V. Evseev: If there are problems in the states of Central Asia, no one, except Russia, will help them« Back
At the beginning of this year, the topic of the relationship between Russia and the Central Asian states was on the agenda of many discussion platforms. Its relevance is motivated not only by the processes taking place in the countries of the region, but also by the tendency to change the balance of forces and interests, including extra-regional players. Opinion on this account with the "IQ" shared a Russian expert, deputy director of the Institute of CIS countries Vladimir Evseev.
- Vladimir Valerijevich, what position, role and importance in Russia's foreign policy is the relationship with the states of Central Asia given the processes that are currently taking place in the countries of the region?
- For Russia, Central Asia has undoubtedly been and remained a strategically important region. But, in my opinion, the balance of forces is changing now in the region, which Russia should take into account in the process of developing cooperation with the Central Asian states.
Obviously, Uzbekistan's positions are strengthening, and in this sense the role of the republic's president Shavkat Mirziyeev is positive. The recent personnel changes in the security sphere have in fact become the final stage of the transit of power in this country.
At the same time, however, I am far from thinking that in the foreseeable future the republic will join the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Uzbekistan will continue to pursue an independent foreign policy, believing that Eurasian integration is an extra element in it. In this connection, Russia needs to stake on the development of bilateral relations with the republic.
At the same time, if we talk about our Kazakhstani counterparts, it is possible for them to oppose something to the strengthening of Uzbekistan's role in the region only through the strengthening of Eurasian integration.
In general, if the EAEU does not confirm that it can give serious economic dividends to those countries that are members of the Union, it cannot become attractive for other states of the region.
Of course, it is desirable that not only Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but also Turkmenistan, consider the possibility of inclusion in the Eurasian integration process. But now it's not real.
At the same time, external calls are actualized. First of all, the risks those come from Afghanistan. Right now, at the borders of the Central Asian states, the activity of not only various groups close to the Taliban is growing, but also the activity of ISIL (a terrorist organization banned in Russia, ed.), with which it is simply impossible to negotiate. Under these conditions, the threat of a breakthrough of the Turkmen border becomes quite real. And it is clear that this is a threat not only for Turkmenistan, but for the whole of Central Asia.
These risks must be taken into account, as well as the opportunities for establishing cooperation with friendly states on the external track, primarily with the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), which is interested in developing economic cooperation with the EEA and Central Asian states as a whole, confirms this interest in concrete steps. In particular, in the direction of modernizing the ports in the Caspian Sea to offer transport corridors through its territory.
And here again the special role of Kazakhstan is highlighted. It is absolutely clear that in the conditions of the deterioration of the Iran-Tajik relations for Iran, a partner is important, which can help the IRI to more actively join the integration processes in the territory of Central Asia. Kazakhstan is such a partner as a confidently developing state, with which Iran has established economic ties in the process of deliveries of grain and hydrocarbons. Politically, it is also important to take into account that it was Kazakhstan that supported the "nuclear deal" with Iran and made a significant contribution to the signing of this agreement.
Unlike some colleagues, I do not consider Iran our situational partner. I believe that the course, which was defined by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Hasan Roukhani, will be implemented through a strategic partnership. It is of fundamental importance for the whole of the EAEC in general and for individual Central Asian states to consider the IRI as a state that will undoubtedly be strengthened economically and, consequently, its influence in the region will grow.
- But while understanding the role of Iran only comes, other players are already actively operating. This is primarily about China.
- Indeed, both the Eurasian Economic Union and individual states of Central Asia are increasingly "drawn" into the sphere of influence of the PRC, including through the mega-project "Economic belt of the Silk Road." And here the question arises as to how we can build relations from the positions of the Eurasian Economic Union, or whether the Celestial Integration Structure will "knock" out? After all, it's one thing to speak beautifully about a kind of "conjugation" of projects. But in reality, this pairing is not entirely in our favor for one simple reason: Beijing has more resources.
On the one hand, it's good when investments and modern technologies come to the economy. But on the other - we still need to ensure the economic independence of the Eurasian Economic Union.
To do this, in the conditions of increasing Chinese influence in almost all countries of the region, the member states of the EEMA need to pursue a coordinated foreign policy in order not to open their market too much. The more confidently we will do it, the more we will achieve.
At present, for example, the concern is that China is beginning to move its so-called "rusty belt" to the territory of Central Asia. In particular, we are talking about Kazakhstan, where the process of placing not entirely environmentally friendly production facilities is already underway with the possible participation of Chinese maintenance personnel in their work. A similar concern is the interest of Kyrgyzstan in building a railway from China. I do not think that these are such "altruistic" initiatives. China, with its incomparable economic potential, can create challenges to Eurasian integration, since its economic influence can be transformed into a political one. Therefore, it is advantageous for Beijing to work in a bilateral format, where the positions of the parties - both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan - are incommensurable with the Chinese potential.
Of course, this is a very delicate matter of our relations with colleagues, but this kind of activity requires at least a discussion.
I believe that we need to pursue a coordinated policy and work with the PRC in a multilateral format, guided by collective interests.
- Speaking about the influence of extra-regional players, the United States of America cannot be ignored. It is already clear that the forecasts about the "cooling" of interest in Central Asia by the administration of Donald Trump have not been justified. What is your position on this matter?
- The USA actively works in the territory of Central Asia. And the C5 + 1 format promoted by them, within which the Foreign Ministers of the Central Asian states met last year in Washington, are another confirmation of this.
At the same time, it is important to note that in fact the US offers nothing in terms of resource support, but would like to preserve the region in the sphere of its influence.
It would be naive to believe that the US forgot about Central Asia. They have not forgotten. And they are not going to leave. Americans always leave to stay, guided by the concept of "playing from the second row" - when they themselves do not have enough resources, they try to work with someone else's hands
Therefore, for example, Japan, which has its own policy towards Central Asia, comes to the forefront, but partially embodies American national interests. It should be clearly understood: not always the actions of Japan or South Korea are only these countries themselves.
In fact, the US wants to remain in Central Asia at the expense of its allies. First of all, because the region is located between China and Russia, and the states of the region are not acting as a bargaining chip, but they are viewed as a lever for influencing Russia and China.
The NATO program "Partnership for Peace" also provokes concern - another factor of the US consolidation in the territory of the Central Asian states.
The optimistic fact in this regard is the closure of the transit base in Manas, which, in my view, is a positive example of the strategic relationship between Russia and Kyrgyzstan.
But, on the other hand, they are concerned about the pace of development of a special partnership between NATO and Kazakhstan. Obviously, the US is very much eager to have access to the military infrastructure of the region. What for? This allows us to quickly deploy troops for the realization of American national interests. And here any "lock", even such as emergency landing on a one-time basis, can lead gradually to a wider military presence. This "partnership" with NATO is sometimes just a screen, behind which the Americans are trying to realize their own interests, which have nothing to do with what the Central Asian states really need.
Absolutely no reason is the American project "Greater Central Asia", and, notice, with the defining role of the extremely unstable Afghanistan. But it is the US tradition to impose certain schemes, in order to secure a military presence in the region. And in my personal belief, the US military presence is always destabilizing. Perhaps in the short term there will be some advantages, but in the long run it is always the appearance of new problems.
Of course, for Central Asian states, internal problems are now more important than external ones. But the activities of the US and its allies should be treated with great care, realizing that they often work not quite according to the rules, but more often - not at all by the rules.
Formally, the US is not an enemy for us now, but this is the state that will create problems for us now and then. There are problems not only for Russia, but for all states of the Eurasian Economic Union.
- In the context of the above, a curious fact: after the statement about the imposition of sanctions against Russia under the law "On Countering the Opponents of America", the US State Department warned that the sanctions could spread to companies in other countries conducting business "with the defense sector and Russian intelligence". How real are these threats?
- You know, I estimate the so-called "Kremlin report" as either Trump's desire to shift all responsibility to the Congress, or as an answer. But, if the US extends sanctions on such organizations as Rosoboronexport, for example, while the Central Asian states within the CSTO framework will buy Russian weapons, they can certainly get under US sanctions.
In general, there is an impression that in conditions when the president of the country is such an unpredictable leader, and the Congress is a collection of Russophobes, one must be ready for anything. Agree, the inclusion in the "Kremlin list" of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is beyond the bounds of common sense!
But, I think, all the same, that it is not worth exaggerating the possibilities of the United States.
Obviously, sanctions will be increased not only to keep Russia economically. The US will try to use all possible levers, because their role in the world is decreasing.
According to some estimates, starting around 2025, the US will lose control over the world's money. And in the period 2025-2030 there will be an alternative global financial market.
That is, the US is not very large in terms of time.
The second point: to go ahead against everyone from Washington is not very successful. A vivid example is the very nuclear deal with Iran. In fact, Europe is no longer going to what the States want from it. It is quite clear that the US is not a superhero that can do anything. Rather, they are now acting as a destroyer, ready to do anything to preserve world leadership.
I believe that it is necessary to oppose the actions and threats of the US not with some single countermeasures, but with collective solutions to problems, for example, on behalf of the Eurasian Economic Union, the SCO, and other structures. It is very important that this is an international format. The stronger will be international resistance, including with the participation of Europeans, the easier it will be to keep the United States from those steps that could lead to painful consequences.
In conclusion, I note one more important point. Russia stands for Eurasian integration in any formats, for the development of partnership in the space of "Great Eurasia". But the states of Central Asia should understand: if they have problems, no one except Russia will help them. Only Russia is really interested in their stability, since this is a factor of Russia's stability. The US - overseas, they do not care whether there will be destabilization in the region or not.
Developing cooperation with other partners, all elites of the Central Asian states should proceed from this obvious fact and, acting in the concept of multi-vector, do not create unnecessary problems for their neighbors.
Interviewed by Olga Kazantseva