Hugh Pope on Central Asia After Turkmenbashi

by Laurence on 1/30/2007 · 1 comment

The author of Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World is bullish on the future of the region in the post-Turkmenbashi era–although he cautions against Western attempts at regime change. An excerpt from his op-ed in the St. Petersburg (Russia) Times:

There are plenty of reasons that the West should work harder, however. Right now, Russia and China are busily gaining ground, new oil and gas developments are pointing east rather than west, and in 2005 the United States lost one of its two air bases used in support of its troops in Afghanistan. Since June 2001, a regional security grouping, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, has deliberately excluded the United States and privileges Russia and China. Turkmenistan’s existing gas exports are mainly to Russia’s Gazprom, but the change in leadership is an opportunity for the West to try for new fields; the likely new president is a Turkmen nationalist and can be wooed. Europe, in particular, can no longer count on this kind of work being done by the United States. In Kazakhstan, the regime is prickly because of a U.S. court action accusing the president of taking bribes. Central Asian states in general are convinced that the U.S. “freedom agenda” aims at regime change along the lines of popular revolutions-cum-coups since 2003 in Georgia, Ukraine and Central Asia’s own Kyrgyzstan.

As German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after touring the region in December, Central Asia has an “urgent desire” for an EU role. After all, Central Asians know that it is not their own strength, but the balance of superpowers around them that has given them what independence they have so far enjoyed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Throughout the region, this independence has allowed new national cultures to put down roots. Apart from the Persian-speaking Tajiks, these cultures are mainly Turkic. As they look forward, policymakers should consider parallels with the development of Central Asians’ ethnic cousins in Turkey. Since 1923, the Turkish model has moved from one-party state to clumsy democracy to broader freedoms. Along the way, prosperity, stability and interaction with the outside world have been the most important inputs, not high-minded and under-informed sermons from afar.

Indeed, the draft ideas for a new set of EU priorities in Central Asia are well-advised in focusing on the lifting of poverty as a key first step. In December, Germany’s Steinmeier himself noted that in the case of Russia, “we will not be able to influence things our way through criticism alone.” Why should Central Asia be any different?

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{ 1 comment }

Joshua Foust January 30, 2007 at 9:07 pm

Sounds familiar 🙂

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