On September 19, President Joe Biden met with Central Asian Presidents at a C5+1 summit in New York. This marks the first time an American president has sat down with the combined leaders of this region. What will come out of this positive step in U.S. policy toward Central Asia? What should happen next? This CACI Online Forum delves into these matters.

Scroll down to watch the recording of the webinar.

Panelists:

- H.E. Furqat Sidikov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the United States of America

- Dr. S. Frederick Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute

- Mr. S. Enders Wimbush, Distinguished Fellow for Strategic Studies, American Foreign Policy Council

Moderator:

- Dr. Svante Cornell, Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute

WHEN: Thursday, September 28 - 10:00 - 11:00 AM EST

 

 CACI Webinar - After the Biden-Central Asia Meeting  What Now-2

Published in Forums & Events

Central Asia is often portrayed through metaphors such as a “Grand Chessboard” or a “Great Game,” a perspective that denies agency to the regional states. But today, it is clear that Central Asian states are capable of defining their individual and joint interests and translating them into concrete programs. This has profound implications for the United States and Europe, who can take stock of this process to expand their partnership with Central Asian states. 

Join CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr and Director Svante Cornell for a webinar discussing their latest co-authored Silk Road Studies Paper, Stepping up to the “Agency Challenge”: Central Asian Diplomacy in a Time of Troubles (July 2023).

Scroll down to watch the full video.

 rsz caci webinar - stepping up to the aagency challengea central asian  diplomacy in a time of troubles

Published in Forums & Events

By S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell

Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program
Silk Road Paper
July 2023

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Executive Summary

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Central Asia is often portrayed through metaphors such as a “Grand Chessboard” or a “Great Game,” which suggest that the players in the game are the great powers, and the Central Asian states are merely pawns in this game. The problem with this analysis is that it denies agency to the Central Asian states. This might have been a plausible argument immediately upon their independence, when these states were indeed weak. But today, thirty years into independence, it is abundantly clear that the situation has changed.

Even though China, Russia, and the West are still able to influence the evolution of Central Asia in various ways, the Central Asian states are increasingly capable of defining their individual and joint interests and translating them into concrete programs.  While institutionalization of their collaboration has lagged, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, Russia’s war in Ukraine, and other great power actions have promoted the regional governments to link arms as never before. Since 2016 this process has advanced rapidly, accompanied by more proactive strategies by the five regional governments themselves. While Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have emerged as leaders in this process, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are all engaged with this new direction, as is their neighbor across the Caspian, Azerbaijan.

It remains to be seen whether and in what ways major powers will acknowledge this development.  What is already clear, however, is that “divide and conquer” policies will no longer be effective tools for dealing with the states of Central Asia, which will increasingly use their power of agency to ameliorate and shape the approaches of major powers.

The United States and Europe can take stock of this process to expand their partnership with Central Asian states. This includes expanding Western investment in the Trans-Caspian transportation corridor, while working closely with Central Asian states to prevent sanctions evasion. Western powers should also recognize the primacy of security in Central Asian realities, and support processes of reform in the defense and security sector to help Central Asians defend themselves against the encroachments of neighboring great powers. Last but not least, the U.S. should follow the example of the EU and raise the level of its interaction with Central Asia to the highest political level. 

 
 
 
 
 

By Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli

July 12, 2023

American Foreign Policy Council Insights

Last year, more than a million people left Russia, marking what is likely the largest yearly emigration in recorded history. By way of comparison, emigration from Russia between 1917 and 1922, following the Bolshevik Revolution and the country’s ensuing civil war, totaled 1.5 million over half-a-decade. Fear of conscription into the Kremlin’s “special military operation” against Ukraine was a principal driver for last year’s exodus. The result has been a major outflow of younger and well-educated people in high-value industries– with significant long-term implications for both Russia’s economy and its society.

THE SHAPE OF THE EXODUS

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, there have been two major waves of emigration. The first took place mostly during March 2022, and included wider segments of Russian society: from those who disapproved of the war to those who had pragmatic reasons, like jobs related to Western companies which they did not want to lose, to a larger group that was afraid they would be called upon to serve in Ukraine. The second, which started after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s September 2022 announcement of a “partial mobilization” to beef up Russia’s military ranks, was more targeted in nature and made up predominantly of those seeking to avoid the draft. 

According to a recent study of the first wave of migrants, the average age was 32 – notably younger than the average age of the general Russian population (46). Among migrants, 86 percent held higher education degrees, as compared to a 27 percent average within the Russian population. Moreover, 27 percent of them could afford to buy car, compared to only 4 percent of ordinary Russians, suggesting that those migrants had better than average incomes while in Russia. Specifically, according to the Russian government, about 10 percent of the overall IT workforce (approximately 100,000) left the country in 2022, and have not returned.

Where have these immigrants headed? Russia's non-EU neighbor states have been the primary destinations. While the numbers are, by their nature, imprecise, the majority of those who have emigrated to date appear to have settled in Kazakhstan, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia. Smaller numbers, meanwhile, have migrated to the EU, Israel, Kyrgyzstan and the U.S., as well as places like Serbia, Mongolia, and Argentina.

Notably, this trend has created a strong countercurrent. Finland, the Baltic states and Poland all enacted visa bans on Russian citizens in September 2022, while the EU as a whole has instituted restrictions on entry to Russians. 

RISKS AND REWARDS

The out-migration outlined above will have a lasting impact on the Russian economy for years to come. Even before the start of Putin’s war, the national economy was facing an acute labor shortage as a result of long-term demographic trends, as well as a “brain drain” of skilled workers which has plagued the country since the 1990s. Now, the war-driven migration of educated Russians is making matters much, much worse. 

This wave of migration will also have important and lasting impacts on the host countries where these Russians settle. On a positive note, they bring with them money and skills, thus contributing to local economies. But, since they tend to be wealthier than the majority of local populations, these migrants will invariably increase demand on local markets, thereby affecting prices. They have also caused serious pressure on real estate markets in host countries. Local labor trends are being affected, too; since not all of these migrants have jobs with Western companies, and they do not rank as the wealthiest Russians (those with unlimited financial resources), they gradually will need to find jobs in their host countries, increasing pressure on already uneasy labor markets in the process.

At the same time, these migrants bring with them both immediate and longer-term risks. First off, most of those who left Russia following the invasion of Ukraine did not do so because of their political convictions, or disagreements with the policies of President Putin. Rather, the great majority were escaping mobilization, and are merely draft dodgers. In other words, these Russians still rank as patriots, and so raise a real political concern. If allowed to integrate in the new host nations, these migrants will gradually gain electoral power, eventually impacting both domestic and international priorities, particularly in countries with small populations and narrow, contested elections, such as Armenia and Georgia.  

Secondly, some of these migrants can be expected to already have connections with Russian security agencies, or to become targets of Russian recruitment in the future. After all, most will interact with their fellow Russian migrants, and some are already building lives, businesses and communities in host countries. Russia’s security services will have great interest in penetrating those communities, both to monitor the state of the opposition to the current regime in Moscow, and in order to manipulate local opinion. These communities could also easily become cells for espionage operations or instruments for Russian soft power projection down the road.

These are real and tangible threats which require sustained attention from the national security apparats of countries that are hosting Russian migrants now or will do so in the future. Moreover, the size of this potential problem could grow precipitously, depending on what course the Ukraine war takes – and the methods the Putin regime resorts to – in the weeks and months ahead. 

Mamuka Tsereteli is Senior Fellow for Eurasia at the American Foreign Policy Council, and a Senior Fellow at AFPC’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute.

Published in Staff Publications
Tuesday, 27 June 2023 20:02

End Game in Central Asia

By Dr. S. Frederick Starr

May 26, 2023

American Foreign Policy Council Insights

While the U.S. has rightly focused on Ukraine and the nearby members of NATO, Russia and China have launched serious threats to Russia’s other former colonies in Central Asia. Washington has all but ignored these initiatives. If this does not change, the entire zone between the East China Sea and the Middle East could end up under the domination of these two authoritarian powers, which are hostile to America.

Besides its numerous threats to invade Kazakhstan, Moscow is actively courting the five Central Asian states. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has brought all five presidents twice to Moscow and personally visited the region several times. His goal is to preserve what he can of what he calls the “Russian realm” at a time when it is crumbling in Ukraine, and to counter Beijing’s hyper-active initiatives in the region.

Meanwhile, China’s Xi Jinping convened the five presidents in Beijing on May 21st, at which time he announced the creation of China’s own grand development plan for the region, which will be launched when he again meets all five presidents in Tashkent later this year. 

Reporting on these developments, Central Asians never fail to note that, since their new nations gained independence in 1991, no U.S. president has ever visited the region and that there are no prospects for such a visit until at least after the American elections in the Fall of 2024.

That is a mistake. Like the Baltic states and Ukraine, all five Central Asian countries are struggling to preserve their independence. While they have no choice but to build good relations with their superpower neighbors, they have all actively sought American help in balancing the aspirations of China and Russia. 

Washington, however, has never really brought Central Asia into focus. For more than two decades, U.S. strategy subordinated the entire region to its concerns in Afghanistan. Central Asians cooperated by opening their territories to the transport of NATO war materiel, but the U.S. and NATO did not reciprocate. These landlocked countries urgently pleaded for the West to open a transport route across Afghanistan to the southern seas, India and Southeast Asia. Without it, they argued, they would remain dependent on Russia and China for access to world markets. But Washington turned a deaf ear.

Back in 2015, then-Secretary of State John Kerry approved the creation of the “C5+1,” a consultative body involving all five Central Asian states and the U.S. However, this project – a copy of arrangements that Japan, Korea, and the EU had long since instituted – was proposed not by Washington but by Kazakhstan. While it now meets regularly, and current Secretary of State Antony Blinken attended the most recent meeting in Kazakhstan, the C5+1 is viewed in the region as just another talk shop. Disappointed, Central Asians wonder why the U.S. is so passive in advancing its own interests in their region.

In September, the United States has what might very well be its last chance to play the kind of balancing role that will prevent Central Asia from coming solely under the purview of China and Russia. The annual meeting of the United Nations will bring all five presidents to New York. If President Biden were to convene a meeting of the C5+1 during their visit, it would symbolize the end of three decades of neglect. Such a meeting, moreover, should avoid America’s usual “projectitis” and focus instead on security in all its dimensions. Only low-level representatives from the Department of Defense have attended previous meetings. The C5+1 should also take concrete measures to advance trans-Caspian trade and energy transport, lest this be dominated by China as well. To this end, it should consider adding Azerbaijan to its ranks. Finally, it should establish a permanent and well-staffed office, possibly in the region itself.

Few tasks in Washington are more challenging than to claim a day of the President’s time. However, if the National Security Council, State Department, and Pentagon link arms, it might just be possible.

As the White House weighs such a proposal, it must recognize the price it will pay for not embracing it. Whatever the outcome in Ukraine, Russia will eventually shift its attention to the rest of its Eurasian project. Central Asia and the Caucasus are the only place where Moscow can still advance this fantasy. Meanwhile, the fact that China is outmaneuvering Moscow in the region only serves to remind us of Beijing’s larger aspirations, which embrace all Central Asia as much as Taiwan. Thus, the region is crucial to the geopolitical ambitions of both Moscow and Beijing. The world will watch intently for America’s response.

Central Asians have no intention to roll back their ties with their large neighbors, but seek rather to balance them with ties with the West. However, recent polls in the region indicate that the majority of their publics have abandoned hope of enhanced ties with America and Europe and are struggling instead to figure out how to preserve their sovereignty in the face of China and Russia. America now has before it what may be the last, best chance to prevent the region from being dominated by autocratic outsiders. This, no less than the fate of Ukraine and the newly independent states of Europe, will shape the future.

The ball today lies in the hands of President Biden’s schedulers.

S. Frederick Starr is Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council.

Published in Staff Publications

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