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«The Great Game in Asia 2.0»: Central Asia is in the «game» again

The end-of-July-held discussion [1] with Vladimir Paramonov, head of the Central Eurasia Analytical Center[2] (Uzbekistan) spurred extra interest in Central Asia. The events and processes there are developing dynamically and are of undoubted research interest for the BISR in the context of the national interests of Belarus.

The geopolitical aspect

At one time, the American strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski called the Central Asian region the "Asian Balkans", noting its extremely unstable and potentially explosive nature with external moderation. Recent events in Kazakhstan, Tajik Mountain Badakhshan and Uzbek Karakalpakstan are links in the same chain. Experts predict a new round of destabilization in Kyrgyzstan. All this once again confirms that the United Kingdom and the United States do not leave attempts to seriously destabilize Central Asia.

The arc of instability of the "Asian Balkans" permeates all countries of the region, as well as Chinese Xinjiang, where the United States seeks to create a source of instability near the borders of Russia and China. The implementation of these plans would launch the Greater Central Asia project with the creation, under the auspices of the United States, of an end-to-end security system against Russia and China, as well as gaining even greater control over resources.

Using the tools of "soft power", various foundations and NGOs, the Anglo-Saxons actively launch their "tentacles" into critical areas of target countries, use multi-layered scenarios, play on faults (e.g., on rivalry and competition for leadership in the region, as well as accumulated problems and contradictions). Nationalism with Russophobic, anti-Eurasian and Sinophobic bias is actively being heated up. This was clearly seen, for example, from media leaks on the eve of the July summit of the heads of state of Central Asia. The "news" was widely circulated in the media about the allegedly impending signing at this meeting of a "historic" document designed to launch the process of integration of the Central Asian republics outside the EEU environment.

Taking into account the trend towards regionalization, which manifests itself in the creating new blocks and alternative to the West payment systems, a serious challenge is the reformatting of the existing raw material models of the economies of the Central Asian republics, where American and British capital is deeply settled.

The Afghan factor

The real threat to regional security comes from Afghanistan. In case of escalation, instability in this country, which has increased significantly after August 2021, may lead to a surge in Islamic radicalism, drug trafficking and the influx of refugees to Central Asia, and from there to Russia.

The Taliban claims to expand the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to part of Pakistan territories.

With the beginning of a special military operation in Ukraine, the idea of invading Tajikistan was revived in the northeast of Afghanistan. Recently the news emerged about formation of the "Tehrik-e Taliban Tajikistan" cell – the local Taliban movement.

According to a recent UN report, Al-Qaeda retains its presence in the south and east of Afghanistan, which was confirmed by recent Kabul events (elimination of the leader of this movement).

The conflict in Central Asia, on the southern flank of the CSTO, with the involvement of the Russian Federation in it is a long–standing "blue" dream of Western strategists. In recent months, the most vulnerable places have been actively studied, including through creating tension on the part of Afghanistan.

Based on such situation, it can be predicted that in the near future the pressure on Central Asia from the West will continue – the "Great Game 2.0" is at the reference point.

Proactive strategy

In the current situation in Central Asia, China and Russia, although partly competing there, rest on improving the level and quality of cooperation for mutual benefit. Unlike other players, the interests of Beijing and Moscow mostly coincide, since both of them see bonuses from enhancing the regional integration at this complex "crossroads" of East and West, North and South.

In July, Russia announced the allocation of a $10 million grant to Kyrgyzstan to support the budget. Another 8 million will be provided with fire and rescue equipment for the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Republic.

In turn, China will allocate 50 million yuan, or about 7.5 million dollars, of assistance to the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry.

Recently, at the invitation of the head of Sberbank of Russia, German Gref, the head of the Kyrgyz Cabinet of Ministers, Akylbek Zhaparov, visited Moscow, where he familiarized himself with the work of this bank planning to enter the Kyrgyz market, visited the cybersecurity center and the data center in Skolkovo, and also held a number of bilateral meetings.

The President of Kyrgyzstan accepted the heads of delegations of the 24th Special Services of Turkic Speaking Countries (TÜRKON). Predictably, its agenda was focused on Afghanistan. In fact, in order to stabilize the situation there, Bishkek actively advocates the use of SCO mechanisms. It is interesting that despite the foreign policy neutrality and non-aligned status, Uzbekistan is present in TÜRKON.

Within the framework of the 15th meeting of the Kyrgyz-Chinese intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation, a program for the development of trade and economic cooperation until 2030 was signed.

The program aims at increasing mutual trade turnover, enhancing trade and political coordination, liberalizing trade, providing the freedom of movement of capital, expanding investment cooperation, developing customs interconnection, information and communication, transport and logistics infrastructure, industrial cooperation and production chains, as well as cooperation within the framework of the "One Belt, One Road" initiative.

By the way, the bypass Chui Canal-2 project important for supplying irrigation water to the vast region of Kyrgyzstan, is implemented through the grant from China.

The parties agreed to sign a joint action plan to promote trade, expand the range of agricultural products supplied from Kyrgyzstan to China, as well as to develop e-commerce and promptly resolve problems when moving goods and cars through checkpoints.

On July 30, President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Zhaparov accepted a member of the State Council, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China Wang Yi. At the meeting, the parties shared their views on the further development of the Kyrgyz-Chinese strategic partnership, as well as ensuring global and regional security and stability.

There are agreements between Kyrgyzstan and India on increasing mutual trade turnover, providing reliable alternative ways of access to transport and logistics networks of Central and South Asia in order to further develop the North–South transport corridor and, in particular, increase the success of the Iranian port of Chabahar, which the Indians have been actively developing since 2015.

In June, New Delhi announced the allocation of KGS 126.29 million ($1.5 million) of grant aid to Kyrgyzstan for various projects.

Logistics as a tool for regionalization

In many ways, the increase of Central Asian integration level is promoted through joint projects in the field of transport and logistics. Their importance has grown significantly amid the breakdown of global and regional supply chains due to the coronavirus pandemic and Western sanctions against Belarus and Russia.

Kazakhstan is interested in joint investment projects with the participation of neighbors within the framework of the Trans-Caspian route, which involve the modernization of railways and ports, as well as the tanker fleet expansion.

Uzbekistan is persistently promoting the building of a unified commodity distribution system of Central Asian countries, as well as the construction of the Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway.

In Bishkek, the project of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway construction, which is to connect China with Uzbekistan, and then go to Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, is classified as national and priority. The relevant document is anticipated to be signed at the September SCO summit in Samarkand.

It should be noted that this project aimed at making Central Asia an important transit hub, evokes a counteraction from the United States, Great Britain and the EU, as it contributes to the strengthening of Chinese influence in the region.

In turn, the connection of this railway corridor with the Trans-Caucasian hub will create a single interregional transport network. That is why Tashkent is interested in restoring the Zangezur corridor, capable of ensuring the shortest land route from Asia to Europe.


For reference: The Zangezur Corridor is a concept of a transport corridor of about 40 km long through the territory of the Syunik region of Armenia, which, according to the plan, should connect the western regions of Azerbaijan and its exclave Nakhichevan.


Uzbekistan is also interested in the transit potential of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, as well as the ports of Turkey and Azerbaijan within the framework of the North-South and East-West international transport corridors.

Acting as hubs in their regions, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey are not restricted to being transit points, but form economic corridors by creating production, logistics and marketing infrastructure along existing routes.

The series of high-level and supreme visits in June added dynamism to cooperation in the field of transport and transit between Turkmenistan and Iran. In June, the first train transporting sulfur containers from Kazakhstan to Turkey passed through Turkmenistan and Iran. This became possible after the signing a MOU in May between Iran and Kazakhstan on the launch of the Central Asia–Turkey–Europe corridor. The first official visit of Raisi was a travel to the summit in Ashgabat in November 2021, where a document was signed between Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in the field of railway cooperation. Such intensive work to expand transport links entailed an increase in traffic between Iran and Turkmenistan by 50%.

After joining the SCO, Iran will be able to use Kyrgyzstan as a corridor, which, in turn, will gain access through Iran to the east and southeast countries. The meeting of the Presidents of Iran and Tajikistan at the end of May 2022 gave impetus to the development of the Iran–Afghanistan–Tajikistan–Kyrgyzstan transport corridor. Dushanbe is interested in access to the Iranian ports of Chabahar and Bandar Abbas for the transportation of goods. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan also consider this harbor as a gateway to the Indian Ocean.

Non-alternative integration

In the context of increasing external pressure and attempts to destabilize Central Asia, the attractiveness and role of the EEU, the SCO and the CSTO providing a military-political "umbrella" from external threats and open up new economic opportunities, are contrastingly increasing.

In this regard, the forthcoming expansion of the SCO geography at the expense of Iran, as well as the granting of the dialogue partners to Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Maldives, seems quite a natural effect. The UAE, Syria, Myanmar, Cambodia, Nepal, Azerbaijan and Armenia also want to join the Organization which will make it a megablock.

It is obvious that in the light of the current geopolitical realities, only multilateral mechanisms can really help restore the regional economy, create a reliable security shield, as well as a solid foundation for joint sustainable development.

Belarus is in trend

Amid processes and events taking place in Greater Eurasia, the upcoming launch of the official procedure for Belarus admission to the SCO in Samarkand appears logical and natural event.

At the same time, future membership in such an authoritative organization imposes a serious responsibility. The most effective use of the SCO resource in national interests will require expertise and versatile competencies. It is also obvious that Central Asia has the potential to turn into a new hot spot, to which Belarus will also have to respond adequately. This requires experts in Asia who know the local elites, structure and nuances of doing business from the inside, understand the subtleties of public sentiment, see the full range of threats, know the information agenda, etc. That is, real professionals in their field are needed, on whose expert opinion the country's leadership could rely when making certain managerial decisions.


[1] BISR expert diplomacy: focus on Central Asia and its neighborhood

[2] Author's project by Vladimir Paramonov "Ц"Central Asia"