Foreign Affairs
How can Russia influence Central Asia?

Central Asia is a region comprising five countries, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The region is strategically significant due to its location, rich natural resources, and historical and cultural ties with neighbouring countries. Russia has maintained a dominant position in Central Asia, mainly through its economic, political, and military influence.

Economic Influence

One of the most potent tools that Russia uses to influence Central Asian states is its economic power. The region’s economies are heavily dependent on Russia for trade, investment, and energy. According to data from the World Bank, the five Central Asian countries’ total exports to Russia account for more than 30% of their GDP. Russia’s energy exports, including oil and gas, are a vital source of revenue for the region.

Russia’s economic influence is based on its control of the region’s energy resources. The country has significant oil and gas reserves, and it uses its position as a supplier to influence the Central Asian states’ policies. For instance, in 2015, Russia’s Gazprom cut gas supplies to Ukraine, which also affected the supply to several Central Asian countries that rely on Russia for gas. This move demonstrated Russia’s ability to use its energy exports to exert pressure on its neighbours.

Another way Russia exerts its economic influence in the region is through investment. Russia is one of the largest investors in Central Asia, with investments in various sectors such as energy, transportation, and telecommunications. For instance, in 2019, Russia’s state-owned energy giant, Rosneft, signed a deal with Uzbekistan to invest $4 billion in the country’s energy sector.

Moreover, Russia’s membership in various economic organizations such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) has significant economic implications for Central Asia. The EEU is a regional trade bloc comprising Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan. The bloc aims to promote economic integration and increase trade among its members. As the dominant member of the bloc, Russia can use the EEU to influence Central Asian states’ economic policies.

Political Influence

Russia’s political influence in Central Asia is based on several factors, including historical ties, cultural and linguistic similarities, and shared security concerns. Russia has long-standing ties with the region, and its cultural and linguistic links make it easier for Russia to exert its political influence in the region.

Russia’s political influence in Central Asia is evident in its close relations with the region’s leaders. Many of the Central Asian states’ leaders have close ties with Russia, having received their education or worked in Russia. This familiarity helps Russia to influence these leaders’ policies and decisions. For example, in 2019, the former president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had close ties with Russia, resigned from office and was replaced by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who also has close ties with Russia.

Another way Russia exerts political influence in the region is through military cooperation. Russia maintains military bases in several Central Asian countries, including Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. These bases serve as a strategic foothold for Russia in the region and provide it with a military advantage.

  • Economic ties: Russia can maintain its influence over Central Asian states by strengthening economic ties through trade agreements, investment, and joint projects. By increasing economic interdependence, Russia can become a critical partner and a source of economic stability for Central Asian countries.
  • Security cooperation: Russia can maintain its influence by cooperating on security issues such as counter-terrorism, drug trafficking, and border control. Russia has been the primary security partner for Central Asian countries and can use this role to exert political influence.
  • Diplomatic engagement: Russia can maintain its influence by engaging in diplomacy with Central Asian countries. This includes high-level visits, diplomatic exchanges, and participation in regional organizations such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
  • Cultural ties: Russia can maintain its influence by promoting cultural ties with Central Asian countries. This includes the promotion of the Russian language and culture, educational exchanges, and cultural events.
  • Military presence: Russia can maintain its influence by maintaining a military presence in Central Asia. Russia has military bases in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan, and can use these bases to project military power and influence.

Russia’s ability to maintain its influence over Central Asian states will depend on its ability to balance its economic, security, diplomatic, and cultural engagement with these countries.

Military influence

Russia has a significant military influence in Central Asian states, which stems from its historical and cultural ties with the region, as well as its strategic interests in maintaining regional stability and countering potential security threats.

Russia maintains military bases in several Central Asian states, including Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. These bases serve as important logistical hubs for Russian military operations in the region, as well as a means for projecting Russian military power in Central Asia.

Russia also conducts military exercises with Central Asian countries, which serve as a means of training and building interoperability between the Russian and Central Asian militaries. These exercises also help to maintain and strengthen Russia’s military presence in the region.

In addition to its military bases and exercises, Russia provides military aid and training to Central Asian countries, which helps to build their military capabilities and foster closer military ties with Russia. For example, Russia has provided military equipment and training to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to help them secure their borders and combat terrorism and drug trafficking.

Russia’s military influence in Central Asia is significant, and it is likely to remain an important factor in the region’s security and stability for the foreseeable future.

Central Asian statesEconomic InfluenceHow can Russia influence Central Asia?KazakhstanKyrgyzstanMilitary influencePolitical InfluenceRussiaTajikistanTurkmenistanUzbekistan