We always knew 2014 was going to be a year of Eurasian shift. The American withdrawal from Afghanistan, pegged to 2014, coincided with Washington’s pivot to East Asia – as well as the Americans’ unceremonious eviction from the Manas Transit Center, their most noteworthy placeholder in Central Asia. And as soon as Viktor Yanukovych made his decision to pull back from signing the Association Agreement with the European Union in late November, it seemed but a matter of time before rumbles would reach Moscow, and return in some form.
But it’s tough to find any who thought the reverberations would find themselves rumbling this wide, this quickly. And it’s due to that combination – of the American withdrawal, and the Russian recalibration – that I thought it worth examining the Central Asia of 2014, and the Central Asia of the near future. Because while the Americans fade, and while the Russians, despite their security provisions, find their economy and weight faltering, we see a new, concerted effort from the Chinese to pick up the regional slack.
At The Moscow Times, I tried to examine how Russia’s blinkered policies have helped redirect Central Asian gas from Moscow’s control to a waiting Beijing:
However, [Russia] supplying Korea remains a long-term project, and Azerbaijan’s prospective recruitment to the [Eurasian Union] remains far from firm. More likely is that Baku will increase transit cooperation with Turkmenistan. Central Asia will likely play a notable role in Seoul’s energy needs, too. Russia will be present, but in a capacity as diminished as its clout and constancy in Brussels and Washington.Moscow’s focus on the European market allowed China to co-opt Central Asian supplies and become an influential regional player. The Kremlin’s unabated aggression surrounding Ukraine, meanwhile, is likely to intensify the EU’s search for alternatives to Russian energy, while sanctions, both potential and realized, continue to bite. Russia seems to have unwittingly backed itself into a corner and has no one to blame but itself.
Likewise, the crew at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty allowed me to take a look at the chauvinism driving Putin’s policies, and shuffling Central Asia that much further toward China:
All means, as Putin relays, remain available to Moscow — all methods to shield any who would wish to be part of this “Russky Mir” (Russian world). Economic pressure. Military presence. Protection from Western encroachment and the Russophobic masses, by any means necessary.Indeed, the claim — delimited by neither ethnicity nor border, but simply by putative desire — is a remarkable one. Its neo-imperialistic subtext seethes through the transcript. … So, yes, Putin can prattle on about Russian hegemony, post-Soviet linkage, and cultural parallels, and his workers can plaster jaundice-colored texts outside as many embassies as they please. But that rhetoric — that threat — only expedites the reality. Central Asia is moving toward China. And Russian influence, or its long-term potential, is a mirage, fast fading.
This year, we knew, was going to matter. But we’re barely halfway through, and the regional repercussions are more than we could have reasonably imagined. All the while, China waits, and spends, and coaxes, subtly. And with the latest news out of Xinjiang, with reports of nearly 100 dead and the imam of the nation’s largest mosque assassinated, Chinese interest in the region is only going to continue — carrying the regional benefits of 2014 with it.
(Map courtesy Moscow Times.)