Alexander Knyazev: Integration is just one of images of modern political mythmaking. And the Greater Central Asia is quite an obvious geopolitical insanity
Ph.d. in history, professor Alexander Knyazev gives his view of the results of International conference “Cooperation and integration Projects for Central Asia: comparative analysis, opportunities and prospects” that took place June 26-28 2007 Khudjand.
Ferghana.ru: – You’ve made a goal of the conference to discuss and compare all ideas, variants and opportunities of cooperation and integration in the region. Are the goals achieved?
Alexander Knyazev: - Integration is just one of images of modern political mythmaking. And no more than that. At least for Central Asia. I have to mention that the majority of reports at the conference – as well as discussions, were critical and negativist... We discussed all we wanted to discuss - objective needs for regional and subregional cooperation, existing projects (for example CSTO, Eurasian Economic Community and the SCO), or existing conceptions of treaties (recent Central Asian Union idea of the president of Kazakhstan or American project of “Greater Central Asia”... We discussed a number of other projects and concepts as well... A conference of this kind can not have any summary as, let’s say, a resolution which would contain general recommendations for governments of all involved countries...
Ferghana.ru: - In our interview on the eve of the conference you told us about an unexpectedly high level of representation – were these expectations justified? How important are the estimations and opinions which summarize the work of the conference.
Alexander Knyazev: - Significant number of participants of the conference represent people capable of influencing political decisions. For example the director of Pakistan Institute of strategic studies Fazl Ur-Rakhman and Oksana Antonenko the head of the program on Russia and Eurasia of the International institute of strategic studies, London... For different foreign analytical centers that were no represented in Khudjand can be useful the digest comprising all the reports of the conference. It will be published soon... In general, it’s a task for governments to listen to opinions of representatives of the expert community. Unfortunately not all of them do it frequently enough. Our task is to publish the opinions and to inform necessary people. In this regard the purpose of the conference is achieved.
By the way, one of the purposes of any conference is to stimulate future discussions. One of these days you have published the opinion of one of participants of our conference - professor Iskandar Asadullaev. It was followed by a competent response made by an expert of Ferghana.ru, who did not participate in the Conference. That means that the number of participants keeps on growing and this way it should help us to find new answers to the important questions concerning the region.
By the way, while discussing the results of the conference with one of participants, professor V.N.Plastun, you spoke about partiality and impartiality of the discussions. You know, there may not be an absolutely impartial discussion about the current political processes. It is normal for an expert to find arguments to support his country’s interests. And for his opponent to give opposite but convincing arguments followed by more new opinions. It is normal, because it works out the true and common opinion. For instance when Fabrissi Vielmini, an expert from Turin, tries to define European interests in Central Asia through cooperation with Russia, first of all he takes into consideration European interests. It sounds strange when an expert with Russian passport starts lobbying American interests. For me it looks really weird.
Ferghana.ru: - If we take the positive side of achievements made by the countries of the region, is it possible to speak about an agreed format of integration process?
Alexander Knyazev: - I think, the main thing for today is understanding of various integration conceptions and schemes that should be realized within concrete projects. The period of artificial slogans and declarations based on historical past is over - actually it lasted for all the post-Soviet period. This kind of approach .can be seen in many reactions of Uzbekistan (less from Kirghizstan and Tajikistan) which followed the recent initiative of the president of Kazakhstan Noursultan Nazarbaev to create a new union. Look at the general reaction – it is not positive, I would say (may be not too diplomatic) - it’s rather critical... Nobody needs unions today. Effective agreements are needed to provide solution of water and power problems, frontier questions, security issues? Cooperation in the sphere of communications etc. Thus, taking into account different types, a variety of political regimes and socio-economic systems created in the states of the region during recent sixteen years, it is extremely important to find a special form of cooperation which would not undermine the bases of internal development of each country. In other words, intervention in internal affairs is inadmissible. It is a very important question. Any attempt to influence political processes from abroad may cause an aggressive reaction of political elites. I do not try to evaluate these elites, don’t say how good or bad they are... It is absolutely unimportant in the given context. An attempt like this will lead to pressurizing of internal political opponents and further isolation of the country from the open world. Examples are all around. Internal political processes should be developed autonomously without any external influence. In this case only can they correspond the national interests. Any involvement spoils the natural development of events and causes unpredictable consequences. Kirgizstan and its “revolutionary” recent history serves a good example.
In this case a benevolent cooperation is impossible. There can be cooperation in certain directions, multilateral or bilateral directions. And nothing more. And nothing new should be created, I think. The existing CSTO and other organizations do a good work. It’s wiser to start to realize the decisions that have already been worked out.
Ferghana.ru: - Nevertheless, the problem of integration is under discussion. Along with it the question of regional leadership is discussed as well. You should have addressed this problem in Khudjand? What you think of it?
Alexander Knyazev: - There may be no regional leadership. There is not a sole country in the region which objectively might carry out this role. Besides other states won’t agree. There are two countries that meet some criteria ( economic, political and territorial, demographic and so on) - Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. But the problem is that neither meets all the criteria. Kazakhstan has plenty of money. Uzbekistan represents a communication-geographical center of the region, having more than half of regional population.... Besides, young political elites are not ready to agree with a sole leader .. Roughly speaking, elites should be “satiated” with power. According to Alexey Malashenko, nowadays they identify their own political and commercial interests with national ones.... Any interest is always egoism. We need time to turn egoism into wise decision making with regard to partners’ interests...
Ferghana.ru: -As for foreign players, can someone play a role of catalyst of integration?
Alexander Knyazev: - There is one and only country in the world that according to its former state secretary Madeleine Albright “is above and sees further” working for the good of the mankind. To say in other words, realization of strategic plans of the USA in Central and Southern Asia means a long-term American military-political presence in the region. Besides oil-and-gas corporations’ interests this region has a great conflict-management potential which might assure the super-power status for the USA. Assumed components of regional management are: neutralization of Russia and China, transformation of Iran into direct object of American policy, dealing with interests of allies - Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, including India as well. All the rest is unimportant. Realization of both projects at once – conflicts management and creation of “friendly regimes” leads to chaos on Eurasian territory. It is clear that nobody cares about peoples’ interests in the region. The essential idea of American geostrategy in Central Asian region was formulated by Sbignev Bzezhinski: the USA should be able to control the probable process of regional powers strengthening so that it does not menace the predominating role of Washington in the world. One of means of control is creation of “controlled conflicts”. It’s necessary to regard “Greater Central Asia” from this point of view.
As for China, during its long history the country managed foreign policy by means of bilateral agreements and contacts: multilateral political activity contradicts the spirit and traditions of Chinese diplomacy and policy. That is why China has additional bilateral agreements on partnership and cooperation with all states-participants of the SCO. So, the Chinese factor does not play a crucial role here...
Not a single problem of the region can be solved without Russia or contrary to Russia’s initiatives. It is true for international issues as well. Despite all post-soviet troubles in Central Asia, Russia still has national interests here and keeps the power of influence. But it is important to understand, that recently Russia has been backing its foreign policy by rational economy logic. For the counties of the region the period of dependence on Russia is over. Plea for “common destiny” and “multiple vectors ” are no longer effective. Today it is necessary to speak about a precise structural polarization of former Soviet republics – there is no “common destiny”, we entered the modern world from different entrances. The world gets polarized, struggle for scarce natural resources has begun, communications get totally controlled, the process of global reformation of post-USSR international relations has started. On the post-Soviet territory someone joins GUAM or NATO, someone CSTO, Eurasian EC or the SCO, someone tries to keep neutral position. Integration in Central Asia can hardly be interesting for Russia. As any normal country Russia realizes its plans in every country of the region. Cooperation is possible in specific areas only. CSTO is a good example...
Ferghana.ru: – Let’s return to “Greater Central Asia” and Kazakhstan’s initiatives..
Alexander Knyazev: - The Project of “Greater Central Asia” can be regarded from different points. From the scientific point of view it is an obvious geopolitical insanity. If we consider the vital interests of the countries of Central Asia, it looks almost like a plot. How can one speak about integration with today's Afghanistan?! Any liberalization of frontier regime with the country making 90 percent of opium and heroin, giving constant shelter for extremist and terrorist groups will transform all region into one huge Afghanistan!... Pakistan is constructing a wall along its border with Afghanistan, the president of Tajikistan calls for creation of a “security fence”, as a matter of fact - a sanitary cordon around Afghanistan. Uzbekistan supports de facto a regime of isolation.. But American lobbyists of the project say that trade flourished in this region for two thousand years until the southern border of Soviet Union cut it into two parts. I do not think, that the author of this project, professor Frederic Starr, is unaware of what he is writing. He simply proves the basic contents of this project, sometimes even speaking out. The critics of “Greater Central Asia” Project usually say that the main idea of it is to turn the countries of Central Asia away from China and Russia. But this is only one part of the project’s tasks!.. The main aim is to distribute influence of Afghanistan in the region Starr offers to restore Greater Central Asia as an important economic zone with its centre in Afghanistan. Neither in Tashkent, nor in Alma-Ata.. The region will be turned into a large controlled conflict zone, making constant troubles for geopolitical competitors of USA in Central Asian region – i.e. for Russia and China.
Ferghana.ru: - Is Kazakhstan’s project bad as well?
Alexander Knyazev: - Kazakhstan’s project does not exist now. There is a general initiative. It could have been a naïve one, if not being basically a new PR-project of Kazakhstan government. There are too many initiatives - Interaction and trust in Asia, the Eurasian union, “Ten simple steps towards common people”, Turkestan union, Mini-OPEC, Forum of leaders of world and traditional religions, Central - Asian economic union, Project of reforming of the CIS… This is just a part of all ideas from Astana that never became tangible, capable to influence processes in the region.... All of them are initially false, utopian. Although I have to mention that Kazakhstan government works with good PR-experts and each time ideas sound quite convincing. But they do not last for long.
In April during visit of Noursultan Nazarbaev to Bishkek the idea of the Union of Kazakhstan and Kirghizia was announced. In June we witness aggravation of relations between the countries caused by new contradictions.
Kazakhstan’s initiatives could be considered as pure PR. If only it were not obvious that the American administration plays on ambitions of Astana in order to counterbalance Russian plans in the region. Astana opposes Moscow. It’s not about interests of Russia, but regards Russian – Kazakh mutual relations being influenced by the third party. It is a stability factor for a larger area than Central Asia. Playing with it is dangerous. For the US contacts with Kazakhstan get developed in this direction . The country gets connected to anti-Russian projects like Astana-Baku-Tbilisi axis in energy supplies sector. If the USA achieve the goals Russian influence will be limited. Especially it concerns energy resources transportation net that has become an “idea fix” for Bush Administration. Same thing with involvement of Kazakhstan and other countries of the region in collective responsibility system in Afghanistan. This all is done in full conformity with the concept of “Greater central Asia”.
Ferghana.ru: - In this case is integration in central Asian region necessary or it is a populist initiative?
Alexander Knyazev: - I repeat that integration is one of images of modern political mythmaking. The concept takes its roots in Latin “integratio” - restoration, completion. Do we think about restoration of the past? About Russian empire or Soviet Union ? Never ever the population of the region will be integrated under one state... Bukhara lead wars with Khiva, Kokand struggled with Bukhara and so on and so forth... The Soviet regime gave birth to nowadays ethnos and created their states. Restoration under any Soviet sample is impossible. Many experts, especially western ones, underline that an integration basis for the countries of Central Asia is their historical unity of various peoples living together for many centuries, their culture, language, religion, traditions... But to my mind these are not bases for integration. Besides new relations has already been established with regard to new borders. Changing the status-quo will negatively affect the life of population... Except for memoirs of the USSR, Islamic integration might have been reasonable. I also used to think about it. But at ours Conferences a renowned professor of Islam and politics Bakhtiar Babadjanov from Tashkent totally changed my point of view. In spite of propagandist activity of “khalifatisis” in the region we can’t speak about unanimity on this question. The idea of “United Islamic State” is considered by many Islamic intellectuals as the only effective form of opposition to ideological and cultural influence and political pressure of the West. And nothing more than that.... Besides, during pre-Russian period Islam was mainly an identification characteristic, not integration one .....
In general, speaking about regional bilateral and multilateral relations, I would prefer to stay away from concept of integration. Let it be the slogan of western advisers and local ideologists. I would prefer to draw more attention to another concept, also used in the title of our conference – “cooperation”. For some reason all participants have concentrated on integration and criticized it a lot. Probably, it is a sign. A sign of instability in sphere of cooperation – nobody even wanted to talk about it...
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News agency “Ferghana.ru” is the main information partner of the Conference. One of these days we shall publish more articles concerning the recent Conference “Cooperation and integration Projects for Central Asia: comparative analysis, opportunities and prospects” in Khudjand.