vol. 166, No. 4, pp. 207-217.
6 I use the notion of power in the sense of Karl W. Deutsch’s definition. He understands power as “facilities to put a decision into effect against possible external resistance, or in any case, to put it into effect in such a manner as to make some appreciable difference to the ensemble of outcomes in the environment that would have occurred anyway.” Karl W. Deutsch, 1966, The Nerves of Government. Models of Political Communication and Control, New York: Free Press, p. 110.
7 I am grateful to Flemming Splidsboel Hansen to have directed my attention to this theoretical consideration.
8 I do not claim that these categories are independent from each other.
9 Andrei Shleifer, Daniel Treisman, 2000, Without A Map. Political Tactics and Economic Reform in Russia, Cambridge: MIT Press; Michael McFaul, 1997, ‘When Capitalism and Democracy Collide in Transition,’ Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., Program on New Approaches to Russian Security, Working Paper Series, No. 1.
10 Nichole J. Jackson, 2003, Russian Foreign Policy and the CIS, London: Routledge.
11 Lena Jonson, 2001, ‘Russia and Central Asia,’ in Roy Allison and Lena Jonson (eds.), 2001, Central Asian Security, London: RIIA, pp. 95-126, p. 97.
12 Roy Allison, 2001, Russia and the New States of Eurasia, in Archie Brown (ed.), 2001, Contemporary Russian
Politics. A Reade r, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
13 On the causes of state fragmentation in Russia see: Steven L. Solnick, 1999, Stealing the State, Cambridge: Harvard University Press. On the resulting incoherence of Russia’s foreign policy see: Roy Allison, Neil Malcolm, Margot Light, 1996, Internal Factors in Russian Foreign Policy, London/ New York: RIIA/ Oxford University Press.
14Margot Light, 2001, Post-Soviet Russian Foreign Policy: The First Decade, in Archie Brown (ed.), 2001, Contemporary Russian Politics. A Reader, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
15 Paul Kubicek, 1997, ‘Regionalism, Nationalism and Realpolitik in Central Asia,’ Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 637-655.
16 Allison, 2004, op. cit., p. 291.
17 Marta Brill Olcott, 2002, ‘Revisiting the Twelve Myths of Central Asia,’ Carnegie Working Papers, No. 23, p.2.
18 Donald Horowitz, 1985, Ethnic Groups and Conflict, Berkley: University of California Press.
19 Anders Åslund, 2003, ‘Sizing Up the Central Asian Economies,’ Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 219-43.
20 The counter argument, however, would suggest that the possession of raw materials could prevent these countries from diversifying their economic base and, thus, hamper economic development.
21 Amy Myers Jaffe, Marta Brill Olcott, ‘The Geopolitics of Caspian Energy,’ in Yelena Kaluzhnovna, Dov Lynch, 2000, The Euro-Asian World, Houndsmills: Macmillan, pp. 68-92.
22 Attempts to breathe life into some sort of economic cooperation have, however, been undertaken. For an overview on the difficulties to achieve regional cooperation in Central Asia see: Paul Kubicek, 1997, ‘Regionalism, Nationalism and Realpolitik in Central Asia,’ Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 637-655.
23 Jonson, 1998, Russia and Central Asia. A New Web of Relations, London: RIIA., p. 8.
24 Boris Rumer, 2002, ‘The Powers in Central Asia,’ Survival, Vol. 44. No. 3, pp. 57-68.
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