For Putin, Central Asia is Moscow’s backyard. However, the war changed the playing cards of geopolitics dramatically. Our authors are in Kazakhstan for the Berliner Zeitung and report exclusively.
Konstantin Zavrazhin/Kremlin Sputnik Pool/dpa
Astana – Vladimir Putin landed in Astana just before 10 a.m. last Thursday. Three very important summits for the Russian President took place in the Kazakh capital within 36 hours. Finally, Putin needs more leeway internationally after the UN General Assembly hit Moscow this week.
Putin’s goal in the day and a half was clear: to secure Russia’s geostrategic position in Central Asia and not lose the influence that Moscow undoubtedly has in the region. With regard to the bombing of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Putin expects support from Central Asian countries, in particular Kazakhstan, the most developed economy of the post-Soviet countries in Central Asia.
In contrast, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan have increasingly distanced themselves from Putin since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And not just rhetorically, as Kazakh President Kassim-Jomart Tokayev explained in terms of power politics at the St. Economic Forum. Petersburg in June, when he rejected the Luhansk and Donetsk confessions. According to Kazakh migration authorities, more than 200,000 Russians fled across the border during the mobilization.
While Moscow focused on relations with Central Asian countries at the summit, Kazakhstan and other countries looked to other international partners. The Turkish president in particular received a haughty and warm welcome during his state visit to Astana. Apart from Turkey, government officials from China, India and the Arabian Peninsula were also guests on the Kazakh steppe.
Conference on Cooperation and Confidence Building Action in Asia (CICA)
The largest meeting of state and government representatives took place in Astana on the first day of the summit. But ahead, the world public sees only two protagonists: Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin. The Turkish president spoke of “obstacles” to bringing Putin and Zelenskyy to the negotiating table, but reiterated “the need for a diplomatic solution.”
Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, surprised everyone with his proposal to establish a new gas center in Turkey. Therefore, Russian gas had to be sent to Turkey and then diverted from there to Europe. According to the Russian President, Turkey could become the largest gas hub in Europe. Erdogan welcomed Putin’s move on his return journey to Turkey.
Kazakhstan Presidential Press Office/AFP
The consequences of the war in Ukraine were part of the CICA summit. However, participating countries do not want to pay too much attention to the topic. The main point of the meeting was the “Astana Declaration”, which governed the change of the CICA association, which was designed as a forum, into a “full, regional, international organization”.
The intergovernmental forum has 28 members, including NATO members Turkey, Russia, China, South Korea, Central Asian countries, India, Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq and other countries in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Asia.
Meeting of CIS countries
On Friday morning the second summit took place – the meeting of the CIS countries. The Russian-led integration project is repeatedly viewed as a failure by Eastern European experts. In 1991, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States was formed by agreement between the Presidents of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. Today Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are part of the organization. Georgia and Ukraine left the CIS in 2008 and 2018, respectively.
Although the press spokesman for the Russian President, Dmitry Peskov, spoke about the “future of the CIS project” after the summit, there are serious gaps in international organizations. For example, territorial conflicts among members determine daily life in CIS countries, such as the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan or the Kyrgyz-Tajik border armed conflict. In addition, only Belarus from the CIS countries voted together with Russia in the UN General Assembly, the rest abstained, Azerbaijan even voted for the resolution. At the end of the peak, enough for a group photo, but nothing more.
Central Asia-Russia Council
However, at the third summit in a day and a half in Astana, Ukraine was not a problem. The reason: None of the Central Asian countries would publicly support the Russian war, and the differences seen would significantly weaken Moscow internationally. Thus, the war was abandoned thematically. However, the repercussions of the war and Russia’s diminishing influence are everywhere in the Russian-Central Asia Council.
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) October 14, 2022
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon had perhaps the greatest moment. He said Russia “should not override the interests of smaller Central Asian states as was the case in Soviet times.” A lecture to Putin sitting across from him, which would have been unthinkable five, ten or 20 years ago. Kazakh President Tokayev was surprised by the fact that he did not personally greet Putin at the airport in Astana, but only the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan.
Moments like the Tajik President or the Kazakh government’s statements about Ukraine’s territorial integrity illustrate Moscow’s waning influence. Kyrgyzstan, a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance, recently refused to take part in joint military exercises. Increasing signs reinforce Central Asia’s departure from Russian-dominated politics over the past few decades.
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