Chinese troops have reportedly controlled a remote stretch of land near the Wakhan Corridor not far from Tajikistan’s mountainous border with northeastern Afghanistan, a strategic location from a collection of buildings and lookout towers as part of Beijing’s nascent but growing hard-power footprint in the region that is focused on security in neighboring Afghanistan. China’s stepped-up security presence is driven in part by a desire to protect its investments and by Beijing’s view that Central Asia can act as a bulwark against extremism in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Moscow has categorically stated that it will not accept a US military presence in the Central Asian region, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said. Ryabkov’s remark testifies to extreme wariness in Moscow about the US military or intelligence presence in or around Central Asia where Russia has profound security concerns. Given the United States’ clandestine links with ISIS and its history of using terror groups as geopolitical tools, Russia has to be extra-cautious.
Foreign Minister Lavrov warned that after its withdrawal from Afghanistan, NATO seeks to redeploy forces to Central, South, and Southeast Asia and to direct flows of Afghan refugees there. According to Lavrov, some narrow political structures and military blocs, sticking to the logic of the cold war and a policy of containment, “contribute to the destabilization of the situation in Asia.”
The Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) plans to hold three military exercises in Tajikistan this month due to the ongoing situation in Afghanistan. The CSTO’s presidents have already agreed to make further efforts to build cooperation in countering the challenges and threats from the territory of Afghanistan. CSTO members include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.
Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev revealed that Russia’s oil giant Lukoil would help Central Asia’s largest country develop oil fields located in Kazakhstan’s portion of the Caspian Sea. He stressed that they already started developing the large Kalamkas-Sea and Khazar fields. Kalamkas-Sea is an offshore field located in the northeastern part of the Caspian Sea, near the giant Kashagan field – one of the world’s largest discoveries of the past 4 decades. The total project cost will be about $5 billion.
Russia supports the start of Iran’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) membership process, which has been submitted for approval to the SCO Council of Heads of State. The country plays an important role in Eurasia and Iran’s SCO accession will undoubtedly contribute to enhancing the organization’s international authority, Putin emphasized.
Members of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have issued a joint statement to reaffirm that they stand ready to apply resources to maintain security of their countries from any threats that come from Afghanistan. The Taliban (outlawed in Russia) launched a large-scale operation to regain control over Afghanistan after the United States announced the withdrawal of its military personnel from the country.
The Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO, include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) has started military exercises in Kyrgyzstan it says are needed in response to the ongoing situation in Afghanistan. Last month, Russia held two separate joint military drills with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan near the Afghan border. Central Asians states bordering Afghanistan are concerned about security threats emanating from the war-torn country and the potential for tens of thousands of refugees to pour over the border.
Anti-Russian Attacks In Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan Are A New Hybrid War Threat
23 AUGUST 2021
These countries’ leaderships appreciate their strategic relations with Russia and are also keenly aware of the serious Hybrid War threat that those provocations pose to their domestic stability.
Some “nationalist activists” in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have recently taken to attacking those of their compatriots who address them in Russian, prompting condemnation from Moscow and stern responses from their governments against this worrying HybridWar threat. Kazakhstan is a much more multicultural society than Kyrgyzstan due to its significant Russian minority while the latter can best be described as a constellation of various clans who mostly all share the same ethnicity (except in the Fergana Valley where many of the Uzbek minority reside). Both of these Central Asian Republics (CARs) are Russia’s mutual defense allies through the CSTO and also participate in the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Russia is therefore very concerned about its ethnic compatriots and others who speak its language being brutally attacked there.
It remains unclear whether the “nationalist activists” responsible for these crimes are connected to foreign NGOs or intelligence agencies, but they nevertheless constitute a serious regional security threat which could advance American strategic interests if it isn’t soon checked before spiraling out of control. The brief Trump Era was characterized by a resurgence of nationalist sentiment across the world, the origins of which predated his ascent to power and its consequences will long outlast his departure because it embodies preexisting trends in countless societies. It’s first and foremost a reaction to the previously unchecked liberal-globalist processes that swept the planet during the short period of unipolarity but varying degrees of support have been provided to different movements by foreign actors over the years in order to advance their divide-and-rule interests.
In the Central Asian context, the US has every reason not to want this geostrategic region in the middle of the Eurasian Heartland to serve as the convergence point of the many multipolar processes jointly pioneered by Russia and China, particularly connectivity ones related to synchronization of Moscow’s EAEU and Beijing’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). There have already been some violent Sinophobic incidents in reaction to what some claim (whether truthfully, falsely, or in an exaggerated manner) are the local economic consequences of many low-cost Chinese products entering their marketplaces and certain BRI contracts being carried out by Chinese workers instead of their own compatriots, but locals haven’t ever really had a problem with Russia’s legacy of influence there.
This is a pretty new phenomenon, especially in multicultural Kazakhstan, which is why Russia is so concerned. Provocations such as these can quickly spiral out of control since the actors participating in them are presumed to be autonomous and can therefore behave in unpredictable ways. Furthermore, the proliferation of cell phones and social media mean that even relatively minor incidents can spark larger crises, especially if the footage or photos are deceptively misportrayed to the public. Kyrgyzstan is particularly vulnerable to this considering its clan-centric society wherein even the smallest of slights against one group can quickly explode into major clashes between each party’s extended network of supporters. These preexisting socio-technological dynamics make Central Asia especially vulnerable to these sorts of “nationalist”-driven Hybrid War threats.
Considering the mutually beneficial relationship between those countries and Russia, as well as the role that the Russian language plays in both of those CARs for facilitating intercultural communication and enhancing one’s job prospects (especially abroad in the Kyrgyz case since many of its citizens migrate to Russia for work), it can be concluded that these so-called “nationalist activists” do not genuinely represent the grassroots will of their societies. Rather, they’re ultra-radical manifestations of preexisting nationalist trends within their countries and are obsessed with provoking inter-ethnic and consequently international crises on this ideological basis. They hope to place their governments in a dilemma whereby they either submit to these extremists and lose Russian support or defend multiculturalism and then be accused of “selling out” their people.
Nur-Sultan (the recently renamed capital of Kazakhstan formerly known as Astana) and Bishkek have thus far responded to these provocations properly by declaring the perpetrators’ actions to be unacceptable. They’re sending unambiguous signals that they won’t be tolerated whatsoever at all but fiercely suppressed anytime and anywhere they occur. These countries’ leaderships appreciate their strategic relations with Russia and are also keenly aware of the serious Hybrid War threat that those provocations pose to their domestic stability. Investigations should be commenced to determine determine whether these “nationalist activists” are connected to foreign NGOs or intelligence agencies, the outcome of which will show that these are either “lone wolf” radicals or another country’s proxies and thus help to fine-tune the state’s response to them.
It’s Time To Create An Afghan-Central Asian Connectivity Platform
20 AUGUST 2021
The most important outcome of last month’s virtual Afghan-Central Asian Foreign Ministers meeting was “the need to create a political framework that would strengthen cooperation between these countries in various fields”, which should be prioritized as soon as possible so as to advance their shared goal of facilitating transregional connectivity.
The Afghan Embassy in Turkmenistan’s monthly newsletter for July 2021 contained an important tidbit of information that escaped the attention of most regional observers. This was the outcome of last month’s virtual Afghan-Central Asian Foreign Ministers meeting, which was co-hosted by Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia (UNRCCA). The newsletter described this event as “the first format at the level of Foreign Ministers to discuss the peace process, economic development, regional security, and the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan.” According to the Afghan Embassy in Turkmenistan, “The Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan and Central Asia stressed the need to create a political framework that would strengthen cooperation between these countries in various fields.”
It’s this reasonable outcome that should be prioritized as soon as possible so as to advance those countries’ shared geo-economic goal of facilitating transregional connectivity. Mid-July’s conference in Tashkent on Central Asia-South Asia connectivity saw all participants – which included representatives from China, Russia, and the US – agreeing on the importance of this vision. Immediately thereafter, the US announced the formation of a “New Quad” between itself, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan focused specifically on integration. All regional stakeholders including those four countries are most directly interested in February’s agreement to built a Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway, which is regarded as the most realistic means to this connectivity end.
PAKAFUZ isn’t the only relevant transregional corridor proposal even though it’s arguably the most promising. The China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor (CCAWEC) is another one, though this plan’s exact route is vaguely defined at the present moment, as is the eastern branch of the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) from the Indian-controlled Iranian port of Chabahar that aims to connect to those countries too. Some observers also expect that China’s recent modernization of eastern Tajikistan’s highway network is premised on the plan of eventually pioneering what can tentatively be called a “Persian Corridor” for connecting those two and Afghanistan with Beijing’s new 25-year strategic partners in Iran. Finally, there’s the Lapis Lazuli Corridor (LLC) between Afghanistan and Turkey via Turkmenistan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
Seeing as how these five potential corridors all transit through Afghanistan and Central Asia, it’s sensible for them to want “to create a political framework that would strengthen cooperation between these countries in various fields”, particularly with respect to their shared geo-economic goal of facilitating transregional connectivity. Whatever this structure ends up being called, it should only include those six countries as formal members while allowing other stakeholders like China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, and the US to participate as observers. This would enable Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics (CAR) to avoid being overshadowed by those much larger countries and thus inadvertently risk becoming objects of International Relations instead of remaining independent subjects like they presently are.
Each of those much larger countries already have some level of institutionalized connectivity cooperation with Afghanistan and the CARs which justifies their participation as observers in the proposed platform. The Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) brings together those six countries, Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey, while China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) does the same with those six and the People’s Republic. The US’ C5+1 framework is the basis for its relations with Central Asia, while its “New Quad” includes the PAKAFUZ countries. Finally, the Ashgabat Agreement consists of India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan while Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) includes Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
With these observations in mind, there shouldn’t be anything controversial about Afghanistan and the CARs coming together to create their own integration platform for facilitating transregional connectivity so long as they invite China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, and the US to participate as observers. Each of those seven much larger countries should understand their six partners’ concerns about being overshadowed by their formal membership in this group. All of them should therefore support their implementation of last month’s proposal since the resultant structure could also become the platform through which each of them more effectively interface with those countries. Hopefully some tangible progress can be achieved in this respect very soon since such an outcome would advance everyone’s geo-economic interests.