Staunton, July 10 – In an apparent confirmation of the adage that “when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” a Moscow commentator is suggesting that what has taken place in Ukraine over the last year could be repeated in Central Asian countries and that the Russian authorities must take action to block that possibility.
Speaking on Tuesday during a tele-bridge between Moscow and Dushanbe, Yuri Krupnov, who is affiliated with the Institute of Demography, Migration and Regional Development, said that “the situation in Ukraine could be repeated in Central Asia” in large measure because Russia has not moved fast enough to create the Eurasian Union (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2014/07/09/situaciya_na_ukraine_mozhet_povtoritsya_v_centralnoj_azii/).
Keeping Central Asia in the Russian orbit is critical because the former Soviet republics there are part of a 350 million-strong market together with Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Moreover, he said, Tajikistan in particular is “a strategically necessary country for the Eurasian Union.”
That is because, the Moscow commentator continued, “Tajikistan is in the center of the countries of Central Asia,” and it is invaluable to Moscow because “Russia via Tajikistan in the future “will be able to resolve the Afghan problem,” given that Tajiks are the “second largest ethnic group” in that country. The two countries will also be able to end drug trafficking.
Tajikistan, according to Krupnov, “is not a foreign state; it is a fraternal people where people speak Russian and where the Russian language has one of the highest statuses in the Commonwealth of Independent States.”
Other speakers echoed Krupnov’s words. Mikhail Krotov, an advisor to the chairman of the Duma, pointed out that “Tajikistan does not have a common border with member countries of the Eurasian Union” and therefore, “the issue of its membership should be considered after the fulfillment of the necessary conditions by Kyrgyzstan.”
But that “Tajikistan is interested in integration is obvious,” Krotov said.
And Yuliya Yakusheva, executive director of the North-South Political Analysis Center, pointed out that polls show that Russians would like to have Tajikistan within the Eurasian Union. Even more would share that view if young Russians would overcome the existing stereotypes about Tajik gastarbeiters.
Three aspects about these statements are noteworthy. First, they show that ever more Russian analysts are viewing post-Soviet countries through the lens of Ukrainian events, something that may be appropriate in some cases but not all and that may cause Moscow to act in ways that will provoke what the Russian authorities would like to avoid.
Second, these statements show that Moscow is seeking to isolate Uzbekistan by expanding its relations with three of the other countries of the region, all except Turkmenistan, an approach that reflects Tashkent’s increasing ties to the West, but an effort that also may lead to outcomes different than Moscow wants.
And third, such comments show just how worried many in the Russian capital are about the influx of drugs from Afghanistan and the danger that those and perhaps armed combatants as well will head north after the US-led coalition withdraws over the next year. At the very least, Krupnov is casting his arguments in terms of such fears.