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The “Conflict Triangle” of Central Asia

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Anxiety inducing information is spreading about Central Asia. The situation seemed stable a while ago. But in reality, processes that could impact the geopolitical scene in Eurasia were occurring. They can be classified as two sets of events. The first group of events is the changing of relations between the region’s countries. The second group deals with the results of the great powers’ influence struggle in the region.

On June 26th, Russian Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army and General-Lieutenant Vladimir Chirkin said, during the meeting of Federation Council’s Defense and Security committee, that local armed conflict among Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kirghizstan is likely in Central Asia. The general has pointed out that the reason for this is worsening of the conflict that arose from issues relating to energy, water facilities and territory. Tajikistan has responded fiercely that there are forces that want to intensify the situation in the region.

Yet the real scene is really thought-provoking. Various sources have predicted the possibility of political clashes in Central Asia. In 2011, International Crisis Group expert Louise Arbor published an evaluation in Foreign Policy, titled “Next Year’s Wars.” Central Asia is named sixth on the list of 10 potential wars. Eurasia Net, a US-based internet resource considered a potential military conflict between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as the most plausible among armed conflict in Central Asia. The predictions were also included in the Central Information Agency’s 2011 report.

In September 2011, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, Nikolai Makarov noted that the situation in Central Asia might play on the “Libyan script.” And two months before this statement, Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitri Rogozin stated that real danger will arise once US troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan.

What do they base these predictions on? First of all, they show the enclaves created in Central Asian states during the Soviet period. There are Uzbek enclaves in Kirghizstan – the enclaves of Shokh and Shahmardan, with a population of 40-50 thousand. In Uzbekistan, there is a Barak village that is part of Kirghizstan. Twenty thousand Tajiks live in Kirghizstan’s Vorukh enclave.

Moreover, there is an ongoing conflict between Kirghizstan and Tajikistan since the 1980s, regarding water and land usage. Occasional conflicts are reported on the border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Outlined reasons are use of water reserves and disagreements among ethnic relations.

It must be admitted that the aforementioned factors are intensifying relations among Central Asian countries. It is not unlikely that the dispute between Uzbekistan, Kirghizstan and Tajikistan will turn into an armed conflict. But we must also consider notable powers’ battle for the region.

An “Andijan 2” Warning

Uzbekistan’s suspension of its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was met with concern in Russia. Around the same time, Kirghizstan and Tajikistan began to demand higher payments for the lease of Russian military bases. Analysts are certain that the two events are linked. They state the reasons as being the US and Chinese policies for Central Asia. They view Tajikistan president Rahmon’s request for two billions dollars of aid from China as an indicator of a change in Dushanbe’s position. On the other hand, it is being said that the US might give weapons it withdraws from Afghanistan to Tajikistan and create a military base there. It is presumed that the US has promised the same to Uzbekistan.

Tashkent blames the CSTO’s lack of an effective planning for the potential danger from Afghanistan. Uzbekistan’s other argument blames the lack of positive development of cooperation within the framework of this military organization. Of course, Moscow considers these as excuses and argues that the main factor is Washington’s active operation in the region.

In a meeting held by Putin with Russian Federation’s ambassadors and permanent representatives on July 9th, he stated, “Deepening the integration process in the CIS is the core of our foreign policy and is our strategic objective.” He has called for Ukraine to join this integration process. Integration within the CIS region is a strategic issue for Moscow. Therefore, Russia did not delay a response to the steps taken by Central Asian countries. Leonid Ivashov, President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems argues that Russia must speed up the integration process in Eurasia.

Yuri Kroupnov, Chairman of the Monitoring Council of the Russian Institute for Demography, Migration and Regional Development and leader of “Movement of Development” explains Uzbekistan’s suspension of its membership in the CSTO with complex Kremlin-Afghanistan policies. He states that Russian political spheres do not have the right objectives regarding NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, since Russia is cautious that NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will disturb stability. It must then be considered normal for Central Asian countries to gravitate towards the organization. Kroupnov, however, believes that these processes will serve to greatly benefit a Eurasian integration, because Moscow will evaluate its mistakes and pursue more dominant policies.

Aside from all these, warnings about a second Andijan massacre are being heard. The region’s countries are informed about disturbances to occur after Russian military forces secede from the region. Let us mention that on the eve of the dissolution of the USSR, a great disorder was observed in the Uzbekistan province of Andijan and thousands of Turks were expelled. A large amount of violence was reported during that time. It is worth noting that there are reports indicating that Armenians were also part of the Andijan incidents.

The Silence of Great Battles

A wise man of the ancient East once said, “He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.” In a time of hullabaloo geopolitical processes going on in Central Asia, China and the US remain still. US Secretary of State and Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan’s agreement to give part of the weapons withdrawn from Afghanistan to Tashkent and to allocate higher monetary aid for it is being minimally discussed in the news. But in reality, it is bargains like these that form the geopolitical scene of Central Asia. It is clear that a geopolitical bomb has detonated in the region. And the time has come to organize an information explosion.

By relocating its military forces from Afghanistan to Central Asian countries, Washington is hitting two objectives at once. First, it removes itself from the Afghan swamp. Secondly, it increases military presence in Central Asia. The latter is giving the US geopolitical dividends. In a region dominated by Russia for centuries, the US is now seizing the military initiative. For Central Asian countries, security is highly critical. The US will both prevent the spread of religious radicalism in Afghanistan and base its forces around Russian-Asian borders. Considering the processes occurring in the Asian-Pacific region, this means a strategic upper-hand for the US.

On the other hand, the integration process of Eurasia under the Russian model is disturbed. This is strictly aimed against the priorities of Russian foreign policy. Halting the integration processes in Eurasia will cost Russia Moscow’s cards in the Near and Middle East. That is, while the Kremlin tries to keep the US busy in the near East, Russia itself is facing problems in Central Asia.

America isn’t still, it is working; and the struggle is rising to a more intense and fierce stage. We can presume that after a certain time, we will witness China’s active involvement in these processes. Iran will also show itself with its response to US base stations in Tajikistan. It is interesting as to what steps Iran will take against its ethnic relative Tajikistan. Analysts are warning that Russia, China and Iran can all make a move together for Dushanbe. In all cases, we can presume further complication of the geopolitical situation in the region.

It is not doubtful that Moscow will be providing the most forceful response. Central Asia carries a strategic significance for Russia. Geographically and geopolitically, this region plays a big role. For the West, Russia and China, Central Asia carries great importance regarding energy security matters. The main factor is the prediction that this region will enter the center of geopolitical power. The Caucasus and Far East are closer from there. Central Asia is en route to the change of the center of geopolitical power. .We believe that great battles have begun in that area. Ancient Easterners are advising, “...expect an uproar during a silence.” But is it possible to attain silence in a region with increasing battle noises?

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