In Central Asia, more Russian integration suddenly seems out of reach

In Central Asia, more Russian integration suddenly seems out of reach

In 2015, at the initiative of Russia, several former Soviet republics created an analogue of the European Union: the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). With the primary objective: economic integration and the strengthening of their respective economies. But if it is up to Putin, the cooperation does not end there.

Long before the actual establishment, several proposals were made, especially from Moscow, to add a political and military dimension to this union. Therefore, it is not infrequently suggested that the European Economic Union is an artifact of Putin’s nostalgia for the Soviet Union.

Reducing the contributions of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan to pleasant side effects would not be justified, but for Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are especially important. While the strategic importance of Belarus has become very evident in recent days, the same is true of Kazakhstan.

Aside from the large amount of raw materials and the cultural connection with Kazakhstan, where many Russians live, there has been a major battle in the geopolitical arena in Central Asia for years. The main parties: the United States and India, but especially Russia and China.

China as the biggest competitor

Rarely is this geopolitical battle over the so-called tough salad: Soldiers using a heavy hand to secure influence in the area. We see much more that the battle for a dominant role in Central Asia is raging soft power† In contrast to military hegemony, international great powers focus on a non-coercive aspect of power in which culture, shared values, and foreign policy play a major role.

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Of course, economic investments are the order of the day. The main competitor of the Russians: China. The Chinese government has been investing in infrastructure and financial cooperation for years. In view of the numerous raw materials in the region and the unprecedented strategic location of Central Asia, which is located exactly between China, Russia, India and the Islamic world, China is working hard to become the dominant party.

intertwined with Moscow

However, the importance of Central Asia to Russia goes beyond economic interest and can only be understood by looking beyond the present. For more than 200 years, this region has been of great importance to Russia. At first it was mainly a barrier against the northern expansion of the British Empire from British India, and later even as part of the Soviet Union.

Within 200 years, this predominantly nomadic region became intertwined with Moscow in many ways. Although the region was initially ruled colonially by the tsars, the Soviet Union focused on modernizing the region: investing in infrastructure and industrialization, drawing boundaries in which different populations had reasonable autonomy, a cultural district, and the liberation of citizens from traditional barriers. .

In practice, this meant, among other things, encouraging women to go to school, which doubled the number of potential workers.

Soviet nostalgia

While reality is by no means as rosy as we often remember it – in both Central Asia and Russia – Soviet nostalgia appears to be taking an increasingly prominent role. Suppose that this is exactly the basis on which Russia has focused in recent years in order to continue to play a major role in Central Asia. In addition to investments in, for example, student exchange and preservation of Russian culture in the region, including through the Cultural Foundation Russky MiroInternational relations and economic integration play a crucial role for Putin.

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Kazakhstan may have acted as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine in the meantime, but the decision not to send troops to Ukraine is still something to consider. The country also abstained from voting at the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, where Belarus voted against condemning the Russian invasion. Given the fierce international reaction to Russian aggression, Kazakhstan is now on guard.

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