Russia is apparently concerned that some Central Asian countries might still be in the Western camp. TASS state media in Moscow said today that “some Central Asian countries are signaling that they could join Western sanctions on Russia,” according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin. Galuzin was speaking at an event of the Valdai Discussion Club in Tomsk.
"Even as we share the view that unilateral economic restrictions are unacceptable and illegitimate, some Central Asian countries nevertheless do not want to take risks and indicate they are prepared to comply with Western restrictive measures."Mikhail Galuzin
"Even as we share the view that unilateral economic restrictions are unacceptable and illegitimate, some Central Asian countries nevertheless do not want to take risks and indicate they are prepared to comply with Western restrictive measures," the deputy minister said. Russia has an alphabet soup of organizations that it says have “mutual obligations” and thus should prevent these countries, which were former Soviet Republics from doing things that annoy Moscow. Russia references the CSTO, EAEU and CIS as examples.
"We are confident that this much is clearly visible and understood in the Central Asian capitals: Artificial destruction of ties with Russia can result in more serious damage than the costs of the notorious secondary sanctions," the Russian went on to say.
TASS claims that “The deputy minister said Russia is focused on consistently strengthening the strategic partnership with the countries of Central Asia.”
Why do Russia’s concerns matter?
In part, because Iran thinks they matter. Iran’s Fars News reprinted the Russian comments. Iran has its own inroads and interest in Central Asia. It has opened a drone factory in Tajikistan. Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen was recently in Turkmenistan to open an embassy. The US has previously had good ties with Uzbekistan. There are also issues that affect Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
These countries are also members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which includes China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan and now also includes India, Pakistan and also Iran and other Gulf states are seeking to join or become partners.
Turkmenistan views itself as a neutral state and is not a member of the SCO. Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military alliance includes Armenia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
Regarding the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was formed after the USSR, Turkmenistan did not ratify the charter, but kept participating without being a member. The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU or EEU) is an economic union that includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, as well as Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.
An article at Politico’s EU edition recently noted that “Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are the most likely first targets of a radical new EU proposal to stop Russia busting sanctions by importing the high-tech components required to wage war through its neighbors. The EU is moving toward its 11th package of sanctions against Russia to try to sap President Vladimir Putin's military machine and, for the first time, its proposal will include counter-measures against countries helping Moscow dodge Brussels' trade embargo. China and Turkey are the nations most often credited with throwing Russia an economic lifeline.”
It was assumed that the US leaving Afghanistan would mean that Central Asian countries would assume they have been abandoned to the Russia-China anaconda, meaning they don’t have much choice anyway in these issues.
But the recent concern from Moscow shows that Russia thinks these states may be wavering. These countries have an important role to play not only in the various groupings mentioned above but also in the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia.
These countries host many meetings and have had a key role in these groupings historically. As such they continue to carry a lot of weight, despite the US leaving Afghanistan and a sense that the West may be in decline in some areas of the world.