The United States and Russia Fighting for Influence in Central Asia

Two incidents that happened recently in Central Asia are noteworthy: First, the Russian military planned to expand its Black Sea fleet by another 15 new ships; second, the United States prepared to build military bases in Central Asian countries. After the riot in Kyrgyzstan in June, the situation in Central Asia is becoming more stabilized. The U.S. and Russia are in regular contacts with Central Asian countries again.

For Russia, strengthening its military presence in Kyrgyzstan is an important move to establish its position in Central Asia. Russian Air Force commander General Alexander Zelin said that they might expand Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan’s acting interim Minister of Foreign Affairs Ruslan Kazakbayev said recently that they might plan to build a second Russian base in Kyrgyzstan. Some critics say that Russia and Kyrgyzstan have discussed the problem of setting up the new base since the era of Bakiyev. Now, with both sides speaking the same language, it further indicates that both countries have reached a consensus.

Meanwhile, the Russian government decided to provide an additional assistance of $10 million, 20,000 tons of diesel and 1,500 tons of wheat seed as humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan. In addition, both countries had reached a preliminary agreement on the abolishment of duty on fuel supply to reduce the Kyrgyz domestic gasoline and diesel prices.

Russian’s influence in Central Asian countries is obvious. Nevertheless, Russia still wants to “appease” these “little brothers” from time to time with acts such as providing financial assistance or debt reduction. Otherwise, these countries will turn to the U.S. for assistance. This is the relationship between Russian and Central Asian countries, especially Russia-Kyrgyzstan and Russian-Tajik relations — a strange phenomenon.

Faced with this “strange phenomenon,” Russia has to ensure its absolute economic influence on these countries and to deploy more limitary bases in Central Asia.

In the case for Kyrgyzstan, Russia is obviously in a better position than the U.S. Therefore, the U.S. has switched their focus to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan instead, while maintaining a good relationship with Kyrgyzstan.

Uzbekistan is the country that “rejected” Russia and other Central Asian countries the most; it is considered a “different” country by Russia. This is a great condition for the U.S. to develop a closer relationship with Uzbekistan. After the September 11th attacks, U.S.-Uzbekistan relationship was warm. The U.S. set up a military base in Uzbekistan to support Afghanistan war. Their bilateral relationship, however, ended following the Andijan incident in 2005, which led to the closure of the American base in the country and sanctions by European countries for a long time.

Their relationship developed rapidly after the riot in Kyrgyzstan this year. Since Uzbekistan’s independence, the U.S. has invested $500 million. When their relationship cools down, the U.S. will not hesitate to extend more economic assistance to Uzbekistan.

U.S.-Tajikistan relations have been lukewarm. However, it should be noted that the U.S. recently decided to allocate $10 million to assist in the building of a military training center. Some commentators believe that the training center might develop into a military base in the future.

Some analysts believe that the U.S. policy in Central Asia has become more pragmatic; they are using money to form relationships. They attempt to use economic means to exert political influence on Central Asian countries. Even if it does not work, they can always come back again using the name of democracy to impose sanctions.

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