CAISS Acting Director Anna Gussarova on Russian Security Strategy in Central Asia.
Russian interests in Central Asia have consistently focused on security and economic cooperation within a number of multilateral institutions. With the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, efforts to counter violent extremism and drug trafficking have become the most important areas of interaction.
Contemporary relations in Central Asia increasingly resemble classical game theory, specifically the prisoner’s dilemma and the Nash equilibrium. Even though it would be in their best interest to cooperate, the players choose not to and instead opt to maximize their individual gains. One clear example is the lack of cooperation among the Central Asian countries in their foreign and economic policies. Another is the stance of the Kremlin, which perceives itself as being involved in a zero-sum contest for regional influence with other external powers. As for the United States and the EU, their strategies in Central Asia have set other priorities and lie within strategic long-term programs.
Facing competition among external actors and emerging challenges, Central Asian leaders and experts have formed certain attitudes toward their countries’ relations with Russia, sometimes referred to as “forced interdependence.” On the one hand, they criticize Russia’s foreign policy and global ambitions, even within intergovernmental bodies and organizations. On the other, they recognize that downgrading bilateral relations with Russia can harm their countries and citizens in important ways (including with regard to labor migration, dual citizenships, and water and energy resources, among other factors). As a result, Russia often plays leading roles in foreign and economic relations with Central Asia states, including as a source of remittances and as a rule-setter on trade.
However, recent developments—including the economic crisis, the western sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, and the falling oil prices—have forced Central Asian countries to seek alternative solutions to contemporary challenges without openly confronting Moscow. At the same time, in Central Asia and in Kazakhstan in particular, Russia’s influence has been largely mythologized, and its role in both national and regional security has not been properly and honestly discussed. Different fears and phobias still influence the decision-making process, including those over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea, the concept of the “Russian World” as a pillar of its national identity, and its soft power. Meanwhile, the Kremlin itself seeks to combat myth-making and anti-Russian information campaigns in mass and social media, while stressing integration projects and cultivating its image abroad.
Full memo can be found here