Staunton, April 14 – Russia is losing influence in Central Asia not only because of the actions of the governments there and of other outside actors but also because of the passing of the generation that grew up and remembers Soviet times and because of Moscow’s failure to support “soft power” mechanisms, according to Arkady Dubnov.
In a report on the region to the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, the Central Asian specialist says that “over the last quarter of a century, a large segment of the countries of Central Asia have returned to those orders which dominated there prior to the coming of Soviet power” (lenta.ru/articles/2016/04/12/emirates/).
“The region,” he continues, “has gradually moved toward archaiv forms and to a semi-feudal system of relations.” That is the case in the first instance in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, but both there and elsewhere, “the decisive role” in determining the direction of the state “has been played by the personality of the chief of state.”
Many in Russia and the West mistakenly treat the countries of Central Asia as “something integral and common and lacking particular distinctions.” But Dubnov argues, the the countries there have not succeeded in becoming “a single region.” Instead, they have moved and will likely continue to move in different directions.
The Moscow scholar cites the conclusions of Muratbek Imanaliyev, the former foreign minister of Kyrgyzstan, and political scientist Valentin Bogatyrev, that none of the three integration projects that might have made the region a single whole – the Eurasian Economic Union, the Chinese Silk Road, and Islamic fundamentalism -- have had much success.
For his part, Dubnov suggests that the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty has also failed to promote unity because many of the Central Asian leaders view it as little more than a means to protect their personal rule against foreign and domestic challenges. Moreover, Moscow’s actions in Ukraine have increased Central Asian skepticism about Russian intentions.
The Russian authorities have compounded their problems in the region by failing to do everything they can to shore up influence even with the country most loyal to Moscow – Kyrgyzstan. Moscow provides funding for Bishkek but it has not taken the practical and symbolic steps necessary to transform Kyrgyzstan into a real ally, Dubnov says.
Russia stands to lose even more influence later this year when Kyrgyzstan plans to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Central Asian rising against Russian colonialism. The best way for Moscow to counter the nationalist implications of that is for the country’s leadership to attend these commemorations, the Russian scholar says.
Dubnov continues that Moscow has failed to exploit all the possibilities for using “soft power” in Central Asia. In fact, he characterizes Russia’s role in that regard as “soft impotence,” pointing out that Russia has stopped funding the Slavic university in Dushanbe and failed to ensure the supply of Russian literature in Kyrgyzstan.
At the present time, Dubnov concludes, there are enough people in Central Asia who grew up in Soviet times and still remember it in positive terms. But he ends by implying that the situation in this regard will be very different “several years from now” when “the older generation finally passes from the scene.”