Checkmate and Stalemate in Central Asia

ALMATY, Apr 13

(Akela group)

Central Asia has always been a peripheral region, yet it has been and remains a place for collisions of interest for different countries.

Recently interest in the region had significantly increased. This was connected with Russia's policies intended to provoke and the systematic crisis of relations between the U.S.A. and Central Asian countries. Washington tried to settle all its tasks in Central Asia at once, yet it did not suggest any scaled alternative decisions.

The U.S.A. has done its best to weaken Russia's positions in the region yet has not tackled the Iranian question, but merely pursued its economic interests and demanded democratic reforms. Only the Baku-Ceykhan pipeline, which is still in the air, was proposed as an alternative solution.

On the other hand, Russia possessing all advantages in the region, in terms of transport and informational streams, along with its new leader and the idea of power, is ready to dominate in the region. However the problem is that Moscow's resources are not enough to realise such significant tasks. Such a situation provides a stalemate. Neither the U.S.A. nor Russia can offer any serious proposals, primarily the required economic ones, to Central Asian countries.

It is surprising, but it is Russia that is guiding democratic trends in the region, while the U.S.A., after serious criticism of both the presidential and parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan, and now before Madeleine Albright's visit, is �alarmed by some restrictions in democracy and other fields� (underlined by AG, read the detailed information in THE GLOBE, 04.04.2000). Undoubtedly, Russia is doing this unwittingly.

In fact, we want to draw attention to the fact that the stalemate situation cannot last for long, and moreover, during this period the reserves of the Central Asian countries are not being used to full benefit. This stalemate situation varies depending on hopes for oil (but the transportation problem has not been settled), and on the cumulation of lethargy and resignation by society over the issues.

It was not incidental that Kurt Wolebek, before he left the OSCE chairman post, announced that a far worse crisis than in the Balkans could break out in Central Asia.

A slow decay to this crisis may cause a powerful social blow, possibly, international.

Not considering the details, we would like to give a general overview of the delicate issues for Central Asia, separating the economic, political and social blocks. We repeat once again that we do not give any details and hope to return to each of them later.

The economic block:

- crisis of industrial and agricultural production;

- instability of the stock market;

- inflation;

- underdevelopment of the market infrastructure;

- illegitimacy of the private ownership institution (first of all, absence of a law on private ownership on the land);

- deficit of both internal savings and foreign investments;

- migration of manpower resources.

The political block:

- inert development of democratic institutions;

- undifferentiated branches of power;

- orientation to authoritarian models of political system;

- irrationality of the elective system, and its replacement by a model of patronage-client relations;

- orientation to building of an ethnic-centrist (ethnocratical) state;

- absence of the opposition and its weak consolidation.

The social block:

- empoverishment and marginalisation of the population;

- dominating �tribal� culture of the agricultural society over modernisation ideas;

- �escaping freedom� phenomenon as a result of the development of the quasi-market;

- the population's alienation from market reforms;

- interethnic problems;

- forming big areas of interethnic tension and ethno-confessional opposition.

Policy Expert Says Moscow Seeks No Domination

Moscow does not seek to dominate, a Russian authorised expert explains below. He emphasises that Russia has insufficient economic resources to be active in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In our opinion, Russia has a range of serious advantages above other countries to dominate in the above-mentioned regions, yet its economic potential is indeed lacking in this aim. At the same time, the stirring up of the region by Russian business, namely by the big players namely, is obvious. For example, the return of Gasprom and Itera instead of Tractebel, to Kazakhstan, the agreement over supplies of Turkmen gas to Russia, and the establishment of the company UralFEC (fuel and energy complex) with the participation of the Russian JSC Single Power System. Moreover, it seems that LUKoil is aiming at controlling Uzen, the biggest oilfield in Kazakhstan. All this is on the one hand yet on the other hand, there is the announcement by the Russian deputy Prime Minister Hristenko that �Caspian resources must be utilised jointly by all Caspian countries, and not to be divided into national sectors,� which is contrary to the previous agreements for division of the northern part of the Caspian seabed, concluded between Kazakhstan and Russia. There is also a statement by the deputy Speaker of the GosDuma Nemtsov, that Russia's economic and political sanctions against countries discriminating against his compatriots could be applied to Kazakhstan.

The author's views that Russia's intellectual forces understand the necessity of different transport routes of Caspian oil are also questionable. After a political agreement on the Baku-Ceykhan project had been signed by Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and the U.S.A., in fact all political forces in Russia, seriously criticised �abstainers�. Here we should again remind readers of Hristenko's statement. Furthermore, according to the Russian authorised expert, even if the present agreement is valid, Russia will be able to impede development of the Kazakh part of the Caspian shelf, as waters are in common use.

Akela group

By Michael Lelyveld

Boston, Apr 10


A top Russian policy expert has assured specialists at Harvard University that Moscow has no plans to restore Soviet domination in the Caucasus and Central Asian regions.

The assurance comes from Vitaly Naumkin, president of the International Center for Strategic and Political Studies in Moscow. Naumkin, a professor and former adviser on foreign policy, painted the issue of Russian influence as a matter of economics.

Said Naumkin: �I cannot see any serious efforts to rebuild this empire.�

He added: �In order to be more active in this region, you have to pay a lot. These countries, they need investment, they need money. I don't think that Russia is well prepared to do that at the expense of its interests.�

Russia's priorities are security and its own economy, said Naumkin, who also heads the Middle East Department of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Russia previously pursued a �triad� strategy in the �near abroad� of maintaining CIS border guards, military bases, and peacekeeping forces. But, he said, its commitments have steadily �eroded.� Naumkin predicted: �Nothing will be left of this triad.�

Naumkin's analysis comes at a time of high interest in the future policies of President-elect Vladimir Putin. The continuing war in Chechnya has kept the Caucasus on edge, while both Russian and U.S. officials have raised concerns about potential terrorist threats in Central Asia.

But in speaking Friday to an audience at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Naumkin downplayed reports of an East-West struggle for influence. Naumkin said Russian policy experts do not see relations in the region in terms of conflict but as a series of �red-line� issues that should not be crossed.

Any move to establish a western military presence in the region would be seen as a red-line issue, he indicated, although he doubted that there is any likelihood for such a move. In response to a question from RFE/RL, Naumkin said the same attitude does not extend to the building of U.S.-backed pipelines from the Caspian region.

�I don't think that there is a red line for Russia,� said Naumkin, speaking of the Baku-Ceyhan oil line and trans-Caspian gas pipeline.

He said: �Everybody understands that there is a necessity to diversify the routes of transportation. Nobody is going to rely upon the northern route. I think that everybody who is serious in his estimations understands this in Russia.�

The assessment of competition in the region was far milder than the one given last fall by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, who charged the United States with pursuing policies to oust Russia from the Caspian region.

Naumkin said: �All the problem is that there is a suspicion that by giving too much weight to different options other than to Russia, that there is a political desire, not to oust Russia from the region, but to damage relations between Russia and these states.� Naumkin said.

He said: �I think the most reasonable part of the Russian political elite understands that the diversification of routes is inevitable, that it (does) not necessarily contradict the interests of Russia. On the contrary, if these states manage to provide a high economic level of development for themselves ... it will be better for Russia, because we need a stable southern belt.�

Naumkin's comments on relations came as the United States has dispatched the heads of several key agencies to the region. In recent weeks, the directors of both the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have visited Central Asian capitals, reportedly to discuss terrorism, drug interdiction and other issues. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is also scheduled to visit Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan this month.

On a question about Chechnya, Naumkin also discounted the concern among Caucasus countries about Russian troop presence in the area.

He said: �I don't think anyone wants to pressure Georgia or Azerbaijan.�

During recent visits to Middle East countries, Naumkin said he had found clear evidence that Islamic fighters were passing through Georgia on the way to Chechnya, using tourist visas. But he also suggested that tensions have eased because Georgia has reached an understanding with Russia that its territory should not be used as an access route for the war.

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