Russia Succeeds in Securing Central Asia as Its Political and Energy Stronghold
This week Russia’s top leaders were frequent guests in Central Asia, trying to gather support for its controversial policies in the Caucasus and demonstrate to the rest of the world that its positions in the lucrative Central Asian energy sector are stronger than ever.
After being heavily criticized by the West for military operations in Georgia and recognition of independence of the breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia decided to demonstrate economic and political influence outside of its borders but within its sphere of influence. Not surprisingly, traditionally loyal countries of Central Asia, which supply Europe with gas via Russian territory, have become number one in the list of Russia’s partners.
This week Russian President Dmitry Medvedyev sealed agreements on military and hydropower energy cooperation with Tajikistan, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin talked gas, airspace and nuclear cooperation with Uzbekistan, and Viktor Zukbov, Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, went to Turkmenistan to hold energy negotiations.
All the visits reached the goal of securing Central Asia as Russia’s energy and political stronghold, although not all Central Asian leaders openly supported Moscow’s latest actions in the Caucasus.
Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Dushanbe last week was followed by many with particular unease. Although none of the member states, i.e. China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, expressed support for Russia’s military assault in Tskhinvali, overall muteness was self-evident. For Russia it was enough to interpret and present it as a political victory.
SCO Dushanbe Summit declaration approved Moscow’s peacekeeping mission in the Caucasus: “Leaders of the SCO member states welcome Moscow’s six principles of peace settlement in South Ossetia and support Russia’s active role in peacekeeping in the region.” At the same time, the statement also emphasized the security group respects national sovereignty and prefers to refrain from use of force in settling disputes.
Russia’s Dmitry Medvedyev was quick to respond to the summit’s declaration: “Unified position of the SCO will receive international response and will be a signal to those who pass black off as white and try to justify Georgia’s absolute aggression,” Medvedyev said at the end of the summit.
Securing Military and Energy Rear
Russia’s recent political efforts in Central Asia have been most successful in expanding military and energy ties. As a result of Medveyev’s visit to Tajikistan, Dushanbe welcomed Russia’s interest in building three new hydropower stations and agreed to locate another Moscow’s military site in the Gissar airport, ten kilometers away from Dushanbe, in addition to 201 Russian military base in the outskirts of the capital.
Russian Ministry of Interior is heading SCO’s anti drug trafficking mission in the region. The new military base will not only fortify positions in combating drug traffic from Afghanistan, but also serve as a serious backup to the 201 base, which was established on the basis of a rifle division in October 2005 and is subject to provisions of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Some experts say that the next step will be opening of a second Russian military base in southern Kyrgyzstan, which will serve as an alternative to the 201 base in Tajikistan in case the latter is incapacitated by a third party. The current airbase in Kant, northern Kyrgyzstan, twenty kilometers away from capital Bishkek, does not enable Moscow to fully secure its military positions in the region vis-à-vis US military base in Bishkek and neighboring China.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stroke a deal with Uzbek President Islam Karimov on construction of a new pipeline, which “will accommodate growing energy export potentials of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan,” as Putin put it.
Both sides also agreed to use European formula for Uzbek gas preserving Russia’s monopoly over Central Asian energy export routes.
Notably, intensified dialogue between Russia and its Central Asian partners, spurred by aggravated tensions between Moscow and the West, gave a green light to some projects that have existed long time on paper and had been almost forgotten. Right now, as Russia needs support these projects have been rehabilitating providing room for increased cooperation.