Tajikistan: Bypass Western Sanctions
The results of Putin's meeting in Dushanbe with Tajik leader Emomali Rahmon were called "vague" by observers. There were no statements, no signing of documents either. It is known that the presidents discussed “sensitive” topics: the possibility of using Tajikistan to bypass Western sanctions by Russia, the situation in Afghanistan, in particular, the reconciliation of Rahmon with the Taliban, as well as the transfer of power in Tajikistan from father to son. It is also possible that after the G7 countries impose an embargo on gold imports from Russia, Moscow will want to export it through Tajikistan.
However, Tamerlan Ibraimov, director of the Center for Political and Legal Studies, believes that Putin's visit was unlikely to be connected with any economic projects or the intention to drag Tajikistan into the EAEU:
“Most likely, the emphasis was placed on the situation around Afghanistan. Now there is a struggle for influence. Including Rahmon. I believe that serious proposals have already been made to the latter to ensure and support the security of the areas bordering Afghanistan by the head of the US Central Command, General Michael Kurilla. Putin will try to kill them. How? Only the supply of weapons. Tajikistan has already received a large shipment from the United States to repel possible Taliban attacks. Russia will also have to give something. In addition, Tajikistan is the only country in Central Asia that has not recognized the rule of the Taliban. At the same time, Moscow is accrediting the Taliban ambassador. A delegation from Afghanistan arrives at the economic forum in St. Petersburg. Naturally, in Dushanbe this was regarded as not a very friendly step.”
Tajikistan is the only country in Central Asia that has not recognized the power of the Taliban
The expert recalled: Putin and Rahmon have different allies and enemies in Afghanistan, and this could become a problem, primarily for Moscow. It is unlikely that Tajikistan will ever come to terms with the fact that the main strategic partner is cooperating with a regional adversary. Non-recognition of the Taliban for Rahmon is a fundamental issue: when a society is restless, it can be consolidated only with the help of an external threat.
Turkmenistan: keep gas out of Europe
After meeting with Rahmon, Putin went to Ashgabat. In addition to participating in the summit, according to the Kremlin press service, he talked with former President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and presented him with two handmade sabers, chess and a sculpture of a rider for his 65th birthday. Putin personally met with his successor and son, Serdar Berdymukhammedov, after the summit.
Turkmenistan is the most closed country, but at the same time a very prominent player both in Central Asia and in the Caspian region. The Kremlin understands this, and Moscow will try to regain its position as the largest importer of Turkmen gas, lost in 2019. After a three-year disengagement and the complete termination of gas contracts, although Gazprom resumed purchasing raw materials in Turkmenistan, the volume of supplies decreased significantly. And now China, not Russia, is buying Turkmen energy resources.
In addition, as a partner in the construction of the TAPI gas pipeline, Turkmenistan will sell its gas to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. But the main thing is that Turkmenistan, together with Azerbaijan, is able to export its gas to Europe. Surely, Ashgabat considered this possibility. And this cannot but worry Moscow, which does not need competitors in the European market, where it uses gas as a political weapon.
Turkmenistan, together with Azerbaijan, is able to export its gas to Europe
Turkey and China are advancing
In the context of the protracted war in Ukraine, the countries of Central Asia - Russia's partners in the SCO, the CSTO and the EAEU - found themselves drawn into the risk zone, while trying to preserve room for maneuver.
The assumption in Central Asia is that Russia will try to maintain its position as a key player in the region. However, war depletes resources, and in conditions of isolation this will sooner or later lead to the financial, economic and military-political weakening of the country. Who can take the vacant seat, obviously.
China, of course, claims to be the main player in the Central Asian region, like Turkey, according to Kazakh political scientist Daniyar Ashimbaev, but the elites of the countries will be against it: “If we are talking about deepening economic cooperation with China, then everything is in favor. Strengthen military-political relations - no. Too risky. Everyone knows: where China enters with one foot, then there it turns out to be with two, and it will be very difficult to squeeze it out. The same story with Turkey. During the time of President Suleiman Demirel, it was a secular country with stable economic ties. The model that Recep Erdogan is building is not particularly appealing to all five Central Asian republics, since Turkey is promoting the idea of a military-political union with the active leadership of Ankara. Erdogan is lobbying for pan-Islamic, pan-Turkic discourses. They can contribute to destabilization in the region. In Bishkek, Nur-Sultan, Tashkent, Dushanbe and Ashgabat, of course, they are interested in cooperation with both Beijing and Ankara, but within reason.”
“The strengthening of the influence of both Beijing and Ankara will be resisted in Central Asia”
According to Ashimbaev, despite the attempts of the United States and EU countries to finally weaken Russia by pushing it out of Central Asia, Moscow retains its outpost in the region and still acts as a guarantor of security:
“In the event of an escalation of the situation in Afghanistan, the protection of the southern borders of our region without the help of Russia is impossible. For stability and normal economic development of Central Asia, a multi-vector approach is needed, but the Russian one will remain the prevailing factor. There are no other options. Neither the elites nor the population are interested in increasing American influence. No one wants to become cannon fodder for solving Washington's foreign trade issues in the region, everyone sees what this can lead to on the example of Afghanistan and Syria.”
In support of his words, he cites the position taken by the presidents of states in the region, none of which has publicly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The statement of the head of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, on the non-recognition of the “quasi-states of the LPR and DPR”, expressed at the economic forum in St. Petersburg, according to Daniyar Ashimbaev, cannot be considered a demarche and an attempt to disassociate himself from Moscow. And even more so, Kazakhstan does not refuse allied obligations to Russia. True, interaction with Moscow will be built within the framework of the sanctions regime, said President Tokayev. That is, Kazakhstan still manages to balance between the Russian Federation and the West.
But in Uzbekistan they made a sharper statement. Foreign Minister Ruz Abdulaziz Kamilov (released from office at the end of April) speaking at a meeting of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis, shortly after the start of the war, said that Uzbekistan recognizes the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, not recognizing the so-called "DNR" and "LNR". But, despite this, the US State Department imposed restrictions on the Uzbek company Procomplektlogistic for violating the sanctions regime against Russian enterprises. She, along with companies from other countries, was included in the "black list" on suspicion of "supporting the military-industrial complex of Russia."
Kyrgyzstan: loyalty was not expected
As for Kyrgyzstan, the Kremlin has never had much sympathy for Sadyr Japarov, who came to power in the wake of the October 2020 unrest. And now it shows hostility. At the same time, of all the countries of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is perhaps the most dependent on the Russian Federation. Moscow forgave Bishkek's multibillion-dollar debts and annually allocated large sums to support the state budget. Up to one million Kyrgyzstanis are working in Russia.
Politicians in Bishkek tirelessly repeat the historical ties of friendship and brotherly love that bind Russia and Kyrgyzstan. But when it was necessary to prove this love and respect not in words, but in deeds, the authorities of the Kyrgyz Republic did not behave as expected. First, they banned the screening of the films “The Sun” and “Militia”, then they banned the use of the letters Z and V, did not hold a Victory Day parade on May 9, and did not publicly demonstrate that they agreed with the “military special operation” in Ukraine. Obviously, Moscow was counting on something else.
As an argument in favor of the version that the Russian authorities are dissatisfied with official Bishkek, one can cite publications in Kommersant and Moskovsky Komsomolets . The authors of the articles accused high-ranking Kyrgyz officials - Deputy Head of the Cabinet of Ministers - Chairman of the State Committee for National Security Kamchybek Tashiev, Deputy Head of the Cabinet of Ministers Edil Baisalov, former Foreign Minister Ruslan Kazakbaev and current - Jeenbek Kulubaev of curtseying towards the West. Kremlin pool journalist Andrei Kolesnikov, in a report on the first Eurasian forum in Bishkek, which took place at the end of May, allowed himself a derogatory tone and insulting attacks on President Zhaparov.
The reason for the change of tone was the activation of the White House and visits to Kyrgyzstan by US Deputy Secretary of State Uzra Zey and US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu. There is even a version that Sadyr Japarov does not suit Moscow so much that in Bishkek, they want to stage another coup by the hands of pro-Russian politicians.
It is no coincidence that Kyrgyzstan was chosen by the Russian Federation as a target. Russia does not expect 100% loyalty from other Central Asian countries.