Stress Test for the Eurasian Economic Union

Only recently many considered large, integrated economic and political zones to be signs of the future. But the collapse of oil prices, the COVID-19 pandemic, and new forms of multipolarity are refocusing many on national needs and global rather than bloc developments. Given this, how does the Eurasian Economic Union look today? What is its future for members, and how should non-members regard it? This Forum will address these and related questions. 

Speakers:

Stephen Blank, Foreign Policy Research Institute

Mamuka Tsereteli, Senior Fellow, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at AFPC 

Moderator: S. Frederick Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at AFPC 

When: Thursday, May 28, 2020 at 11am EDT

The Event will be live-streamed on our Facebook page and available here.

 
Published in Forums & Events
Wednesday, 15 January 2020 00:00

Greater Eurasia: Russia's Asian Fantasy

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Kennan Cable No. 46
January 15, 2020

By S. Frederick Starr

Is there a grand strategy that informs Russia’s activities abroad and, if so, what is it? For years it seemed that President Putin based his foreign policy mainly on his 2005 statement to the Russian nation that the collapse of the Soviet empire “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” The task of Russian policy was therefore to reclaim by whatever means necessary as much control over former Soviet territories as possible. This led to his seizure of Georgian territory in 2008, his Crimean grab of 2014, and his armed incursions into eastern Ukraine in 2014-2019. More recently, it has led to his forcing Kyrgyzstan to join his politics-driven Eurasian Economic Union and his current bullying of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to follow suit.

In practice, Russia’s foreign moves in places as diverse as Eastern Europe, Syria, and Africa seem to be guided more by opportunism than strategy. This has not sat well with some members of Moscow’s policy-oriented intelligentsia. Modern Russia, after all, is heir to a half millennium of messianic ideologies that justified and encouraged the expansion of territories under Moscow’s rule. Whether building the Third Rome, destroying the Tatars, placing the Cross of St. Vladimir atop the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople, building a Holy Alliance against future Napoleons, protecting Europe against revolution in 1848, conquering Muslim Central Asia in the 1860s, or aspiring to Sovietize Eastern Europe under Stalin, ideas, not mere opportunism, have driven Russia’s actions abroad. Even as Putin repeated his assertion about the collapse of the USSR, a deficit of theory was forming in Moscow’s foreign policy circles.

Among the first to seek to fill this was the complex, vexed, and hyperactive strategist Alexander Dugin. An Orthodox Christian of Old Believer ancestry, Dugin favors decentralization and self-government within Russia but champions an aggressive foreign policy that would link “orthodox” Russia with “orthodox” Muslims and “orthodox” Hindus in a war against secularism as such. As recently as his visit to Washington a decade ago, he expressed no particular animus against the US and instead focused his venom on wayward Europe. Bluntly, Dugin wanted Moscow to turn its back on a debauched Europe and reorient Russia towards the East.

Now a new grand strategy along these lines has emerged and captured the imagination of many members of Moscow’s geostrategic circles. Like Dugin, Alexander III, and predecessors going back to ZosimusMetropolitan of Moscow in 1492, the cornerstone of this new concept is the foursquare rejection of Europe. But unlike its predecessors, the new concept, grandly called “Greater Eurasia,” defines Russia as an equal partner with China and dreams of a future in which Russia and China would join forces with India and thereby become the dominant world power. For Russia to fulfill this grand destiny, it must first reject Europe and become an Asian political and economic power. The key to achieving this goal is to develop Siberia as a transport corridor to the East and as an economic powerhouse in its own right.

The concept of a Greater Eurasia arose steadily after about 2008. The term appears to have arisen as a rejoinder to Western proposals in that period for a “Greater Central Asia.” Since 2015 the tempo has increased, with a proliferation of articles, books, symposia, and conferences. Indeed, the Greater Eurasia industry, in its many variants, is now the epicenter of geostrategic thinking in Moscow. It has also caught the attention of a number of astute Western analysts, who have already given us valuable overviews and studies on the subject.

Champions of the notion of a “Greater Eurasia” consider that the greatest challenge involved in developing the concept is to overcome physical distance on the Eurasian land mass; in other words, to master the geography. It is therefore not surprising that the venerable Russian Geographical Society would devote a 375-page special edition of its journal, Questions of Geography, to the general subject. Based on a conference held by the Higher School of Economics entitled “Russia’s Place in the Greater Eurasia Now Being Formed,” this is, for the time being, Russia’s definitive statement on the subject. All of the twenty-five writers are Russians.

According to authors D.V. Suslov and A.S. Piatachkova, the concept of Greater Eurasia is “undoubtedly one of the most important narratives of international relations development of the first half of the twenty-first century.” Having made this ringing declaration, Suslov and Piatachkova then acknowledge that, “There is no consensus in the scientific or expert community regarding its meaning.” Either the emperor is wearing an entire wardrobe or, perish the thought, he has no clothes. Here, for better or worse, is the definition offered by our two lead writers:

“…a regional or macroregional international community constructed through interaction. It is based not on history or civilizational proximity or even on the number of economic projects and interdependence, but on the special quality and intensity of political relations between its constituent states, first of all between China and Russia.”

Note the stress on political relations. There is not a trace of Marxism or even of economics in this formulation, no mention of any productive forces that might be driving the two powers together. Nor do the champions of Greater Eurasia claim that it is based on any cultural affinity. In a striking departure from Dugin, another author in the volume, T. V. Bordachev, states baldly that there are no historical or cultural affinities between Russia and China that might underlie such a partnership. But was it not precisely the supposed historical and cultural divide between Russia and Western Europe that sent Russia on its eastward quest in the first place? Unfortunately, our Moscow experts fail to tell us whether they do, or do not, consider culture and history relevant to grand strategy. They want it both ways, as convenient.

Sergei Karaganov, Dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs of the National Research University, chairman of Putin’s Valdai Club, and one of the most ardent champions of Greater Eurasia, disagrees with Bordachev’s denial that the concept has any cultural or historical basis. In a line straight out of the pioneer Eurasianists of the 1920s, Karaganov proclaims that Greater Eurasia, once implemented, will create an “Asia for the Asians.” One wonders how Pushkin, Turgenev, Checkhov, or Mikhail Bulgakov might have viewed this curious boast from a Russian chauvinist whose surname has a Turkic root!

The one thing that all writers in this volume agree upon is that Greater Eurasia will come into being through the merging of China’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). However, the gross imbalance of demography and economic productivity between these two entities creates a problem for Moscow. To bulk up its EEU, Russia must persuade, cajole, or bully sovereign states in Central Asia and the Caucasus to join, which it is fact doing. Such strong-arm methods cause those on the receiving end to act more out of fear than conviction. President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, long a champion of economic collaboration with Russia, did not inform even his own staff of his intentions in 2014 when he rushed off to Moscow to sign the EEU agreement. Kyrgyzstan’s president in 2015 stated publicly that he chose “the lesser of two evils” but later reported how Moscow had virtually bludgeoned him into joining. The Armenians, dependent on military aid from Moscow in its fight with Azerbaijan over Karabakh, had no choice in the matter. Uzbekistan is now in Moscow’s sights, and has agreed to enter EEU with observer status for five years. Should Uzbekistan actually join, it will leave Tajikistan with no choice but to follow suit, and will expose Afghanistan to the same pressures as its northern neighbors.

Besides the weakness of its EEU in comparison with China’s SCO, Moscow worries about the growing military disparity between itself and Beijing. Acknowledging that China has military agreements with all of Russia’s continental allies while Russia’s military ties with countries in East and Southeast Asia are weak, authors V. B. Kashin and A. I. Druzhinin call for a major initiative to expand Russia’s military presence in Asia. Specifically, they want the Russian navy to focus on ASEAN countries, opening bilateral ties and building bases there. This may not bridge the stark imbalance of power between Moscow and Beijing but it will begin to address one of Moscow’s most gnawing concerns.

Russia is bound to be the junior partner in any relationship with China. Russia’s Greater Eurasia enthusiasts know this, and have therefore begun dreaming about adding a third element to the structure, namely, India. Hoping to build on Moscow-New Delhi ties dating back to Soviet times, they fantasize about a grand triad that will dominate global affairs. But one little problem remains, namely the gulf between the political systems of India and China. Andrei Kortunov deftly addresses this disparity (which he calls a “schism”) by suggesting that China might handle relations with authoritarian countries worldwide while India could handle the partnership’s relations with democracies. One wonders what role is left for Russia.

Besotted by this grand but bizarre fantasy, Russia’s experts predict that the alliance between Russia, China, and India will become a powerful force for peace on earth. The two main editors of the volume, D. V. Suslov and A. S. Piatkovskaia, solemnly declare that the triad of which they dream will become “a huge resource for solving the region’s problems, including terrorism, extremism, the problem of Afghanistan and even the India-Pakistan conflict.”

If power can be measured by the number of signed agreements, then these enthusiasts have a point. An expanding web of formalistic documents already link EEU members to Russia and to each other. Impressive on paper, these may prove to be as insubstantial as the documents that led to the formation of Moscow’s Commonwealth of Independent States in December, 1991. Far more concrete are the many investments and grants from China that have created bonds between Beijing and all its Eurasian partners, including Russia.

It is not surprising that the extent and grandiosity of the Russians’ search for a new identity has attracted the attention of a number of Western scholars. Several European and American books and articles competently present the program and its dynamics, offering astute judgments along the way. Russians return the compliment by drawing on Western writers to bolster their case. Indeed, one can only smile to see how a strategy that is designed to turn Russia away from Europe and the West has been grounded in works by Western thinkers.

Pride of place among Western sources goes to the pioneering Anglo-Scottish geographer Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947), author of the so-called Heartland Theory and the founding father of geopolitics. Writer after writer in this collection strain to demonstrate how the concept of Greater Eurasia fulfills or at least refines Mackinder’s predictions. Groping for international justification and vindication, they also cite approvingly the works of B. Bizan in Copenhagen and especially the Australian-born English theorist, Hedley Bull (1932–1985). Besides the natural desire of academics to festoon their writings with footnotes, these many citations suggest that the authors themselves feel a lurking insecurity about their sweeping arguments.

Russian geographers may cull the writings of foreign authors in search of support for their theses, but they realize that works by members of what they call “the English school” provide at best a fragile platform on which to erect their theoretical palaces. They also know that the writings of Marx offer no support for the Russians’ new theses, even if they wanted to invoke them, for the simple reason that Greater Eurasia is more a political construct than an economic fact. And so some new theory of history and geography is called for.

Happily, A.B. Savchenko and V.A. Vorobieva of the Russian Presidential Academy of Public Economy and Public Administration pop up with precisely what is needed. In their contribution to the volume, they divide human history into three periods: the pre-machine age; the machine age; and the digital age. Russia, they postulate, became a European power during the pre-machine age, while seeking an opening to the West. It also stretched eastward then and became a Pacific power. Then, during the machine age, Russia abandoned Alaska and shifted its focus to Siberia’s maritime zone and to Central Asia. Now, as the digital age dawns, Russia sees its destiny in Greater Eurasia as a whole.

In the face of such highfalutin theorizing about the digital age, it is puzzling that the main initiatives that our theorists propose to bring Greater Eurasia into being are solidly those of the machine age, and that the theory as a whole is grounded on old-fashioned and pre-digital modes of transport. Politics may be the rationale and driver for the notion of Greater Eurasia but Russia cannot become part of it without vastly expanding its railroad and road links with the Pacific. Little attention is devoted to polar sea routes and air links are scarcely mentioned. Meanwhile, V.Iu. Maslov of the Institute of Economics and Industrial Engineering bluntly calls for the construction of two new rail lines across Siberia to supplement the existing Trans-Siberia Railroad. Part of one of these—Baikal Amur Magistral (BAM)—already exists, but to complete it and add a yet more northern “polar” route would be a task on the scale of Stalin’s most grandiose project.

Maslov and his colleagues believe in scale. Maslov’s excited vision calls for “large complex projects” in every sector, e.g. massive investments by the state. No slave to mere balance sheets, this professor of economics and engineering insists that these vast outlays be undertaken “not for immediate commercial profit.” How, then, will they be financed, and how will the public respond to staggering expenditures that may bring psychological payoffs to some part of the population, but no rubles?

Do not fear, Maslov soothingly assures us, for all will turn out well in the end. After all, didn’t President Roosevelt’s expensive Federal Highway Program help lift the U.S. out of the Great Depression? Sorry, Esteemed Professor, but it was war, not highways, that lifted America out of the depression, and it was President Eisenhower, not Roosevelt, who launched the Federal Aid Highway Act…in 1956, years after the Great Depression had ended.

In order to manage these and other “large and complex projects,” the city of Novosibirsk must be transformed into, in Maslov’s words, “the main intellectual center for the reconstruction of Asian Russia.” This shift of Russia’s economic and political center eastward, we are told, should be a “national task,” one that will in turn inspire millions to settle in unpopulated zones of Siberia. Thanks to this happy development, the vast reaches of Siberia will become a salubrious place to live and raise families, and not merely a bridge to Asia. Indeed, the wilds of Siberia will be transformed into “a laboratory of the future, a huge testing ground for new solutions: institutional, managerial, and technological.”

Pesky details complicate this rosy vision. On the one hand, people today are not flocking to Siberia, but leaving. Recent reports reveal that Russians are abandoning large zones of eastern Siberia and their places are being filled by immigrant Chinese renters. If, however, millions of Russians were to pick up roots and settle there, would this not further depopulate Russia proper, where there already exits a demographic vacuum that is being filled by migrants from Central Asia? Hence this astonishing paradox: Putin and his Russian nationalists refer condescendingly to the now sovereign states of Central Asia and the Caucasus as “Russia’s near abroad,” but their own vision for a Greater Eurasia will, if implemented, reduce Russia to the status of an ethnic extension of Central Asia; in short, “Central Asia’s Near Abroad.” It is no surprise that the globe-spinners who are touting their vision of a Greater Eurasia are as silent on these issues as they are about financing for their “large and complex projects,” and about Russia’s flagging demographic presence in Siberia itself.

But since when must fantasies be trimmed to fit reality?

Suppose that the Greater Eurasia project does move forward, in whole or in part. What is likely to be its impact in specific world regions? In some areas of the globe its implications would be clear. Across Southeast Asia, for example, it would lead to a substantial Russian military build-up in the form of naval bases and airfields. Its effects would also be visible in the major charm campaign that Russia would direct towards India.

More problematic would be its impact on Eastern Europe, Ukraine, the Baltic countries, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. On the one hand, as Moscow redirects money and attention towards Siberia and the Asia-Pacific region, these areas of former Soviet control would no longer be Russia’s prime geostrategic focus. Increased expenditures in Siberia and Asia—not to mention Putin’s growing commitments in the Middle East—would limit the Russian government’s ability to invest in these regions, while the Russian private sector is unlikely to take up the slack.

However, it would be a serious mistake to conclude that Putin would be so enraptured by his vision of Greater Eurasia that he would become indifferent to the former Soviet space. After all, he relies on the expansion of the EEU to strengthen his hand when dealing with Beijing. Paradoxically, even as Russia looks to Asia, Moscow will persist in its effort to expand its control in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. We can expect Putin to remain true to form. In order to expand the Kremlin’s hegemonic control, he will opportunistically exploit all signs of weakness in what his government both anachronistically and sinisterly calls its “zone of privileged interest.”

Central Asia and the South Caucasus warrant our special attention in their own right, because they pose a special challenge to Moscow’s Greater Eurasia project. Like other prospective members of the EEU, the countries of Central Asia (and Azerbaijan as well) have the potential to add to the size and “heft” of the new trade zone and thereby strengthen Moscow’s bargaining power as it seeks greater parity with Beijing and its SCO. For this reason, Moscow is bound to intensify its pressure on Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to join the EEU. Will America and Europe respond to these provocations and, if so, how?

Yet at the same time, Russia is clearly unprepared to accept Central Asia as an equal geostrategic partner. Having embraced Mackinder’s view that the key to power is access to the world’s oceans, Russian strategists dismiss the notion that Central Asia is a crucial heartland and define it instead as a marginal “rimland,” destined to be subordinated to those countries with access to the world’s oceans.

This theoretical argument rationalizes a blunt and inconvenient geopolitical truth: that Russia demands that the main continental transport corridor should run through Siberia and not through Central Asia and the Caucasus. L.B. Vardomskii of the Academy of Science’s Institute of Economics makes this clear in his contribution to the Greater Eurasia volume. In other words, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia are not Russia’s partners in transport, but its competitors in a zero-sum game.

This is not a new posture for Moscow. Long before talk of a New Silk Road arose in 2005, Russian officials made clear at conferences in St. Petersburg and Urumchi that they opposed east-west routes running through Kazakhstan and Central Asia and demanded instead that the existing Trans-Siberian Railroad serve as the main link. But the Chinese blithely ignored the Russians’ demand and proceeded with their preferred routes through Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.

 What, then, do apologists of Russia’s Greater Eurasia theory see as the destiny of Central Asia and the Caucasus? Having bucked Mackinder on the heartland issue, they then revert back approvingly to that English thinker and declare that Central Asia will become “a repository of raw materials and energy resources.” But isn’t this precisely the fate from which all countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus are straining to escape? Without exception, they all seek to reduce their dependence on natural resources and to diversify their economies through technology and modern agriculture. This puts Russia’s Greater Eurasia strategy on a collision course with all Central Asia.

To make matters worse, at least one of the contributors to the Greater Eurasia volume, A.B. Likhacheva, implies that Siberia will become an exporter of water to Central Asia. This cockamamie idea, first broached in Moscow a generation ago and promptly killed by Russian environmentalists, calls for the large-scale diversion of water from Siberian rivers to Central Asia and Xinjiang. In reviving it now, this author bluntly calls Russia’s water a “power factor.”

Drawing back from these regional particularities, let us ask whether Russia’s fashionable Greater Eurasia strategy has any chance of ever being implemented. Impeding China’s role will be the ongoing and inevitable slowdown of growth in that country. But it is likely that China will continue to attend to its mounting domestic needs and to its own priority security projects, and that it will continue to project its power abroad. Russia, by contrast, will increasingly have to deal with its undiversified economy, unresolved centrifugal forces, rising domestic dissent, and a transition of power at the top. The only way it can make the investments in Siberia that the Greater Eurasia project requires will be to curtail investments elsewhere, a sure-fire formula for domestic unrest. Otherwise, Russia as part of Greater Eurasia will continue to languish, perhaps benefiting from one or two transport projects but otherwise reaping few of the benefits of which it dreams today.

Thus, the gap between China and Russia will grow. Whether or not China and India will reach some sort of accord is unknown. But Moscow will surely continue to court India on its own, signaling to Beijing that it has a backup plan if Greater Eurasia lapses. Under any circumstances, Moscow’s inevitable and very public demotion to the status of China’s junior partner will not go down well among Russian nationalists.

Meanwhile, members of the Eurasian Economic Union will continue to pursue their own political and economic interests, even as they attend EEU meetings and pass resolutions. And, significantly, even as part of Greater Eurasia they will seek to reassert the principle of balanced relations among world powers that informed their strategy during the first two decades of the new century.

Andrei Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council and one of the more sober authors in the Greater Eurasia volume, argues that the success of Greater Eurasia depends ultimately on the future of the China-India relationship. He rightly points out that China and India are fundamentally different, that they don’t understand each other, and that the only hope for accord is that a division of labor between authoritarianism and democracy can somehow be worked out.

In conclusion, Kortunov offers the slim hope that Russia, having embraced the Greater Eurasia project at its outset, can somehow craft a positive outcome. But he is skeptical about Russia’s ability to do so, given its own internal constraints, whether economic, social, or political.

“What is the alternative?” Kortunov asks. “Can Russia return to Europe?” On this important issue he is skeptical, citing Moscow’s clear preference for authoritarianism at home and abroad. Although Kortunov doesn’t say it, he foresees a future in which his homeland is once more cast adrift between East and West, searching for an identity which Mackinder once seemed to offer but which in the end is denied to Russia. In a prolix yet clear statement on Russia’s place in the world, Kortunov declares that China and India comprise the “inner crescent” of Eurasia and that all the other countries, including Central Asia, the Middle East and, significantly, Russia are “limitrophic” states. But checking the dictionary, we find that “limitrophic” means “adjacent to” or “bordering.” In other words, Kortunov demotes his country to the status of a borderland.

Given the realities of Russia today, this should not be surprising. The concurrent emergence of demographic, ethnic, institutional, technological, educational, medical, and political challenges impose heavy claims on an economy that is already weighed down by international and military commitments. Worse, the process of transforming a hydrocarbon-based economy to a modern technology-based economy has barely begun. It is no accident that Russia’s most advanced technologies are to be found in the military-industrial sector.

Further, one must stand in amazement that a country whose government claimed for 74 years that economics define life should now simply ignore economics as it sets forth its expansive new geopolitical strategy. But this volume offers not a single word on how the Russian economy will pay for the immense investments required to build Russia’s place in Greater Eurasia. Either the authors are economic illiterates, or they know they are marching down an economic blind alley and cannot say so.

No statement in this curious volume will stun readers more than the bland assertion by V.M. Kotliakov and V.A. Shuper of the Institute of Geography that Americans and Europeans are wrong to allow domestic concerns to determine foreign policy. On the contrary, they claim, foreign policy should determine domestic policy. This is precisely what the Greater Eurasia project calls for. It is equivalent to the nonsensical claim that a house can be built from the roof down. Besides being the ultimate refutation of Marxism, it marks the final rejection of even the pretense of being a democratic society.

Is there an alternative? There always is. At the 2017 meeting of then-President Nazarbayev’s Astana Club in Kazakhstan, Sergei Karaganov, one of Russia’s leading champions of the Greater Eurasia movement, returned again and again to his favorite subject. Finally, President Nazarbayev, in a statement later released publicly, stated that,

 “As president I have access to many, many maps. But not one of them shows anything identified as “Greater Eurasia.” Does this exist? Is it real?

By contrast, I know that Central Asia exists and that it includes five countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, and Afghanistan. I know that we share a common past, a common culture, common values, and common understandings, and that we also face common threats. Furthermore, I know that we all know each other far better than outsiders know us.”

Coming from someone who is identified as a founding father of the Eurasian Economic Union, this statement cannot be ignored. It suggests that the real needs of many of the states that Moscow would like to gather together as part of its geopolitical stratagems are best satisfied by entities that are closer to home and over which they can exercise a degree of control. It suggests that economic development can best be achieved through cooperation and collaboration, not sovereignty-limiting megastructures, and that many states of Eurasia would rather build their international ties by starting with the foundation and not the roof.

S. Frederick Starr is the founding chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program, a joint transatlantic research and policy center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Institute (AFPC). He previously served as Vice President of Tulane University, President of the Aspen Institute, and President of Oberlin College. Starr is a cofounder of the Kennan Institute in 1974 and its first director.

Image via Kennan Cable No. 46: Greater Eurasia: Russia's Asian Fantasy

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    On June 26, CACI Director, Dr. Svante E. Cornell discussed the recent e-CAMCA (Central Asia, Mongolia, Caucasus, Afghanistan) regional conference organized by CACI and the Rumsfeld Foundation, the region's response to COVID-19, progress with political and economic reforms, risks and opportunities for regional states with regard to China-U.S.-Russia competition in the region.

    Listen to the extended interview with a q&a session: https://bit.ly/3g0nqk5

    Watch the recording of the interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPBMeP0yZGA

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  • S. Frederick Starr- Distinguished Speaker Lecture: Is Russia Becoming Central Asia's Near Abroad?
    Tuesday, 02 October 2018 00:00

     

    On October 2, S. Frederick Starr addressed the topic of Russia's relationship to Central Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center entitled "Is Russia Becoming Central Asia's Near Abroad" convened by the Kennan Institute 

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  • S. Frederick Starr Testifies at House Subcommittee Hearing on "Current Developments in Central Asia"
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  • Resources on Terrorism and Islamic Radicalism in Central Asia
    Tuesday, 11 April 2017 12:20

    Recent terrorist attacks in Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and New York City have been committed by perpetrators with an origin in Central Asia. The CACI-SRSP Joint Center has collected resources from its publication on the topics of terrorism and Islamic radicalism in Central Asia on this page.

    For press inquiries: the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute is part of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington DC (202-543-1006); the Silk Road Studies Program is part of the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm.(+46-734-150065) Please click here for further contact information.

     

     

    List of Analytic Resources

    Svante E. Cornell and Michael Jonsson, eds. Conflict, Crime, and the State in Postcommunist Eurasia. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. (Includes chapters on Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the North Caucasus)

    Svante E. Cornell, “Russia: an Enabler of Jihad?Op-Ed, Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, January 16, 2017

    Jeffry W. Hartman “The May 2005 Andijan Uprising: What We Know” Silk Road Paper, May, 2016, pp. 68

    John C.K. Daly “Rush to Judgment: Western Media and the 2005 Andijan Violence” Silk Road Paper, May, 2016, pp. 85

    Shirin Akiner “Kyrgyzstan 2010: Conflict and ContextSilk Road Paper, July, 2016, pp. 146

    S. Frederick Starr, ”Moderate Islam: Look to Central AsiaNew York Times, 26 February 2014.

    Peter Sinnott, “Peeling the Waziristan Onion: Central Asians in Armed Islamist Movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 4 (2009) pp. 33-53

    Didier Chaudet, “When the Bear Confronts the Crescent: Russia and the Jihadist Issue” China & Eurasia Forum Quarterly. Vol. 7 Issue 2, 2009, pp.37-58.

    Svante E. Cornell, Narcotics, Radicalism, and Armed Conflict in Central Asia: The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Terrorism and Political Violence, 17:4, 2007, 619-639, 2007

    Galina M. Yemelianova “The Rise of Islam in Muslim Eurasia: Internal Determinants and Potential Consequences.” China & Eurasia Forum Quarterly. 2007, Vol. 5 Issue 2, pp 73-91.

    Svante E. Cornell, Narcotics and Armed Conflict: Interaction and Implications, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30:3 ,2007, 207-227, DOI: 10.1080/10576100601148449

    Michael Scheuer “Central Asia in Al-Qaeda's Vision of the Anti-American Jihad, 1979-2006” The China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: Terrorism, Volume 4, No. 2,2006, pp. 5-10

    Saule Mukhametrakhimova “Perception and Treatment of the "Extremist" Islamic Group Hizb ut-Tahrir by Central Asian Governments” The China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: Terrorism, Volume 4, No. 2,2006, pp. 49-54

    Svante E. Cornell & Regine A. Spector, Central Asia: More than Islamic extremists, The Washington Quarterly, 25:1, 2002, 193-206, 2002

     

     

    CACI Analyst Articles, 2014-2017, on Islamism, Central Asia and Syria

    Emil Souleimanov “Attacks in Chechnya Suggest Opposition to Kadyrov is Far from EradicatedThe CACI Analyst,  March 24, 2017

    At the turn of 2016 and 2017, events took place in parts of Chechnya that again challenged the triumphant statements of local pro-Moscow and federal authorities that the jihadist-inspired insurgency in this North Caucasian republic was eradicated. Aside from illustrating the latent character of armed conflict in the region in general and in Chechnya in particular, the recent upsurge of violence in Chechnya contains particularities that may have far-reaching consequences. Sporadic attacks against the Kadyrov regime will likely recur in the years to come and intensify should the regime’s grip on power weaken

    Stephen Blank “Central Asia: An Opportunity for the Trump Administration” The CACI Analyst, March 22, 2017

    Central Asia has never ranked high on U.S. priorities. That is unlikely to change under the Trump Administration. Yet recent developments in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan, do offer an opportunity to advance U.S. interests through a greater economic-political presence in the region, whilst also countering growing Chinese economic dominance and Russian efforts at military hegemony at a relatively low cost. The two key countries in this possible opportunity for the U.S. are Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

    Fuad Shahbazov “China’s Long March into Central Asia: How Beijing Expands Military Influence in Tajikistan” The CACI Analyst, February 21, 2017

    China's gradually increasing economic role in Central Asia since the early 2000s is unsurprising considering the region's geographic proximity to China's dynamic economy. In this context, Beijing has carefully shaped a military strategy in the region, particularly in neighboring Tajikistan. In September 2016, Beijing offered to finance and build several outposts and other military facilities (in addition to the Gulhan post, which was opened in 2012) to beef up Tajikistan's defense capabilities along its border with Afghanistan, whereas China's and Tajikistan's militaries performed a large counter-terrorism exercise in October 2016. These unexpected actions have raised concerns in Russia over rising Chinese influence in Tajikistan.

    Huseyn Aliyev “Islamic State-inspired attacks continue in ChechnyaThe CACI Analyst,  February 7, 2017

    On December 17, 2016, a shootout in central Grozny between members of the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and local security forces claimed the lives of three militants and one police officer. On December 18, a counter-terrorist operation (CTO) launched in the aftermath resulted in the death of four more insurgents, whereas four remaining members of a militant cell were arrested. Three police officers were killed and one injured. While the confrontation between militants and police in Grozny was only the fourth conflict-related incident in the republic during 2016, it demonstrates that ISIS still has the capacity to target Chechen security forces.

    Jacob Zenn “Abu Zar and Al Qaeda’s presence in Central AsiaThe CACI Analyst, January 16, 2017

    Abu Zar al-Burmi was one of the most prominent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) muftis and a close associate of the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda. Despite pledging loyalty to the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2015, he has recently renounced his support of ISIS and is preaching under the banner of the Imam Bukhari Brigade (IBB), which is a Syria-based IMU offshoot that is loyal to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The case of Abu Zar shows how, since the rise of ISIS in 2014, al-Qaeda has defended its stake in Central Asian jihadism.

    Stephen Blank “New signs of Chinese military interest in Central AsiaThe CACI Analyst , January 16th, 2017

    Recent evidence shows a gradual increase in Chinese military activity in Central Asia, particularly with Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, although China has for years denied any military interest in the region. In October, PLA and Tajik forces jointly participated in counterterrorism exercises in Tajikistan near the border with Afghanistan, following earlier activity in 2016. Whereas Tajikistan was then silent, this time it publicized the exercises, which aroused a visible anxiety in the Russian media although the Russian government has hitherto been unwilling to comment on this issue. China’s initiative could imply a major new development in Chinese policy and in Central Asia’s overall security, with lasting implications for the region.

    Farkhod Tolipov “Uzbekistan between a new president and the same nation: is it perestroika?The CACI Analyst, January 10, 2017

    On December 4, 2016, three months after the death of Uzbekistan’s first President Islam Karimov, the country held new presidential elections. The Prime Minister and acting Interim President Shavkat Mirziyoev became president-elect by defeating three competitors in a highly asymmetric campaign characterized by the utilization of so-called administrative resources. Yet Mirziyoev’s campaign was also an explicit demonstration of new domestic and foreign political trends in post-Karimov Uzbekistan towards more liberal reforms. The campaign also revealed rising new expectations on the part of the Uzbek nation after a quarter-century of one-person rule.

    Farkhod Tolipov “Uzbekistan-Tajikistan: game over, but what is the score?” The CACI Analyst, December 15th, 2016,

    Uzbekistan’s and Tajikistan’s independence in 1991 raised the Shakespearean “To be or not to be?” question concerning the ambitious construction of a dam on the mountainous Vakhsh river in Tajikistan, which would embody the Rogun Hydro Power Station. Uzbekistan – a downstream country – has permanently and vigorously rejected and resisted the project referring to numerous risks associated with Rogun for all downstream countries. Uzbekistan’s president has been the principal political antagonist of this project. Two months after his death in September 2016, Tajikistan’s president has decided to move on with the project.

    Stephen Blank “Russian intervention in Syria and the CaucasusThe CACI Analyst,  November 27, 2016

    Few people think about trends in the Caucasus with reference to or in the context of Russia’s Syrian intervention. But Moscow does not make this mistake. From the beginning, Moscow has highlighted its access to the Caucasus through overflight rights and deployment of its forces in regard to Syria, e.g. sending Kalibr cruise missiles from ships stationed in the Caspian Sea to bomb Syria. Therefore we should emulate Russia’s example and seriously assess military trends in the Caucasus in that Syrian context.

    Edward Lemon “Signs of improving relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan but tensions remainThe CACI Analyst,  October 19, 2016

    Since the death of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov in early September, signs have emerged of a thaw in relations between Uzbekistan and its neighbor Tajikistan. In the years since independence, bilateral relations have been plagued by mistrust, disputes over water resources and outright hostility. Both sides have adopted a series of punitive measures against each other. Although acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has expressed interest in “resetting” relations with Tajikistan, any improvement will be tempered by the ongoing conflict over Tajikistan’s planned hydropower plants.

    Huseyn Aliyev “Revival of Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus?” The CACI Analyst, October 14, 2016

    The last week of August 2016 saw two large-scale Counter-Terrorist Operations (CTOs) in the North Caucasus republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan, followed by another CTO conducted in the second week of September. This relatively low-scale increase in military confrontations between militants and security forces in the region nonetheless indicates a steady recovery of non-ISIS Islamist cells, which have been in decline since the emergence of ISIS in the region. While these recent developments may not indicate a revival of the local Islamist insurgency, they indicate that local insurgent jama’ats are still present and active in the region.

    Dmitry Shlapentokh “Prospects of Turkmenistan-Iran gas cooperationThe CACI Analyst, October 12th, 2016

    On June 8, 2016, FSU Oil & Gas Monitor quoted former UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry as saying that gas from Turkmenistan could reach European markets by various different means, including “overland routes through Iran.” It is unlikely that Hendry would make such an announcement without having received encouraging signals from both Tehran and Ashkhabad. The prospect of gas deliveries from Turkmenistan to European markets is disconcerting for Moscow, which regards the monopolization of gas supply to Europe as one of its major geopolitical and geoeconomic goals.

    Emil Aslan Souleimanov “The North Caucasus insurgency: weakened but not eradicated” The CACI Analyst, October 6 th,  2016

    The North Caucasus insurgency has weakened dramatically in recent years. While Chechnya-based jihadist groups now number a few dozen fighters, jamaats operating in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay have been nearly wrecked. In Ingushetia, a few insurgent groups remain numbering a couple of dozen members. In Dagestan, the epicenter of the regional insurgents, several jamaats have survived and number around a hundred active members. Indicative of the unprecedented weakening of the North Caucasus insurgency is the jihadists’ inability to elect an amir of the Caucasus Emirate: since the liquidation of the last amir Magomed Suleimanov in mid-August 2015, the jihadist resistance has been beheaded as it lacks a formal leadership. Yet has the regional insurgency indeed been defeated?

    Franz J. Marty “The phantom menace of ISIS in Northern AfghanistanThe CACI Analyst, September 8th, 2016

     Many accounts allege that the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has expanded to northern Afghanistan and intends to infiltrate Central Asia from there. Taking a closer look, however, it becomes apparent that virtually all such claims lack a sound foundation and that the remaining, more specific hints like reported sightings of black flags also stand on shaky ground. Consequentially, and contrary to the eastern parts of Afghanistan, there is no compelling evidence of a presence of the self-styled Caliphate in northern Afghanistan and, hence, also no immediate threat to Central Asia.

    Farkhod Tolipov “The Tashkent summit and the expanded SCO” The CACI Analyst, July 27th, 2016

    50 years ago, Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent hosted a summit ending the India-Pakistan war of 1965, resulting in the Tashkent Declaration. It was, so to speak, a Soviet “Camp David” aimed at bringing two antagonists – India and Pakistan – to peace. The SCO summit of June 2016 was, symbolically speaking, a second – multilateral – platform created in the same place, Tashkent, for the same two states to restore peace. Yet this summit did not appear to be a second Tashkent “Camp David,” but rather a challenge for the SCO itself.

    Emil Souleimanov “Chechen authorities raise pressure on human rights organizations” The CACI Analyst, July 23rd, 2016

    Recent months have seen increased attacks on journalists and human rights activists in Chechnya. Such attacks have long become characteristic of the Moscow-backed Chechen authorities’ attitude to any form of dissent, both within and outside the North Caucasus republic. While most human rights organizations and journalists were pushed out of Chechnya in the 2000s, the recent wave of violence has been particularly aggressive and threaten to remove the last resort for complaints on human rights violations as well as the only remaining sources of data on such violations in the republic.

    Rafis Abazov  “Fixing the Aral Sea disaster: towards environmental cooperation in Central Asia?The CACI Analyst,  June 28th, 2016

    Kazakh experts have recently begun to call water the “liquid gold of the 21st century,” as all states in the Central Asian region face greater demand for water concurrent with a significant decline in water supply. The Aral Sea – which became a symbol of environmental mismanagement and environmental catastrophe at the end of the 20th century – shows that sustainable development policies can help to deal with even the most difficult water issues. Conversely, however, mismanagement and border conflicts over water might worsen the situation, leading to further political and economic tensions. The current question is whether Kazakhstan can collaborate with other Central Asian states in saving and perhaps reviving the Aral Sea.

    John C.K. Daly “The death of Mullah Mansour and the future of the Taliban” The CACI Analyst, June 7th, 2016

    On May 21, a U.S. drone attack killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour and taxi driver Mohammad Azam near Nushki in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. Mansour was returning from Taftan, Iran, where he had gone for medical treatment, to his residence near the provincial capital Quetta, a 370-mile journey. Mansour and his driver had completed roughly two-thirds of the nine-hour trip. A Pakistani passport and a Computer National Identity Card (CNIC) identifying Mansur as “Wali Muhammad” were found near the wreckage. Mansour’s death, coming nine months after his contested election as “Amir al-Mu'minin” by the Taliban’s Rahbari Shura, has added additional volatility to Afghanistan’s complex political landscape, effectively sidelining any possibility of renewing peace negotiations with the Afghan government as Mansour’s successor seeks to consolidate his position.

    Farkhod Tolipov “Ad-hoc peace or ad-hoc war: micro-geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus” The CACI Analyst, June 2nd, 2016

    A few weeks before the April 2-5 fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a border crisis occurred between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan on March 18-26. Some observers connected these two events as links in the same chain. Indeed, both cases revolve around so-called frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space; where one of the conflicting sides is a CSTO member and the other is not; and where speculations proliferate of a hidden Russian hand in both the instigation and mediation of the clashes. The two conflicts can be seen as a by-product of the same process – the continuing divergence of the former single Soviet space.

    Dmitry Shlapentokh “Kazakhstan's history as a geopolitical battlefield” The CACI Analyst, May 27th, 2016

    Throughout 2015, Kazakhstan celebrated the 450th anniversary of what it regards as the beginning of its statehood as a major national event. This extraordinary interest in a seemingly academic subject had clear political undertones: Kazakhstan is not an “artificial” state, as sometimes proclaimed by representatives of the Kremlin. The country’s continuous process of distancing itself from Russia has been coupled with repression against suspected proponents of separatism in Northern Kazakhstan, populated by considerable numbers of ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers. Despite the existence of clearly pro-Russian attitudes in this region, Moscow has not supported them out of fear that it could raise extremist forms of nationalism in Russia, which would be highly problematic for the Kremlin.

    Jacob Zenn “The IMU is extinct: what next for Central Asia's jihadis?The CACI Analyst,  May 3rd, 2016

    For more than a decade after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was the “bogeyman” of Central Asian militancy. It was the most well-known militant group in Central Asia and abroad, even though it was in exile in Afghanistan and Pakistan under the protection of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Years of drone strikes and counter-insurgency operations failed to eliminate the IMU. Ironically, however, it was neither the U.S. nor coalition forces that destroyed the IMU. Rather, it was the Taliban who liquidated the IMU in late 2015 as punishment for its “betrayal” of the Taliban (and al-Qaeda) by pledging loyalty to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). This will change the nature of the militant threat to Central Asia and force a reconsideration of Uzbekistan’s counter-extremism measures.

    Roger N. McDermott “Russia-Tajikistan antiterrorist exercises: strategic messagingThe CACI Analyst, March 28th, 2016

    Russia’s and Tajikistan’s joint antiterrorist exercise on March 15-20 involved five Tajik training ranges, and showcased bilateral security cooperation. The exercise seemed routine, consistent with each country’s national security concerns; however a number of factors coalesced on Moscow’s planning and deployment side to make it both unique and potentially revealing. Buoyed by its recent experience of military conflict in Ukraine and Syria, Russia’s Armed Forces display increased confidence in supporting a more pro-active Russian foreign policy posture. The elements it deployed in Tajikistan for the exercise contain strategic messages for the benefit of other actors and Russia’s potential adversaries in Central Asia: for regional governments, the message is one of reassurance and renewed confidence.

    Richard Weitz “Moscow's agenda in Central Asia and the Caucasus: it is officialThe CACI Analyst, March 18th, 2016

    The states of Central Asia and the South Caucasus are in for a rough ride if recent Russian national security documents and speeches genuinely represent the Kremlin’s worldview. Not only do these texts veto their membership in NATO, but they exclude mutually profitable partnerships for these countries with the European Union and other Western institutions, constrain their domestic development, and encourage the suppression of civil liberties by warning of fictitious Western plots to change their regimes under the guise of democracy promotion and human rights.

    Roger N. McDermott “Russia recalibrates 201st base in Tajikistan” The CACI Analyst February 25th, 2016

    Moscow has stated that among its defense and security priorities for 2016, Central Asia and the South Caucasus will top its agenda. Kavkaz 2016, the main strategic military exercise of the year, will take place in the Southern Military District (MD), while Tsentr 2015 occurred in Central MD with among its vignettes a rehearsal of intervention in Central Asia. Surprisingly in this context, the Defense Ministry plans to restructure the 201st Base in Tajikistan from divisional to brigade status. This initiative is driven by Moscow’s growing concerns about the future of Central Asian security as it faces multiple potential threats stemming from Afghanistan and Islamic State (ISIS). But paradoxically, Moscow’s latest moves to strengthen the basing of its forces in Tajikistan serves as an indicator of official perceptions that the region could suffer a serious security challenge.

    Emil Aslan Souleimanov “Azerbaijan, islamism, and unrest in NardaranThe CACI Analyst, December 27th, 2015

    On November 25-26, Azerbaijani law enforcement carried out a special operation in Nardaran, a township on the northern edge of the Absheron peninsula located 25 kilometers northeast of the capital’s center. The purpose of the special operation was to break the backbone of the Muslim Unity group, a purportedly militant Shiite organization. The context and implications of the Nardaran events have received little attention in Western media, despite the concerns raised both within and outside the region about Azerbaijan finding itself on the brink of religiously inspired civil unrest.

    Richard Weitz  “Building on Kerry's Central Asian tourThe CACI Analyst, December 22nd, 2015

    In early November, John Kerry made a long overdue trip to Central Asia, becoming the first Secretary of State to visit all five Central Asian countries in one diplomatic tour. His agenda focused on reassuring the regional governments that the United States cares about their concerns, specifically Afghanistan and religious extremism. Kerry also highlighted U.S. support for region-wide economic integration, ecological protection, and cultural and humanitarian cooperation. He further developed bilateral cooperation with each Central Asian government. However, there were no major agreements or blockbuster initiatives announced during Kerry’s visit. It will require sustained follow-through by the current and next U.S. administrations to achieve enduringly positive results.

    S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell “The EU and Central Asia: Developing Transport and TradeThe CACI Analyst December 10th, 2015

    A number of initiatives have combined to make the development of continental transport and trade across the heartland of Eurasia a reality rather than a mere vision. Some of these have been external, while many have been internal to the region. Yet Europe, which launched the visionary TRACECA program in the early 1990s, is largely absent from the scene today. Yet if Europe works with Central Asian states, it stands to benefit greatly from this process. This would involve work to make the transport corridors more attuned to market logic; to promote the development of soft infrastructure; to pay attention to the geopolitics of transport and support the Caucasus and Caspian corridor; and not least, to look ahead to the potential of linking Europe through Central Asia not just to China, but also to the Indian subcontinent.

    Huseyn Aliyev, Emil A. Souleimanov “Russia's missile launches and the militarization of the Caspian SeaThe CACI Analyst, November 23rd, 2015

    In early October, Russia's Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu announced that Russian navy warships based in the Caspian Sea had fired a total of 26 missiles at the positions of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. The minister claimed that all the 11 targets, located around 1,500 kilometers from the warships, were destroyed over two days. Russian authorities and pro-regime media have considered the strikes a big success. While information soon resurfaced that some cruise missiles had landed on Iranian soil, the fact that the October strike is definite proof of the failed attempts to turn the landlocked water basin into a demilitarized zone has received less attention.

    Farkhod Tolipov “Pluses and minuses of the C5+1 formatThe CACI Analyst, November 13th, 2015

    During the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2015 in New York, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Kazakhstan’s, Kyrgyzstan’s, Tajikistan’s, Turkmenistan’s and Uzbekistan’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs to set up the new C5+1 format for dialogue between the U.S. and Central Asian states. As a first manifestation of this dialogue platform, Kerry made a Central Asian tour in early November. The C5+1 meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, took place in the context of global geopolitical turbulence that has raised Central Asia’s profile in U.S. global strategy

    Dmitry Shlapentokh “The ISIS threat and Moscow's influence in Central Asia and the Middle EastThe CACI Analyst, November 6, 2015

    Moscow has recently undertaken several actions aiming to increase Russia’s influence in the Middle East and Central Asia. On August 23-28, 2015, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes several members from Central Asia, undertook military exercises in Russia. Russian authorities stated that the maneuvers aimed to help CSTO members develop means to effectively move airborne forces and other troops to conflict zones, including in Central Asia. The exercises partly served to address a real concern on the part of Russia as well as other CSTO members over the rise of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). However, Russia sees ISIS not only as a threat but also as an opportunity for both increasing Russia’s influence in Central Asia and providing a pretext for its venture in the Middle East.

    Avinoam Idan “Russia in Syria and Putin's geopolitical strategy” The CACI Analyst, October 22nd, 2015

    The deepening of Russia’s military presence in Syria and its direct involvement in aiding the Assad regime during the Syrian crisis is a game changing step in the geostrategic context of the Middle East. This is Russia’s third move during the last eight years to change the strategic status quo in the greater Middle East by means of military force. Russia’s new step in Syria aims to influence the geopolitical makeup of the Middle East following the collapse of the Sykes-Picot order. Russia aims to establish itself as a key player from the Caspian Basin in the east, via the Black Sea, to the Eastern Mediterranean.

    Erica Marat “Kyrgyzstan: beyond democratic elections” The CACI Analyst, October 12th, 2015

    On October 4, Kyrgyzstan held parliamentary elections marked by significant improvements in the country’s democratic development.  The elections have demonstrated the viability of Kyrgyzstan’s 2010 constitution, which delegates more powers to the parliament and aims to prevent the emergence of autocratic political center. Fourteen political parties competed, and six were able to pass the national and regional thresholds to win seats.

    Emil Aslan Souleimanov “Russia's Syria initiative and the exaggerated ISIS threat to Central Asia” The CACI Analyst, September 25th, 2015

    Russia’s recent military engagement in Syria and calls for the establishment of an international coalition against the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) has produced renewed interest in Moscow’s policies toward the jihadist quasi-state. Against this background, while many have speculated about Moscow’s true intentions in the Middle East, relatively little attention has been paid to Moscow’s interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus in the context of its increasingly vocal rhetoric of fighting ISIS. Moscow is actively utilizing the risks and threats stemming from the ISIS to boost its clout in the near and far abroad.

    Edward Lemon “Violence in Tajikistan emerges from within the state” The CACI Analyst, September 23rd, 2015

    Rather than resulting from external factors, as the regime has argued, the recent violence in Tajikistan erupted from within the state itself. Elites within the Tajik state continually compete for political influence and economic gain. These struggles occasionally break out into violence. Ironically, such conflicts are actually useful for the regime. They allow it to legitimize a purge of potentially disloyal members and a crackdown on other opponents. By blaming the latest conflict on the country’s leading opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), the regime legitimized its move to ban the party and arrest its leading members.

    Emil Aslan Souleimanov “A weakened insurgency precludes IS inroads to the North Caucasus” 09/02/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    Recent months have seen North Caucasian amirs pledging allegiance to the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). Many have pointed to this process as a sign of the changing paradigm of the regional resistance, which is being transformed into – or absorbed by – the global jihadist insurgency. But these assumptions can be challenged by a look at the internal dynamics, the distance from key hotbeds of jihadist violence, and the limits of the North Caucasian insurgency. While ISIS may have some impact on the North Caucasian jamaats, it is likely to be rather limited and indirect.

    Farkhod Tolipov “Uzbekistan concerned over SCO expansion” 05/08/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held its annual summit on June 9-10, 2015, in the Russian town of Ufa, which was an historical turning point in the organization’s evolution. It adopted a Development Strategy towards 2025 and admitted India and Pakistan as full members. Uzbekistan has taken over the Chairmanship of the SCO from Russia for the next one year period. During the summit, Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov expressed concerns revealing Tashkent’s reluctant acknowledgement of the fact that from now on the SCO will be more than just a Central Asia-focused structure.

    George Voloshin “The Uzbek-Tajik détente: can it last?” 08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    On June 22-24, Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, hosted a third meeting of the Uzbek-Tajik intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. Unlike the two previous sessions, which were organized in Dushanbe in August 2002 and February 2009, this year’s bilateral trade talks took place against the backdrop of an emerging détente between the two Central Asian neighbors. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are currently confronted with a host of shared challenges ranging from the threat of radical Islam to socioeconomic instability, while their bilateral relationship is still constrained by unsettled disputes from the past.

    Charlie Smith “Islamic State in Central Asia: threat or opportunity” 08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    Central Asia is a key region that many believe has fallen into the crosshairs of the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). Local governments are gravely concerned about returning fighters and possible ISIS infiltration in the region, and foreign powers, especially neighboring Russia and China, have expressed their deep concerns. This grim picture, however, obscures a more complex, and perhaps more accurate, story. Might the specter of ISIS have less to do with its on-the-ground ability to destabilize the region and more to do with the geopolitical concerns of those who are stating these threats?

    Kevin Daniel Leahy “Existing Paradigms for Resistance in the North Caucasus Challenged by Kadyrov, ISIS” 06/24/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    With the recent death of its leader and the decisions by numerous field commanders in Dagestan and Chechnya to disassociate themselves with the organization, analysts are wondering if the Caucasus Emirate can endure. The terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) has emerged as the latest paradigm for resistance to Russian rule in the Caucasus. It is, however, only the latest in a long line of such paradigms to take root in the region, competing with the Caucasus Emirate, Chechen nationalism and other forms of ethnic separatism. What is the outlook for ISIS as a paradigm for resistance in the North Caucasus?

    Nurzhan Zhambekov “Russia’s Regulation of Labor Migration Set to Hurt Central Asian Economies” 04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    The slowing Russian economy suffered a triple shock in the form of Western economic sanctions, falling oil prices, and the plummeting Russian ruble in 2014, resulting in a negative impact on Central Asian states. In addition, tighter migration regulations in Russia, in force since early 2015, are having an effect on the flow of migration from Central Asia, particularly from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. These three countries rely heavily on remittances from their migrant workers in Russia. The drop in remittances could increase socioeconomic disaffection in parts of Central Asia that are dependent on labor migrants’ earnings. 

    Emil Aslan Souleimanov “Caucasus Emirate Faces Further Decline after the Death of Its Leader” 04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    On April 19, 2015, the Caucasus Emirate’s leader Aliaskhab Kebekov, nom de guerre Ali Abu Mukhammad, was killed in a special operation carried out by Russian elite forces in Dagestan’s Buynaksk district. His death came at a time of profound decline of the North Caucasian jihadists, coupled with the ongoing split in their ranks as an increasing number of fighters and insurgent leaders turn to the Islamic State (IS). Upcoming months will show whether the North Caucasus insurgency, and particularly its Dagestani branch, will become dominated by IS sympathizers and ink up with the global jihad, or remain a largely local endeavor.

    Emil Souleimanov “Dagestan’s Insurgents Split over Loyalties to Caucasus Emirate and IS” 04/15/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    Recent months have been hectic for Dagestani jihadists. Since mid-2014, this hotbed of the North Caucasian insurgency has witnessed a gradual split, with numerous Dagestan-based jihadist commanders pledging oath (bayat) to the leader of the Islamic State, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. In response, the Caucasus Emirate’s formal leader, Aliaskhab Kebekov, himself a Dagestani, criticized the disloyal commanders for splitting the ranks of the local insurgency. In mid-February, the newly appointed amir of the Dagestani Vilayat, Kamil Saidov, joined Kebekov in his condemnation of those submitting to Baghdadi’s authority. Given the North Caucasian and Dagestani jamaats' weakening capacity, the ongoing developments in Dagestan could break the unity in this last bastion of the regional insurgency.

    Huseyn Aliyev “Conflict-related Violence Decreases in the North Caucasus as Fighters go to Syria” 04/01/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    The end of 2014 and early 2015 have witnessed a notable reduction in conflict-related violence across the North Caucasus. With the continuous departure of Islamist volunteers from that Russian region to the Middle East, in 2014 the number of casualties, among both militants and security forces, have decreased by more than half, compared to the previous year. While observers associate the current de-escalation of violence with the outflow of large numbers of North Caucasian youth to join Islamic State (IS) and with internal conflicts within the North Caucasus Islamist underground (Caucasus Emirate), reasons behind the recent decline of insurgency-related activities are likely to be more complex. 

    Emil Souleimanov “Dagestan’s Jihadists and Haram Targeting” 02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

    The recent attacks in Paris against the studio of satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, known for its caricatures of Muhammad, have sparked heated debates in Dagestan. While Dagestanis have primarily focused on evaluating the implications of this single case of lethal violence, their debates have unfolded against the background of increasingly frequent attacks carried out by members of local jihadi groups – jamaats – against targets deemed anti-Islamic according to Salafi dogma.