01/05/2023, 10.05
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Moscow grows weaker in Central Asia

by Vladimir Rozanskij

However, internal conflicts in the region are "children of the Soviet period." In the former republics of the USSR, young people no longer want to learn Russian. Central Asians know they must find alternatives to Russia after exploiting it to the hilt.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - In a conversation the editors of Novaja Gazeta Evropa, political scientist Temur Umarov of the Carnegie Fund took stock Russia's relations with its former Soviet "best friends" in Central Asia after the shocking 2022 war in Ukraine. The past year, after all, has seen a resurgence of conflicts in this region as well, some 30 years old, with unexpected violence.

Umarov broadens his gaze not only to Asians, but to the entire post-Soviet space, which has "radicalized and degraded considerably."

The international media has paid much more attention to the tensions dragging on in these regions, especially since the uprisings a year ago in Kazakhstan, which just preceded the invasion of Ukraine. Now it seems that "any conflict, internal or interstate, can lead to fatal outcomes."

War has returned to being "the main instrument of foreign policy" as in times past, after Putin's tragic moves. The resurgence of clashes and protests in all these countries seems to be an effect of the "if they do it, we can do it too" reasoning, notes the political scientist, because "all authoritarian regimes that are close to each other, and share a common past, tend to exchange tools and modes of action; not only Central Asia learns from Russia, it is a process that also moves in the opposite direction," as evidenced by the various "foreign agent" laws and constitutional amendments.

The deciding factor is not so much victory or defeat in military operations, but "the permissibility of the use of arms in politics," and in the Tajik-Kyrgyz border conflict, justifications similar to those of Russia in Ukraine have resonated in the defense of its compatriots from the "genocide" carried out by the opposing country's government.

Kyrgyzstan has tried to imitate Ukraine, standing up as a defender of democracy against Dushanbe's autocracy, although certainly Bishkek cannot be compared to Kiev in respect for liberal values. After all, Umarov admits, "compared to Tajikistan almost everything looks like a democracy."

Among the many factors at play, the expert stresses the importance of the "youth demographics" of Central Asian countries compared to Russia, where the average age is less than 30, compared to 47 for Russians. "This generation has no memory of the Soviet Union, and it is composed of people who are very different from those who govern them, who are 65 and older."

Generational replacement of the ruling class has become a priority in former Soviet countries, including with such demonstrative moves as the hand-over between father and son in Turkmenistan and similar initiatives in other countries, including Russia.

In these areas, "the opposition between ruled and rulers is becoming increasingly radicalized," a populist variant expressing great hostility to Russians, who are seen as an expression of an old world to be erased, starting with their master language that young people no longer want to learn.

Internal and regional conflicts are also "children of the Soviet period," such as the situation in Ukraine itself, "when the regime wanted to keep the ethnic groups within the various republics separate so that they would not get too much in agreement with each other."

In reality, relations between ethnic groups have always existed and intermingling inevitable, and today all the knots are coming to a head. One example Umarov cites is that of the Fergana Valley, which at one time was divided between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, "where the population density is higher than elsewhere, and it is a highly developed agricultural area, although lacking in water resources."

As a Russian proverb  says, "the East is a subtle matter," in the sense of elusive and often incomprehensible. Central Asian countries are by nature hospitable and peaceful, but they are also very pragmatic, as when they welcome Russians fleeing war and their money with open arms. Without being "as dedicated to business as the Chinese, who are increasingly active in the region," Central Asians know they must find alternatives to Russia, having exploited it to the hilt, because their future now speaks another language.


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