Staunton, May 3 – Just like the Qarabagh fighting last year did in the Caucasus, the new border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan call attention to just how much influence Russia has lost in Central Asia, Anatoly Nesmiyan, a Moscow analyst who blogs under the screen name El Murid says.
In the vacuum that has arisen, Uzbekistan has “taken upon itself the role of regional arbiter and feels itself in that capacity completely comfortable,” something that would have been unthinkable a year or two ago, Nesmiyan continues (glavred.info/opinions/kak-rossiya-neozhidanno-poteryala-vliyanie-v-sredney-azii-10269009.html).
The Uzbek leadership was able to do this because of “the complete absence of Russia which continues to search for enemies (and understandably finds them everywhere),” he says, instead of getting involved as it used to in what it now sees as “the petty fights” of vassals even though for it “the enemy is at the gates.”
Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum, and Uzbekistan, “the only urban civilization in the region” and one whose clan divisions are very different from those in other countries there, has the best chance to fill it. “The reduction in the influence of Russia instantly has been compensated by the appearance of Uzbekistan in the positions Moscow has left.”
Russia of course is “still strong, “but this strength has primarily a phantom character,” Nesmiyan says. It is based on memories of the past more than on a recognition of recent changes, and now the number of such changes is only going to multiply in ways that will make it more difficult for Russia to reclaim its past position.
With the American exit from Afghanistan, the Taliban will take power there, he continues; and that will mean the rise of a new force capable of overturning the existing arrangements, in the first instance by the promotion of drug trafficking and then by promoting its alternative ideology.
Confronted with that threat, Nesmiyan says, “the republics of Central Asia have almost now chances.” None at all if they function individually and almost none even if they cooperate. They may coalesce around Uzbekistan or they may join together under China, neither of which works to Moscow’s advantage.
But given the Russian government’s belief that it can rely on the past, it will lose the future to one or the other of these forces, a foretaste of more coming defeats and one that means Central Asia will become even more a cockpit of conflict than it has been in recent decades, Nesmiyan suggests.