Kremlin Ex Machina

Post image for Kremlin Ex Machina

by Nathan Hamm on 4/3/2012 · 5 comments

Russia clearly has influence and leverage in Central Asia like no other power. Russian remains the lingua franca of the region. The region’s economies connects to the world largely through infrastructure that flows through Russia. Household economies too, are kept afloat by opportunities to work in Russia. The Russian security and intelligence organs maintain robust links directly to important individuals throughout Central Asia.

Just how influential is Russia, though? A large chunk of the analysis in the media, especially from pundits, and from politicians fails to quantify Russia’s role and influence. When there are so many avenues through which Russia can exert influence in Central Asia, it becomes easy to reflexively point to Russia as the root cause for almost everything under the sun.

To wit, the founder of WND (your exclusive source for the political commentary of Chuck Norris!) says that Russia is behind Uzbekistan’s unpredictable and greedy responses to requests from the US to move specific equipment on the NDN.

Uzbekistan has offered the most direct route into Afghanistan but now it is raising the ante just as neighboring Kyrgyzstan similarly began to make it more difficult for the U.S. to use Manas Air Base for supply efforts.

Both appear to be responding to pressure from Moscow to make it more difficult and more expensive to provide the supplies. Now, the Pentagon is looking to use the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan trucking route.

Not even a shred of evidence is offered to back up the claim that Russia has anything to do with Uzbekistan’s behavior. And it is absurd to imply in a round-about way that the KKT route, which traverses three countries where Russia’s influence is usually more strongly felt, would in some way avoid this problem of Russia trying to gum up the works. But hey, rather than quote anyone, look for some evidence, or display higher-level reasoning, just blame Russia, right? This article comes from WND’s premium weekly global intelligence bulletin, and it’s probably safe to assume seeing Russia behind vast geostrategic plots plays well with their subscriber base.

This question does not need a very complicated answer. Several reporters and news outlets have reported the fairly simple math of what is going on. ISAF members with large troop contingents need exit routes from Afghanistan. Central Asia is the most reliable route, and governments there are seeking to maximize profits from the withdrawal. Really, this is dirt simple if you accept that these governments actually have their own agency. They know that the cheaper route, Pakistan, is unreliable, especially for the United States, and they are negotiating as big a paycheck as possible, sometimes waiting to see what their neighbor is able to get before agreeing themselves to move some type of materiel (at a slightly higher price!).

Pointing the finger at Russia for this kind of behavior has real consequences. At least in the United States, where politicians must sufficiently demonstrate that they have the vapors and a plan to respond to every single crisis ginned up by the need to fill multiple 24-hour news channels, we end up with leaders huffing and puffing and throwing a wrench in US-Russia relations. Perhaps more importantly though, blaming Russia gives Central Asian governments a bit more leverage in negotiations, allowing them to up the price to offset the overstated pressure they claim to be getting from the Kremlin.

Post photo by Flickr user moaksey.


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This post was written by...

– author of 2992 posts on Registan.net.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 5 comments }

upyernoz April 4, 2012 at 9:12 am

And it is absurd to imply in a round-about way that the KKT route, which traverses three countries where Russia’s influence is usually more strongly felt, would in some way avoid this problem of Russia trying to gum up the works.

even more absurd: doesn’t both the KKT route and the standard (Kz-Uz) northern delivery route involve goods traveling through russia before they reach central asia? there’s no need for russia to lean on uzbekistan in the hopes that they might make the allies’ shipping more difficult, the russians can easily do it themselves when the materials are passing through russian territory before they reach central asia.

Nathan Hamm April 4, 2012 at 9:23 am

Exactly. (There is a route that avoids Russia by going through the south Caucasus, but it sucks even more.)

I think the story goes that Russia plays the cooperative partner role and then uses its minions to undermine the US. But the reality is that Russia could turn this off, which, since they’re giving us a base transit center in Ulyanovsk, they don’t seem to want to do in the slightest.

Dilshod April 5, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Let me offer my very IMHO reading. Uzbekistan’s offer to use its transport facilities didn’t bother Moscow, as she was “consulted” about that. What bothered Russia was perhaps the US announcement that it may leave its non-essential military equipment to Tashkent. When you make this kind of offer, it may also mean that you want closer military ties. Moscow could have contacted Tashkent to warn against becoming too close to the US. (Of course, money argument is tough to discard too).

Mr. X April 6, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Keep up the good work, Mr. Hamm. If you’re pissing off Twitter mobs who describe thousands of college kids turning out to see Ron Paul as joining a “neo-Confederate hayride”, you and Joshua Foust must be doing something right.

Mr. X April 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm

And re: Josh’s other tweet on Rich Lowry, well, nobody wanted Lowry fired as editor of National Review for saying leave poor Ben Bernanke alone in 2009, even though a pro-establishment conservative like WFB would’ve been appalled. Not because WFB had a problem with the Fed per se mind you, but because Bernanke is destroying the reputation that Paul Volcker built up for that institution and letting the cat out of the bag that it is privately held.

But hey, forget boring old topics like the destruction of the dollar, let’s have yet another pointless discussion about race in America, people find that more interesting.

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