Whither Central Asia?
No. 4 2003 October/December

The historic destinies of the five post-Soviet states that make
up Central Asia are predetermined by their geographic locations.
They are destined to choose their paths while forever keeping in
mind that the two great powers of Russia and China are adjacent to
them. And given the realities of the present, they must also take
into account a third power – the United States of America, which,
considering its modern foreign policy, may be deemed “a neighboring
country for all nations worldwide.”

As a physicist by profession I find it helpful to characterize
the current situation in Central Asia in terms of the well-known
dynamic equation; this describes a system composed of three objects
and a number of associated discrete elements. In this particular
instance, the Central Asian countries are the associated elements
forming the system. The equation has a set of solutions; it is
necessary to determine the best solutions for meeting the interests
of both the three objects in question and the associated elements.
It is obvious that for the latter only those solutions are
acceptable that provide enough freedom for their consistent
national development. Although this scheme looks rather
metaphysical, it closely approximates the present-day global and
regional political realities.

Today, no major international development can be analyzed
without regard for the American factor. The events of September
11th appear to challenge not only U.S. foreign policy and the
international rule of order, but global stability as well. Guided
by the principle “Those who are not with us are against us,” the
United States responded to those attacks in a harsh manner, while
enjoying the full support of the world community. World history has
never witnessed instances of such a prompt establishment of a
global antiterrorist coalition and the subsequent launch of its

Although the situation in Afghanistan is not easy going, some of
the actions initiated by the coalition forces have been obviously
positive. A decrease in tensions there has been particularly
obvious for the Central Asian countries, which volunteered to join,
together with Russia, a broad international coalition. As one
result, they permitted the use of their national infrastructures.
This was a notable example of collective efforts initiated on a
global scale.

Developments in Iraq have followed a different scenario. Now
that the dust of war has settled on Iraq’s soil, we can draw some
preliminary conclusions, as well as risk some forecasts. I
personally believe that whatever does transpire, the threat of WMD
proliferation will never derive from Iraq; the very basis of WMD
development has been undermined once and for all. At present, the
process of democratization in Iraq seems irreversible. Even the
authoritarianism of the Soviet Union, one of the world’s harshest
and seemingly most unshakable regimes, collapsed only a few years
after perestroika had begun.

Over the past 12 years the CIS countries have been creating
democratic societies, each one following its own scenario. There is
no universal formula for building democracy that would be
acceptable at any particular time or place. This truth has been
confirmed by the developments across the post-Soviet space. Iraq is
no exception and it will certainly travel its own way toward
democracy; what is essential is that there is no stopping the
democratic processes in that country. I believe that similar
processes will occur across the entire Middle East, which is
currently the most turbulent part of the world but will,
nevertheless, become a new island of democracy in the future. This
means that the world is going to be a more secure place. The Middle
East, more than any other part of the world, requires a prudent
policy. Its basics should be laid by the great powers, such as
Russia and the United States. In this context, the growing
cooperation between these two states inspires optimism.

Over the last 12 years a number of newly independent states have
emerged from the post-Soviet space. This has become possible only
due to the mass growth of national self-consciousness among their
populations. Today, nobody would question the economic and
political viability of the newly independent states of Central Asia
– and this against the background of the so-called ‘failed states.’
The newly independent states of Central Asia have gained a strong
foothold and are looking into the future with confidence. This
means that together they have become an important geopolitical
factor and can claim an independent niche in world politics.

At the same time, although the Central Asian sovereignties
declare to be coequal, with a high level of democratization in
their interstate relations, only a limited number of the large
Central Asian states have been recognized as genuine actors in the
international arena, and not without reservation. Judging by the
publications of such political science pundits as Henry Kissinger
and Zbigniew Brzezinski, as well as many other analysts, the U.S.
seems to be the only country that possesses the undisputable right
to defend its national interests and moral values, whereas the rest
of the world is predestined to honor their plans. Attempts by other
countries to pursue independent policies that are aimed at meeting
their own national interests provoke evident irritation among some
U.S. policymakers. Practically all of the leading political
research centers – and these are predominately located in the U.S.
and other developed Western nations – frame their concepts of
today’s world order following the U.S. or Western-oriented models;
minor countries have no comparable research centers that could
reach the level of the think-tanks available to the major
countries. Meanwhile, a balanced foreign policy can hardly be
developed without an in-depth analysis of the latest theories and

A heated discussion has been underway of late as to what should
be done with the United Nations. Some are willing to abandon this
organization that has readily served humanity for the past 58
years. These individuals are attempting to use the UN as a
scapegoat for their own failures. In any case, the great powers
usually find a way out by forming organizations, alliances and
blocs on their own models. Take, for example, the idea of a world
government which seems to be justifiable in the context of
globalization. There has been a persistent call for this idea to be
applied to the G8. However, that would amount to a government of
oligarchs, albeit comprised of honorable members of the world

If the United Nations collapses, a smashing blow would befall in
the first place to the interests of the minor countries. The UN,
together with the associated family of international organizations,
is the only forum where minor countries can voice their opinions in
order to be heeded and understood. I personally insist on not only
retaining the United Nations, but reinforcing its prerogative power
and responsibility, which certainly implies that it should be
reorganized with due regard for the new international

In which direction are the foreign policy initiatives of the
Central Asian countries moving? As it stands, their foreign policy
priorities vary rather substantially; some Central Asian countries
appear to be Russia-oriented, whereas others are more
U.S.-oriented. The point is that the 12 years that have passed
since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough time to
determine the priorities and build a balanced, well-coordinated
system of external ties. The foreign policies of Central Asian
countries are influenced by the diversity of the domestic and
external factors. Of crucial importance are the deeply rooted
internal factors such as the history of the region, mentality of
the people, cultural values, national traditions and customs,
international ties, and so on. However, the Russian factor, in my
view, is of primary importance. The proximity of Russia has played
a dominant role in determining the historical development of the
peoples of Central Asia.

The views concerning Russia’s role in the history of Central
Asia differ tremendously. Basically, a negative view has been
associated with the colonial policy pursued by Russia in the 19th
century. It is, however, my firm belief that at that time in
history there were no other alternatives: it was impossible to
unite into a single state at that time. Attempts to do so would
have led to feuds and conflicts that could have ruined us all. It
is noteworthy that Russian colonialism was much more liberal than
the classic type of colonialism that anchored itself in Africa and
Asia for a long time.

I can only note with gratitude that Russia has played a special
role in the history of the Kyrgyz people, especially during the
initial years of Soviet rule. The incorporation of the Kyrgyz
Autonomous Republic into the Russian Soviet Federative Republic
prevented the Kyrgyz from being absorbed by other peoples of
Turkistan and eventually facilitated the development of Kyrgyzstan
into a sovereign state.

Those citizens of the Central Asian countries who possess good
common sense and are free from nationalistic prejudices are well
aware of Russia’s positive role in developing the region. The
Soviet epoch was really a sort of Renaissance for Central Asia in
terms of public health services, culture, education and science.
The Central Asians and the Russians maintain warm relations with
each other; these sentiments are rooted in a common history and
passed on to successive generations. It is because of Russia that
the world has learnt about those Central Asian cultures which have
retained their unique national features. There is still a strong
desire for studying the Russian language and culture, whereas the
attitude toward Western culture is more than reserved. Moscow
continues to be a center of cultural attraction for the peoples of
Central Asia. The processes of political and democratic
transformations that are underway within Russia and the Central
Asian nations are essentially the same. Built in accordance with a
common plan, the economic structures of Russia and Central Asia are
interrelated and complement each other. If Russia’s GDP doubles, as
has been expressed by President Vladimir Putin, Russia will emerge
as a locomotive for the Central Asian economies. The West will
never play such a role for us. It needs our raw materials rather
than products, whereas the Russian market is open to us to a much
greater extent. President Islam Karimov stated, after meeting
President Vladimir Putin in Uzbekistan last August: “True, not such
a long time ago we experienced some euphoria and oriented ourselves
toward far-away countries which we believed would fill the vacuum
following the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Now we realize that we have
made a lot of mistakes because of this euphoria.”

The now popular ‘civilized approach’ promises no problems for us
as well. If we proceed from Arnold Toynbee’s idea about the
historic destinies of world civilizations, we can assume that in
the Central Asian environment Islam and Orthodoxy make up a
harmonious symbiosis with obvious elements of a mega-civilization.
It may come to be called the Eurasian mega-civilization. Nowhere
else can such an inter-civilization understanding be found.

What is more important, as neighboring countries of a huge
Eurasian continent, we are equally interested in a common future of
prosperity. There is growing evidence of rapprochement between the
Central Asian countries and Russia, which has been confirmed by the
Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization, and many other intergovernmental treaties and
agreements. It is my firm belief that this tendency for
rapprochement with Russia will intensify.

Possibly my perceptions of the prospects for relations between
the Central Asian countries and Russia are too rosy? I am sure they
are quite realistic. We cannot live only for the needs of today and
tomorrow. Rulers come and go, as do political thrills, but these
are only transient phenomena. What remains unchanged is the
geopolitical factors and the peoples who keep age-old values and
traditions going strong. It was not by chance that Russia came to
Central Asia a long time ago. The road of their common historic
development has not been trouble-free, but at this new turn Central
Asia is sure to establish very special relations with Russia. The
Central Asian countries simply will have no future if they do not
cooperate closely with their old neighbor. However, Russia should
also make moves to foster such cooperation. Centuries of practice
have shown that only through our mutual efforts can we achieve the
maximum effect.

How free Russia and the Central Asian countries will be in
developing their relations depends largely on the policies pursued
by China and the United States. As has been demonstrated over the
past decade, China remains our good neighbor and seeks cooperation
with us in all fields. China’s present policy shows no aggressive
tendencies or annexation plans. We have settled, although not
without difficulties – caused partly by our own domestic problems –
the border demarcation issues inherited from Russia’s imperial and
Soviet times. I think that China is not concerned very much about
Russia’s growing influence in the region; Beijing is well aware
that Russia’s presence in Central Asia is natural for historic
reasons. However, the situation with the U.S. is quite the opposite
– it considers Central Asia to be part of its strategic interests.
U.S. politicians have been displaying increased attention to
Central Asia in the context of new threats associated with
international terrorism, drug trafficking, religious extremism and
other global challenges. The deployment of U.S. forces in the
region on the eve of the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan is
yet more proof of it.

Many observers believe that the policy being pursued by the U.S.
is designed to oust Russia from the region; consequently they view
the U.S. presence in Central Asia primarily in the light of the old
Russian-American confrontation. In my opinion, such a pessimistic
view is unjustified, especially since the length of the U.S.
presence in the region depends on many factors. If the U.S. really
seeks to oust Russia from the region, this is a shortsighted policy
that ignores the present realities. Kyrgyzstan maintains special
relations with Russia not because it is an adjacent state and the
U.S. is a distant country. The reason is that the history of the
region is the best advisor and we must pay heed to its voice.

Rational American politicians understand that any efforts to
gain a military and political bridgehead in the region are fraught
with the risk of getting between ‘the Russian hammer’ and ‘the
Chinese anvil.’ Moreover, such plans do not enjoy the support of
most Central Asian countries. Therefore, it seems that the
strategic interests of the United States can be realized through
other means than simply confrontational ones. A hotbed of
confrontation in Central Asia would only add to the numerous
bilateral problems that the U.S. and China have at the moment.

Under such circumstances, Russia’s chances for strengthening its
political position in the region are increasing. Therefore, the
above equation concerning the three ‘objects’ in Central Asia, as I
see it, can be solved in such a way that Russia will gain the most
advantage. Furthermore, there is yet another possibility being
discussed. According to Rajan Menon, a well-known American expert
on Asian affairs, it is unlikely that the United States will take
responsibility for security in Central Asia. If Russian-American
relations improve further, Washington may agree to Moscow’s
undisputable right to include Central Asia into the sphere of its
strategic interests. Should that be the case, Russia’s ‘Central
Asian mandate’ would be recognized by the entire international
community. In any event, Russia’s role in Central Asia will
continue to grow in the future. Therefore, any plans for driving
Russia out of the region are destined to fail.

The special nature of Kyrgyz-Russian relations necessarily
implies that they make a significant impact on the foreign policy
initiatives of other Central Asian countries. Our bilateral
relations seem to be a positive model to follow. They are based on
the Russian-Kyrgyz Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation and, what
is more important, on the Declaration on Eternal Friendship,
Alliance and Partnership signed in July 2000. Russia has never
signed treaties like these with any other countries. When President
Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Bishkek in December 2002, we signed
an Agreement on Security Cooperation. In October 2003, President
Putin inaugurated an air base in Kant (Kyrgyzstan) designed to be
used by the collective rapid deployment forces formed under the
Collective Security Treaty of CIS countries. In fact, we seek to
make Kyrgyzstan Russia’s political base in Central Asia, which
illustrates how far we are ready to go in order to improve
Kyrgyz-Russian relations.

Meanwhile, one often hears some Russian policymakers and mass
media representatives criticize Kyrgyzstan’s policy toward the
United States. They allege that the Kyrgyz-American ties run
counter to Russia’s interests. In response, I would like to
formulate a doctrinal concept that could be used to define the
degree of freedom for countries that maintain allied relations – a
sort of ‘corridor of opportunities’ for establishing their
relations with third countries. It is my belief that states that
are partners in particular military and political alliances reserve
the right, without any detriment to the interests of their allies
and the fulfillment of their shared commitments, to establish
relations with third countries. It is necessary, however, that
these ‘outside’ relations be similar to those of the other
countries forming the respective alliance with these third

To sum up, the guiding principle we adhere to is ‘and/and’
rather than ‘either/or.’ Kyrgyzstan has been maintaining this
position in its relations with Russia and the United States. From
political and practical viewpoints, this approach, which is based
on democratic principles, is fully justified, the more so as Moscow
and Washington have been pursuing a consistent policy of building
friendly relations of strategic partnership.

So whither Central Asia? I insist once again that it is
following a course where Russia is the guiding light. “Russia has
been bestowed on us by the Creator and history”, I wrote in my book
An Unforgettable Decade. This is my firm belief.