Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Turkey’s New Effort in Central Asia Promising because Ankara is Working with Beijing, Moscow Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 1 – Turkey’s first effort to project influence into Central Asia failed because it raised expectations far beyond what Ankara was capable of delivering, but its second effort now may be far more successful because it is less grandiose and is based among other things on close cooperation with Beijing, Igor Pankratenko says.

            This new approach, the deputy head of Moscow’s Center for Strategic Assessments and Forecasting says, promises to be far more successful and may lead to the appearance in the region of “a new balance of forces quite different from the system of checks and balances there now” (ng.ru/dipkurer/2018-09-30/11_7321_turk.html).

            Turkey has made this shift, the analyst says, because it has fully learned the lessons from its earlier attempt to become the new “big brother” of the Turkic peoples of the region, a plan that put off many in Central Asia because Ankara in the 1990s was not in a position to back this up with investments.

            As a result, Pankratenko says, relations between Turkey and the region shifted from a multi-lateral to a bilateral basis quickly, seriously reducing the possibilities for the promotion of a Turkic “world” under Ankara’s aegis. That “romantic vision” was attractive to some, but ultimately it had no foundation in economics.

            Turkey then sought to promote its influence via the “soft power” of academic institutions which could generate support for Ankara among the rising generation of Central Asian elites, a tactic that in fact did generate enormous good will until it became obvious that these were under the control of the Gulenists, something threatening to both Central Asia and Turkey.

            With their closure at the insistence of Central Asian governments, Ankara lost a potentially powerful tool. But that has prompted it to focus more on economic issues, including the opening of joint enterprises.  In this, there is “no pan-Turkism [or] other abstractions” but simply business on which broader ties can be built, Pankratenko says.

            Turkey’s entrance into the Central Asian marketplace has not been easy, he continues. There are good grounds for cooperation with Uzbekistan especially after the death of Islam Karimov; but the prospects elsewhere are less promising. Turkey simply does not have the economic heft to win out except under one condition.

            According to Pankratenko, Ankara is now positioning itself as “a third force” between the growing power of China and “the capriciously demanding Moscow,” cooperating ever more often with the former and thus creating a new reality on the ground across Central Asia. How well this will go very much remains to be seen.  But it is an implicit warning to Russia. 

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