Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ambassadors Exchanged by Central Asian Countries and Russia Reflect Very Different Priorities of Each, Shibutov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – For most of the last 25 years, bilateral relations between Russia, on the one hand, and Central Asian countries, on the other, have been dealt with on a president-to-president basis, but that is changing as the countries pursue more independent foreign policies and “formal diplomatic channels are becoming more significant,” Marat Shibutov says.

            The Regnum commentator says that the choices these countries have made about ambassadorial appointments provide a clear indication of the direction in which relations are moving,  with the Central Asians devoting far more importance to their ties with Moscow than Moscow does with them (

                Two Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, are represented in Moscow by politicians; three, by diplomats. “None of them are of pension age: only one is older than 60 and all the rest are in their 50s,” Shibutov says.

            The case of Kazakhstan is special.  Up to now, not a single Kazakhstan ambassador has been a diplomat. Instead, Astana has always sent senior politicians; and in not a single case has the Kazakhstan ambassadorship in the Russian capital been a form of exile or retirement. It has always been yet another step up the career ladder.

            There appear to be three reasons for this, the commentator says. First, relations between Kazakhstan and Russia are especially important to both. Second, there are very few ethnic Kazakhs in the political elite of the Russian Federation. And third, there are far fewer ethnic Kazakhs than other Central Asians in Moscow and the embassy has to play a bigger role.

            Russian representation in Central Asian capitals is very different. Four of the five are headed by professional diplomats; only the Russian ambassador to Ashgabat is not one. And only two of the five are specialists on the CIS; the other two have worked in other parts of the world.

            All are 61 or older, far older than the average age not only of the populations of these countries but even of the elites of these countries. Few of the Russian diplomats in Central Asia are much on public view, and this creates the impression that for them these are either last jobs before pensions or even “a comfortable beginning” of retirement.
            According to the commentator, technological and educational differences among generations are now increasing so rapidly that this makes it “more difficult for them to find a common language.”
            This pattern, Shibutov says, “indicates the priorities of relations with other countries. And it is clear that at least at present Russia is not interested in strengthening its presence in Turkestan,” the pre-1917 term for the territory on which the five Central Asian countries are located.

            The appointment of a former deputy minister, Aleksey Borodavkin, to Turkmenistan and especially the appointment of Mikhail Babich to Belarus, however, suggests that Moscow may be changing its approach and that Russian ambassadors to CIS countries may be selected from among those with higher status. 

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