You are here
Home > News > Central Asia demands ‘respect’ as Putin’s authority wanes

Central Asia demands ‘respect’ as Putin’s authority wanes

The war in Ukraine is knocking the wind out of Russia, which has emboldened Moscow’s Central Asian allies in raising their game to a previously unthought-of level of assertiveness.

With European sanctions, the geostrategic puzzle has undergone a reshuffle that has transformed the region’s five former Soviet republics from mere clients of the Russian Federation to partners – in the actual sense of the word. The key difference is that one ought to treat partners with respect rather than condescension.

We want respect. Nothing else. Respect,” said Emomali Rakhmon, Tajikistan’s President since 1994, complaining that Moscow’s attitude had not improved since the Soviet era. Noteworthily, he said that in front of Vladimir Putin during a summit in Kazakhstan last week.

An edgy Putin listened to the seven-minute-long tirade, perhaps being aware that the five republics are in possession of something that he and Moscow desperately need – markets and trade routes that could be exploited to bypass Western sanctions. This, after all, was what he urged his southern neighbours to do, as seen in the official coverage of the event – build new logistics chains after Western sanctions over Ukraine put much of Russia’s trade in disarray. What was not part of the official coverage of the October 14 summit was President Rakhmon’s adamant statement, which transpired at the weekend.

As shown by data cited by Reuters, re-exporting goods to Russia, which it was unable to buy directly due to sanctions and the exodus of foreign businesses, has already boosted Central Asian nations’ foreign trade turnover. Their governments, however, are not hurried to go an extra mile for Moscow, unless it tackles with them serious investments. Rakhmon made it clear giving voice to his disappointment with Moscow sending a mere deputy minister to an investment conference in Dushanbe last month.

Treating Tajikistan as Russia’s backyard for decades is said to have offended President Rakhmon, more so that Moscow would only turn to Dushanbe when it finds itself ostracised.

“Central Asian nations, noting Russia’s growing interest in the region and the emergence of a certain dependence on it, have taken advantage of the situation to air their grievances and establish more equal relations in which Russia would at least partly give up its ‘older brother’ role,” Kazakh political analyst Rustam Burnashev told Reuters.

Winds of change blow police hat off Russia’s head

As the situation in Ukraine aggravates more and more for Putin, his legitimacy to enact the old role of a policeman and meddle with the affairs of post-Soviet states wanes.

This weakening came to the fore during Putin’s trip when he held a separate three-way meeting with Rakhmon and Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov to resolve a border dispute which almost led to an all-out war between Dushanbe and Bishkek in September.

The atmosphere of the meeting was frigid with neither Rakhmon nor Japarov willing to shake hands. Effectively, no breakthrough was reached, albeit Putin said he would provide the presidents with Soviet maps which could offer a rectification of the border delineation issue.

The conflict prompted Japarov to pass an informal meeting of ex-Soviet leaders in Moscow on Putin’s birthday, October 7. Kyrgyzstan also put off planned military drills of the Russia-led CSTO military bloc on its territory and refused to participate in a similar exercise in Tajikistan.

The host of the summit, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, had no bilateral meeting with Putin while the latter descended on Astana, observers noted.

President Tokayev spared no opportunity to decry personal attacks on national leaders that “poison the atmosphere of cooperation” in the post-Soviet space, a possible reference to frequent criticism of the Kazakh leadership in the Russian media.

Meanwhile, Kazakh state television went as far as show a streak of street interviews in which respondents said the war in Ukraine cast doubt on whether any post-Soviet unity was still a reality. The national broadcaster’s report presented Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s behaviour as a provocation of a Putin proxy. It was also recalled that Lukashenka interrupted one of Tokayev’s speeches, to which the latter replied with a condescending smile.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan playing it safe

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, being the biggest countries in Central Asia, were careful to show any misgivings so as not to antagonise Moscow. The leadership of both countries still sees Russia as the dispute-solving big brother whose help they may tap into in times of crises, according to Alisher Ilkhamov, a Central Asia consultant based in Britain.

In the long term, however, he said China’s influence as a regional “older brother” was set to rise at the expense of Russia’s if the war continued to go badly for Putin. “For the moment we see Russia is ceding to China this role as major patron for the Central Asian states. The vacuum will not be unfilled – it will be filled step-by-step by China.”

Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /var/www/warsawpoint/data/www/ on line 69

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.