Newsline

Newsline , Society

Putin Expanding Russia’s Reach in Central Asia

Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2022
|
by Ben Solis
|
16 Comments
putin

AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis

As the war in Ukraine enters its sixth month, Western sanctions are beginning to exact a devastating toll on the Russian economy, particularly its all-important energy sector. As a result, Vladimir Putin has been forced to look beyond Europe for energy export markets, resulting in increased pressure on Russia’s neighbors in Central Asia – a prospect that should be alarming for Western leaders concerned about the expansion of Russian influence in the region.

This emerging dynamic was on full display earlier this month during a meeting of the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, five Central Asian nations who have in recent years worked to develop closer cultural and economic bonds. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a top concern of the conference at Cholpon-Ata, a summer resort in Kyrgyzstan.

Yet, in an acknowledgement of Russia’s dominance of the region, leaders of these nations have had little choice but to work with Russia. Kazakhstan, for example, experienced Russia’s bullying when the Kremlin, annoyed by Kazakh policies that frustrated Russian ambitions, denied access to the Caspian Pipeline Consortium that transports a significant part of Kazakhstan’s oil. Putin himself openly called Kazakhstan an artificial state, the exact phrase he often uses when discussing Ukraine.

Just this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov traveled to Uzbekistan to meet with Central Asian leaders ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit. After a meeting with his Uzbek counterpart in Tashkent, Lavrov told reporters that the two countries had agreed to develop closer bonds with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan – no doubt eager for another market to export Russian energy supplies.

The SCO summit is expected to host a number of high-profile Russian and Chinese leaders along with Central Asian dignitaries – a concerning prospect for the West given closer Russo-Chinese cooperation elsewhere in the world. Notably, no Western leaders were invited. China has already embarked on several major infrastructure projects as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative in Central Asia, and the destabilizing effect of the Ukraine war could lead to these nations in effect becoming vassal states of a Russian-Chinese alliance.

Russia has also proposed a number of projects in the region that could largely reduce its reliance on purchases of energy supplies by the U.S. and Europe, thus executing an end-run around Western sanctions.

One top concern for Western leaders is Russia’s plan to construct a railway connecting Pakistan with Russia via Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Currently, road transport from the Russian border to Pakistan is not only dangerous due to the road and weather conditions, but extremely slow. The mountainous routes are often covered by snow and ice, and it can sometimes take more than six weeks for oil to reach consumers. But with this new track in place, Russia could cut that time to just 22 days, massively increasing profitability.

Russia has also proposed a natural gas pipeline connecting Russia and India via Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, as well as additional smaller pipelines from Russian energy producers to population hubs in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. With the United States and Western Europe cutting economic ties with the Kremlin, India in particular has massively expanded its consumption – and thus its reliance – on Russian oil. Securing an agreement to build pipelines through Central Asia to the country of 1.38 billion could be a game-changer for Putin. With India and China alone, Russia has access to 36% of the world’s population, meaning that if it can build the infrastructure – through Central Asia – to supply those nations with cheap energy, it will no longer rely on Western purchases to keep its economy afloat.

The biggest challenge for Russia in expanding its reach has been financing, as the country has been largely cut-off from the global banking system – something which has also affected economic development in Central Asian countries. Before the eruption of war with Ukraine, for example, the World Bank announced that it agreed to Uzbekistan’s request to finance a 350-mile railway from Mazar-e-Sharif to Peshawar, via the Kabul line. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a halt in funding over fears that the project could empower Moscow economically.

The Kremlin hopes to have found a new solution by replacing state-run companies – which have all been sanctioned – with new “private” businesses that thus far have avoided sanctions. Additionally, with China as an ally, Russia could gain access to desperately-needed capital to finance its projects.

Ultimately, Central Asian nations stand little chance of fending off Russian influence on their own. With drastically less capable armies, political unrest, and extensive land borders with Russia, concerns about their sovereignty are very real.

For the United States, ignoring this emerging dynamic could prove costly. As it has for thousands of years, Central Asia is at the heart of the globe’s most important trade routes. For Russia, it is the gateway to the Middle East and the rest of Asia, potentially unlocking literally billions of new customers for Russian oil and gas supplies. The Biden administration – and any administration that comes after it – would be wise to address this threat before it grows out of hand.

Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.

Share this article:
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
16 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David Millikan
David Millikan
1 year ago

Keep up the good work AMAC. You’re reporting and articles are excellent.

Buster Rabbit
Buster Rabbit
1 year ago

Vlad “choose” to cut oil

Max
Max
1 year ago

This move by the Russians should be no surprise to anyone. Putin want the emergence of the Russian empire by any means. Intimidation and threats have been constantly used by the Russians.

Sid
Sid
1 year ago

Who cares?

MJB
MJB
1 year ago

If we had a competent leader, Putin could have been eliminated when he went to Iran a few weeks ago! Until someone cuts the head off of the snake, then the snake will continue to bite innocent people and inflect harm.

Putin’s aim is to reconstruct the former Soviet Union at any cost.
We should talk to Israel and ask them to use their Mossad to do what needs to be done to rid the world of tyrannical leaders like Putin! God knows that the USA doesn’t have the leadership to do anything about Putin!

Philip Hammersley
Philip Hammersley
1 year ago

As long as Putin is staying in his zone, China likes it. Should Putin get into conflict with Xi’s goals, he will find China will take care of him permanently. Russia has a weak economy while China will, if Biden has any say in it, overcome America’s preeminence economically and become #1.

Hal
Hal
1 year ago

Plans of the Ruskies is to be Pootin’ on Central Asia … China excluded. But the Pootin’s troops better be careful not to irk the Chinese!!!! It is tempting to wish for a clash twixt those two Commie regimes. I marvel at times how the manage to avoid each other … probably knowing it would have ultra-long unsavory consequences. So, they each try to bedevil other Nations that they think they can bully.

An older blonde women laughing in the kitchen with a grey haired man.
AMAC’s Medicare Advisory Service
The knowledge, guidance, and choices of coverage you’re looking for. The exceptional service you deserve.
The AMAC App on 3 different iPhone
Download the AMAC App
The AMAC App is the place to go for insightful news wherever you are and whenever you want.
Biden Admin’s War on Women
China
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona.

Stay informed! Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter.

"*" indicates required fields

16
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x

Subscribe to AMAC Daily News and Games