Voices from Russia

Friday, 23 January 2009

Expensive Friends in Central Asia

Filed under: Barack Obama,diplomacy,Dmitri Medvedev,military,politics,Russian,USA — 01varvara @ 00.00


A scene in Samarkand, the second-largest city of Uzbekistan

The relatively few agreements signed by President Dmitri Medvedev during his visit to Uzbekistan in no way reflect the breathtaking complexity of the forthcoming changes in global Central Asian policy. It is with good reason that Uzbek President Islam Karimov tried to tone down the signing of agreements by drawing his guest’s attention to the fact that “the world is changing very fast, the alignment of forces is changing, and the reference points are changing”. He added, “As a country that has always been present in the region and determined the alignment of forces here, Russia should not only track these changes but also direct them”. Importantly, new US President Barack Obama plans to wind down operations in Iraq and concentrate on Afghanistan, a country that borders Uzbekistan.

It is clear that Afghanistan poses a global problem, and Russia is closer to it geographically than the United States. It is also obvious that Russia and other regional countries stand to gain from the reinvigoration of US military operations in Afghanistan. This may drastically change Russian policy in the region, albeit only in theory for the time being. Moscow should not reduce its policy to dissuade the United States from the region, if only because it may have to pay too high a price for its presence. Some of Russia’s partners may use the traditional Russian-US rivalry to their advantage by using both sides for their own purposes. They would not push either of them out of the region completely in the hope of keeping this game of using one against the other.

Russia’s Central Asian policy since the beginning of this century never aimed at ousting the United States from the region, but, was based on partnership with it. One reason is that Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan will never tolerate any single country, be it Russia, America, or China to dominate the region. There are advantages in having everyone there. In particular, this strategy underlies the philosophy of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The United States weakened itself by trying to do in Central Asia what it did in Georgia and Ukraine, that is, overthrow existing regimes and replace them with weak and incompetent pro-American surrogates. After these failures, Washington might have said good-bye to its influence in the region. However, it has a chance to return to Central Asia, if it conducts a smart Afghan policy, and its presence will be appreciated there. Following the results of Mr Medvedev’s visit to Uzbekistan, the Uzbek and Russian presidents proposed convening an international conference under the SCO aegis. US participation will be welcomed. Needless to say, Russia and the Central Asian countries will remember the deeds of the old US administration rather than believe the words of the new one. The Obama team should not forget this.

23 January 2009

Dmitri Kosyrev



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