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2018-01-29 | Politics

Military 'agreements' in Central Asia highlight Kremlin's malign influence


From left to right: Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, Moldovan President Igor Dodon, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and Uzbekistani President Shavkat Mirziyoyev pose for a 'family photo' ahead of an informal Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leaders' summit outside Moscow December 26. [Kremlin]

From left to right: Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, Moldovan President Igor Dodon, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and Uzbekistani President Shavkat Mirziyoyev pose for a 'family photo' ahead of an informal Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leaders' summit outside Moscow December 26. [Kremlin]

Caravanserai

ALMATY -- Recent developments in Central Asia involving a regional player -- particularly a number of military "agreements" -- highlight the foreign power's continuing efforts to exert malign influence in the region.

Regional entities have been known to interfere in the domestic affairs of other nations, violating the sovereignty of independent states and intimidating neighbours.

In Central Asia -- namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- foreign powers have often used military aid as a means of exercising influence.


A Russian soldier during 'counter-terrorism' training in Tajikistan. Russia's recent donation of arms, tanks and other military equipment to Tajikistan has raised fears that the Kremlin is looking to re-create 'Greater Russia'. [Russian Defence Ministry]

A Russian soldier during 'counter-terrorism' training in Tajikistan. Russia's recent donation of arms, tanks and other military equipment to Tajikistan has raised fears that the Kremlin is looking to re-create 'Greater Russia'. [Russian Defence Ministry]


BTR-80 armoured personnel vehicles were among the 'military aid' Russia delivered to Tajikistan ostensibly to combat terrorism. [Russian Defence Ministry]

BTR-80 armoured personnel vehicles were among the 'military aid' Russia delivered to Tajikistan ostensibly to combat terrorism. [Russian Defence Ministry]

On January 20, for example, Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov signed a military and technical co-operation pact, a deal that Jeenbekov arguably had little choice but to sign.

Many times coercion occurs when foreign entities leverage countries' debt, as is the case with Kyrgyzstan, to coerce leaders into signing deals.

For Kyrgyzstan, a poor landlocked country with few security threats, the deal is costly and arguably makes little sense economically or militarily.

Russian troops in Central Asia

Meanwhile, Russia's recent 'military aid' to Tajikistan is seen by analysts as a sign of Moscow's intent to deploy troops on the Tajik-Afghan border for the first time since 2005 -- a move that would undermine sovereignty in Central Asia.

Russia's aid to Tajikistan included "small arms, artillery and armoured hardware, helicopters, communication and air defence means, logistical and medical and survey equipment", according to the Russian Defence Ministry.

Tajikistan already hosts Russia's largest base abroad -- the 201st Military Base, which is stationed in two separate locations in Dushanbe and in Qurghonteppa, Khatlon Province, and hosts an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 troops.

The 201st will remain in Tajikistan until 2042 at the earliest, according to an agreement Russia and Tajikistan signed in October 2012.

Russian forces are also stationed at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and the Kant Airbase in Kyrgyzstan. And, more than a quarter-century after the Soviet Union's collapse, they appear to have no intention of leaving.

"Without a [military] base here, [the Russians] would immediately lose influence over Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Iran," Parviz Rasulov, a former Tajik army captain who resides in the United States, told Caravanserai.

"If Russia leaves, that's it -- it loses Central Asia forever, the way it lost influence over Poland, the Czech Republic and other countries in Eastern Europe."

These are only the most recent examples that show how Central Asian leaders, for various reasons, have been unable or unwilling to sever ties with Moscow.

Keeping watch on Central Asia

A number of foreign powers keep a close eye on the region, but Russia pays particularly close attention to Central Asian states' foreign policy, economic relations and military strategy to keep them in check geopolitically.

Days after returning from a trip to the United States, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev conversed by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 22, Kazinform reported.

Topics included prospects for the countries' co-operation as well as "Eurasian economic integration", a euphemism for participating in a Russian-dominated economic bloc.

"Central Asian countries are always considered a sphere of influence of Russia," Daniyar Kussainov, a Kazakhstani-born political scientist based in Norway, told Caravanserai. "Putin maintains influence through economic and political ties between the Russian Federation and Central Asia."

Russian media sources, which are prevalent in Central Asia, also "play an important role [in propping up] Russian soft power in the region", he added.

Putin's quest for approval ratings

The Kremlin's aggressive behaviour in Central Asia and elsewhere stems from domestic needs, observers have argued.

Putin "appears to have calculated that his regime can best do so by inflating his approval ratings with aggressive behaviour abroad", according to a US Senate report released January 10.

The Kremlin has employed a "sophisticated combination of propaganda and suppression to keep the Russian public supportive of wars abroad and distracted from the regime's criminality and corruption at home", the report said.

This behaviour has included military aid, such as Russia's efforts to help prop up the Syrian government since 2015, and is indicative of an almost 20-year-long pattern by the Kremlin of prosecuting similar small wars to achieve internal political objectives.

The 200-page report spans Putin's 18 years in power, documenting the extent of the Kremlin's "malign influence operations" against foreign nations and how Putin has consolidated power, enriched himself and his tight circle of loyalists, and meddled in elections across the globe.

[Arman Kaliyev from Almaty contributed to this report.]

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13 Comments

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Comment bubble | 2018-09-26

Great article! Thanks to the author and Arman Kaliev for his contribution to this report. And no one is afraid of Putin and his rabble. It is necessary to forge closer ties with the USA and other NATO states, and ask them for help and support. Our foe is Russia, not China. These know-nothings tell us if we alienate them then the Chinese will conquer us. The Rooskies intimidated them so that they would sit tight under their thumb. If the Chinese are worse than the Rooskies, why did millions Kazakhs flee to China in the 1920s-1930s during collectivisation, forced famine, and the repressions? There are 1.3 million Kazakhs living in China today. We need to move away from Russists [play on words using "Russia" and "racist"] just as Ukraine did. \nThe USA is the most powerful nation in the world. The U.S. brings prosperity everywhere (Germany, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Turkey, Israel, Japan, France, Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Canada, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, etc) \nSo-called "Russia" means war, devastation, famine, poverty, and death (former Soviet republics, the Warsaw Pact states, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua, Angola, and South Sudan).

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Георгий | 2018-05-13

We need to join NATO, and that's when we can rest easy...

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МО фуқароси | 2018-03-28

"V.V. Putin is our brother and ally" \nHe is your brother, not us - Uzbek’s!!! Central Asia is not part of Russian world. We are independent sovereign country. We are not pro-US, pro-Russia nor pro-China! \nRussia is always greedy for land... What can you expect from a country that had ruined its relationships with neighboring country just because of Crimea. Russia has always looked at CIS countries with from a vassal point of view and it won't change in near future. \nFor us USSR is a dark period of our history - it is just a dark period of our history, cultural and spiritual gap, period of great loss... \nWe are now living in a new period, we know with whom we must have close relationship. \nWe will never join EURASEC CSTO and never work for Russia, we will not become their shadow... We are the country with great past and great future. \nCentral Asia will become union, despite the fact that Russia is trying to separate and rule... There is not much time left.

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алй | 2018-05-27

Wisely said. Thank you, brother.

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Comment bubble reply | 2018-10-07

That's right

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Артем | 2018-03-09

The byline is rather incorrect. Arman Kaliyev contributed [to the report]. Would you be so kind as to present the [real] author to your audience, since you position yourselves as a trustworthy source.

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Гомер | 2018-02-06

Who told you that Russian occupation (as you put it) would be better, [the occupation by] perpetual drunks and debauchees who always treat others like inferiors. Here's an example of Soviet rule for you (North Korea, East Germany, and the CIS countries, of course)

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Эркинбек | 2018-01-31

You are just misrepresenting all the concepts. [You are] Nurturing pro-American scum! So how does NATO work? [They have] encroached on Russian borders, contrary to the agreements they signed before promising that they would not move eastward one inch!! You are corrupt media!!! I WOULD ADVISE AGAINST READING ANY MORE OF YOUR ARTICLES!!!

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Ташкент | 2018-02-14

I agree

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Андрей | 2018-01-31

Do you want the Americans to occupy us? We don't need any help from them. We can see what they have done in Syria, Libya, and Iraq as examples. The style of American politics was revealed long ago. But we are [from] the former republics of a Great Power (USSR), and we lived a good life [in the Soviet Union]. And Vladimir Putin is our brother and ally! We will never be on any American leash!!!

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Гомер | 2018-02-06

Not "theirs [help]", it is "their help" [Author corrects someone else's poor Russian grammar]

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петр | 2018-02-16

We are a sovereign state

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Daka | 2018-04-11

My God! Andrey, forgive my criticism, but you'd better learn how to write!

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