By Dr. S. Fredrick Starr

January 3, 2023

https://www.19fortyfive.com/2023/01/putins-war-in-ukraine-is-brutal-it-looks-like-the-crimean-war/

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As the Russian army struggles to hold on to the Crimean peninsula, we all ask where it is all leading. Most answers are mere speculation, for there are simply too many of what Donald Rumsfeld called “unknown unknowns.” But history may offer some insights. After all, this is not the first time Russia sought to hold onto those lands and the West mounted a military response. We’ve been there before. During the Crimean War of 1853-1856, Britain, France, and Ottoman Turkey confronted tsarist Russia over these same lands. Even though that war is scarcely remembered today, there are striking parallels between that conflict and the present. These earlier events can be divided into three phases.

First, in its nineteenth century war over Crimea, Russia suffered from an unbridgeable technological gap. Nicholas I decked out his troops in fancy uniforms and declared Russia’s army unbeatable, a claim supported by the memory of Russia’s victory over Napoleon earlier in the century. Nicholas hated Europe but was ignorant of its strengths. When a Moscow professor wrote that “We can expect nothing from the West but blind hatred and malice,” Nicholas reportedly wrote in the margin: “This is the whole point.” He was a deep-dyed expansionist, but Russia’s railroads were woefully inadequate, its telegraph system undeveloped, its field commanders had no spy balloons, and its soldiers lacked the percussion handguns with rifled barrels that were standard for the French and British forces.

Even though they were hopelessly outgunned and their generals outmaneuvered, Nicholas’ soldiers fought on, with a will that is absent among their counterparts today. Unlike Putin, Nicholas I was remorseful, yet his war dragged on for a year after the tsar’s death. This slow finale utterly discredited Russia’s military and the bribe-taking and corrupt officer corps that embodied it. Had Britain, France, and Ottoman Turkey struck a premature treaty with Russia, Nicholas’ tyranny would have survived and the old order would have remained intact.

Second, the humiliating defeat and Russia’s faltering economy gave rise to the threat of domestic unrest. Nicholas’ thirty-eight year old son, Alexander II, had no choice but to launch what became known as the “Epoch of Great Reforms.”  Defending his remarkable programs, the young tsar declared that “It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait until it begins to abolish itself from below.” He and his like-minded staff set about instituting westernizing reforms in areas as diverse as the courts and judiciary, banking, local government, and the military itself.

The capstone of Alexander II’s reforms was the abolition of serfdom. This system had condemned ninety percent of Russia’s population to a fate akin to slavery. Emancipation gave peasants the use of land and kept peasant life intact but prevented them from migrating to the cities. For all the inadequacies of its reform, Russia managed to end serfdom two years before the United States emancipated its far less numerous slaves and without the estimated 750,000 deaths of the American Civil War.

Third, for all their prudence and, in some cases, brilliance, the Great Reforms did not last. Within a decade Russia succumbed once more to imperialist fantasies. The immediate cause of the breakdown of the nineteenth century reforms were Polish subjects of the tsar who wanted to enjoy the same rights as Russians. Alexander II had abolished serfdom in Poland but was not about to accede to the Poles’ demand for decentralization and self-government. Others of the tsar’s subject peoples decided that they, too, wanted to gain more control over their destinies. By the end of the nineteenth century calls for autonomy and self-government were heard from Finland to Central Asia. Alexander II’s successors down to the Revolution of 1917 responded with brutal clampdowns.

The Polish crisis not only left the Great Reforms dead or dying, but it unleashed a tide of Russian chauvinism that would lead to the breakup of the tsarist empire. After Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, he was succeeded by his son, Alexander III. Cultural and political imperialism, not decentralization and self-government, became the order of the day. In the end, the great cause of reform in tsarist Russia was defeated by the fantasy of a centralized and homogeneous empire. After 1917 Lenin and the Communists also embraced it, and used their newly formed Red Army to impose it on the populace.   

 

TRAGIC REPLAY?

How significant are the similarities between the Crimean War of 1853-1855 and the present conflict in Ukraine? And what lessons can be drawn from Russia’s failure in its nineteenth century war in Crimea, from the Great Reforms, and from the country’s reversion to autocracy?  

In both conflicts Russia was motivated by imperial ideology. And in both cases Britain and France teamed up, joined today by the active participation of the U.S. and other European states. In both cases the Turks opposed Russia. True, their involvement in the 1850s did not thwart the tsar in the Crimean theater itself.  But today’s Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 drones have knocked out scores of Russian fighters, and their inventor, Selcuk Bayraktar, plans to erect a factory in Ukraine to build more.

Without Russia’s resounding defeat in 1855, it is inconceivable that the Era of Great Reforms would have followed. The same may be true today. To unleash a period of fundamental change, the same conditions that prevailed in 1856 must be present: the defeat of Russian forces in the field; the death of the tsar/leader and the discrediting of his advisors; and the fear of popular unrest within Russia itself. While Putin’s fate remains uncertain, all the other conditions are emerging today. And as in the 1850s, nothing would more surely derail future reforms in Russia or prolong the imperial ideology than for Putin somehow to survive his war, and for the core of his circle to remain intact. Russia’s defeat and the discrediting of its ideology are absolutely essential for Russia to come to its senses and launch reforms.

If and when that happens, Russia’s new reformers will need the West’s support and patience. What it certainly will not want will be ham-handed efforts to shape its reforms from abroad or to take advantage of its temporary weakness. If Russia’s new reformers seek advice or help from other countries, let them ask for it and, preferably, pay for it. Both the U.S. government and American foundations will do well to practice self-restraint this time, as they certainly did not after 1991.

The most sensitive issues that will arise in post-Putin Russia will be the same ones that dominated reformist thinking back in 1856: the definition of Russia’s national borders and the degree of decentralization and self-government to be allowed within them. How widely will the elective principle be applied across the Russian state? Will it be applied only to safely “Russian” provinces? Or will it applied also to the many unassimilated ethnic groups that exist even in the nominally Russian core? If post-Putin reformers fail to address this core issue, their reforms in all other areas will be doomed.

Russia may emerge from the present crisis with different borders than at present, and with ethnic or geographic regions and jurisdictions within them that are largely self-governing. In this connection, it is worth recalling that Boris Yeltsin called for the regions of the USSR “to grab as much sovereignty as you can swallow,” and for the election of regional governors and mayors who would be responsible to locally elected councils, as well as to Moscow. But Putin reversed all this. In the end, however, the Russians themselves must decide these issues.

What can be done to prevent Russia’s discredited chauvinists from reemerging a decade from now, on the heels of a post-Putin era of reforms? Very little indeed, other than to make sure that the reforms are certifiably the work of Russians themselves and not some kind of foreign “project.” Responding positively to requests for new ties with the post-Putin government will help, as will new links in education, culture, the economy, and security. But neither these nor other measures will obviate the need for America, in President Reagan’s words, to “trust but verify.”

 

AN ”ERA OF GREAT REFORMS” LOOMING?

What might follow a Russian defeat? Here we confront a fundamental difference between the two eras: Nicholas, broken by failure, conveniently died in 1855, clearing the way for a change of Russia’s leadership. Had he not died it is likely that he would have been overthrown. But Putin is still alive and intent on clinging to power. But he lacks the resources to hold onto whatever Ukrainian territory he seizes. Should he divert funds to that purpose he will likely face revolt at home. In short, even if Putin wins (which is daily less likely) he loses.

In both of its wars over Crimea, Russia’s troubles trace to overconfidence. But today, unlike in 1853, some members of Russia’s officer corps and many influential publicists still believe they could prevail if the national leadership were not holding them back. Unlike in 1853, this could lead to a declaration of all-out war, an expanded draft, and even to the use of nuclear weapons. This can occur with or without Putin. But leaders of a military coup would face the same constraints as Putin does today. Only the use of nuclear weapons is likely to change this. But even before that point is reached, unrest at home is likely to grow to such a degree as to threaten outright revolution. In short, a military takeover will likely foment and ever more fundamental upheaval within the Russian polity and demands for sweeping reforms.

What is the likelihood that such an upheaval would lead to a twenty-first century version of the Great Reforms? There are reasons for doubt. The war against Ukraine has exposed deep strata of corruption in Russia. Whole sectors of Russia’s economy are riddled with fraud, peculation and outright criminality.

Besides this, Putin quashed all opposition. His security forces brought downEvgeni Roizman, the reformist and anti-war former mayor of Ekaterinburg; attempted to poison Aleksei Navalny and then jailed himwithout access to his lawyer; and murdered Boris Nemtsov, the former vice-premier and founder of an independent political party. Putin’s first “mobilization” or draft led to the emigration of some 370,000 highly educated younger Russians, the very group from which new ranks of reformists might emerge.

Acknowledging all the factors, there exist important forces that might bring a new Russian reformism into being. Russia’s military leadership is itself conflicted. On one side is an aggressive war party; on the other side are large numbers of officers who are appalled by developments in Ukraine and believe that zealots and amateurs are destroying the great traditions of Suvorov and Kutuzov. If they have their way, they would cut their losses, withdraw from the war, and begin the laborious task of rebuilding Russia’s disgraced army.

Whichever faction wins, some kind of reform era is all but inevitable. Putin, who once prided himself as being young and virile, is now seventy. Millions of young Russians today are well educated and widely travelled. They admire the developed countries of Europe, Asia, and America, and consider the great power fantasies of Putin and his ilk to be just that, and a guaranty of backwardness. Worse, they view Putin and his generation as roadblocks blocking their own advancement. If they sense the dawning of reform, many of the men and women who fled abroad will return. And unlike the era of the Great Reforms, change-oriented members of their generation are spread across the entire economy and not confined to the civil service, intelligentsia, and officer corp.

 

THE FATE OF REFORM

These considerations auger well for a possible new era of reform in Russia, but most of them fall into the category of “known unknowns.” But suppose for a moment that all turns out for the best and Putin’s successors turn out to be genuine reformists. What then? Will such a reform era survive and endure into Russia’s future? 

If Moscow’s fate in Ukraine/Crimea today follows the course of tsarist Russia’s humiliating failure in 1853-1856, Russians will find themselves pondering the same questions their forefathers faced. Their success or failure will depend on their ability to solve the age-old conundrum of apportioning powers between the center and periphery, and between state and society. Only the Russians themselves can craft a solution to this Rubik’s Cube. But America and its European partners, if asked, should share their experience. Instead of demanding instant change in countless spheres, as happened after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, they would do well to focus on this core issue, offering their insights, while leaving it to the Russians themselves to adopt, adapt, or ignore their counsel.

Frederick Starr is Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC. 

By Svante Cornell

December 22, 2022

https://www.19fortyfive.com/2022/12/joe-bidens-approach-to-eurasia-is-stuck-in-the-past/

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With considerable pomp and circumstance, the Biden administration recently unveiled its signature National Security Strategy. The document, intended as an authoritative expression of the Administration’s priorities in the field of foreign affairs, pays extensive attention to the great power challenges posed by China and Russia, framing them as the greatest threats to contemporary American security.

Yet, in spite of this, the new Biden strategy pays scant attention to the region located between those two Eurasian behemoths – Central Asia – or to the countries that reside in it.

This makes no sense. If the U.S. aspires to answer the challenges posed by Russia and China, how can it ignore the part of the world where those two powers meet? Chinese and/or Russian domination of Central Asia would effectively enable powers hostile to the United States to connect southward and westward to South Asia and the Middle East, and thus shift the balance of power on the entire Eurasian continent. This would empower their partner, Iran, and lead hesitant or wayward American partners (such as Turkey and India) to reconsider their loyalties. Moreover, if it is locked out of Central Asia, America’s ability to respond to crises on the Eurasian continent would be diminished. This would stand in stark contrast to September 2001, when the U.S. was able to rapidly mount a campaign against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan from bases in Central Asia.

Biden, though, is hardly unique. He joins a long list of presidents who have proven unable to approach Central Asia strategically. There are probably many reasons for this dysfunction, but at its root lies a conceptual problem: U.S. policymakers have historically been unable to decide where the region fits in their mental map of the world.

The different iterations of the National Security Strategy, or NSS, provide ample evidence of this. The first NSS to mention Central Asia is the 2006 version, issued by the George W. Bush Administration. Under the novel heading of “South and Central Asia,” an explicit effort to center U.S. policy on Afghanistan, it termed the region “an enduring priority for our foreign policy.” By contrast, the Obama administration’s first NSS, published four years later, did not so much as mention Central Asia. Obama’s second, in 2015, made an oblique reference to the region in a passage on India and Pakistan. Central Asia reappeared in the Trump administration’s 2018 NSS, again under a “South and Central Asia” heading, with the emphasis being on counterterrorism and building a region “resilient against domination by rival powers.” But the Biden administration’s NSS inexplicably puts Central Asia at the very end of the “Europe” heading.

These shifts mirror fluctuations in the U.S. national security bureaucracy. The Bush administration’s National Security Council put Central Asia together with South Asia, paralleling the new Bureau of South and Central Asian affairs at the State Department. But the Obama NSC put Central Asia under the Senior Director for Russian Affairs. Trump then moved it back to South Asia. Biden, like Obama, has again placed Central Asia under Russia. But these changes were not echoed at the State Department. Thus, for most of the past two decades, the NSC and the State Department have treated Central Asia as part of different continents. It’s a small wonder, therefore, that America has failed to develop a coherent approach to the region.

This disconnect has real-world consequences. Most glaringly, Central Asia has been missing from America’s policies to counter nefarious Chinese activities in Asia – perhaps because the Obama and Biden administrations did not even see it as part of Asia. Never mind that Chinese President Xi Jinping announced his flagship Belt & Road Initiative in the capital of Kazakhstan in 2013, and made the region the destination of his first foreign trip after his two-year, COVID-induced isolation.

The Biden NSS emphasizes its support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Central Asian states. But it fails to mention security matters in its policy prescriptions for the region. By contrast, the document’s approach to the Middle East reassures that “the United States will support and strengthen partnerships with countries that subscribe to the rules-based international order, and we will make sure those countries can defend themselves against foreign threats.” Such language would have been quite appropriate for Central Asia as well, signaling a real commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity.

This tepid state of affairs is no longer tenable if indeed it ever was. It is high time for the U.S. government to finally make a lasting determination on how it views Central Asia’s role in connection to America’s interests concerning China, Russia, Europe, and the Middle East. It is time for the United States to finally view Central Asia in its own right, rather than as an appendix to something else. Doing so means engaging actively on security matters in the region, deepening political and economic dialogues with regional states, and more adroitly countering Moscow and Beijing’s overtures there.

Heads of State from Japan, India, Turkey, and South Korea have all visited Central Asia in recent years, showing their understanding of the region’s growing importance. In October, the European Union raised its own level of interaction with Central Asia to the same level. Meanwhile, Central Asia has never been visited by a U.S. President. The sooner this changes, the sooner America will be able to truly confront Russian and Chinese influence in one of the world’s most critical regions.

Svante E. Cornell joined the American Foreign Policy Council as Senior Fellow for Eurasia in January 2017. He also serves as the Director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, and a co-founder of the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. His main areas of expertise are security issues, state-building, and transnational crime in Southwest and Central Asia, with a specific focus on the Caucasus and Turkey. He is the Editor of the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, the Joint Center’s bi-weekly publication, and of the Joint Center’s Silk Road Papers series of occasional papers.

 

 

Svante E. Cornell, ed. 

Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program 
Silk Road Paper
December 2022

Click to Download PDF

 

Introduction 

2212Uzbek-cover-bHow does political change happen? This question, which has occupied the minds of scholars and analysts for many decades, has been especially vexing for the broad lands that include the Middle East and Central Asia. Samuel P. Huntington identified a “third wave” of democratization between the mid-1970s and 1990, and the collapse of the Soviet Union appeared to confirm that democracy would now spread unhindered across the world. But in the Middle East and Central Asia, this did not happen. Quite to the contrary, in spite of some liberalizing efforts in the 1990s, what occurred in this region was more akin to what Huntington, who passed away in 2008, would have called a “reverse wave” – with authoritarian governments proving not only resilient but able to consolidate control over societies.

The political stagnation of the broader region led to considerable frustration among foreign well-wishers of these regions – and more importantly, among large strata of people in these regions that experienced heavy-handed government, mismanagement, and systematic corruption. Between 2003 and 2011, popular revolts overthrew a series of governments – first in the post-Soviet space, particularly Georgia and Ukraine, and subsequently in the Middle East and North Africa. These upheavals were met with great enthusiasm in western circles, who were convinced that democracy had finally come to the Middle East and North Africa.

Except it did not work out that way. The “Color Revolutions” in the former Soviet Union and the Arab upheavals largely failed, as no country that experienced these upheavals has progressed in a sustainable way toward democracy. Most are worse off than before these upheavals. Libya, Syria and Yemen have descended into civil war. Georgia and Ukraine were invaded by Russia, in part because of their political changes, and Kyrgyzstan descended into instability, with two additional upheavals as well as ethnic rioting. Egypt almost saw state capture by the Muslim Brotherhood, which was only undone through a military intervention that proved lasting. For some time, Georgia and Tunisia appeared to go against the grain, and make sustained progress – but in recent years, those two have backtracked significantly. While many of these societies underwent change that increased the level of pluralism in the political system, mostly they did not succeed in addressing underlying causes of public frustration, such as mismanagement and corruption. All in all, it seems clear that revolution did not prove a sustainable model to liberalize societies.

In the past several years, however, an alternative model of political change has been on display in the region – an evolutionary model of political development. Following the political and economic upheavals of the past decade, the leadership in some countries appear to have concluded that “business as usual” is no longer feasible; they must answer to popular demands for change, while seeking to manage the political process to maintain stability and avoid upheavals. As a result, they have implemented reforms from the top down, seeking to improve the efficiency of government and in a controlled and gradual manner expand political rights. This is happening in countries as diverse as Azerbaijan and Jordan, Kazakhstan and Morocco. But Uzbekistan plays a particular role because of the sheer rate of change in the country.

Nowhere is the contrast between the “before” and the “after” as dramatic as in Uzbekistan following the accession to power of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. While paying respects to his predecessor Islam Karimov, Mirziyoyev departed dramatically from Karimov’s approach to both foreign and domestic policy, unleashing a torrent of reform initiatives that have changed Uzbek society for the better.

Of course, it should be understood that the evolutionary process of reform will not turn Uzbekistan, or any other country engaging in it, into a model democracy in the short term. That is not the purpose of these reforms. That does not mean these reforms are “cosmetic,” as they are frequently called: they are highly ambitious in scope, because they aim to fundamentally change the relationship between state and society. It should be recalled that in the Soviet system, the individual was subordinated to the all-powerful state. This in turn bred impunity and corruption, as documented already in 1982 by Soviet exile Konstantin Simis in his book USSR: the Corrupt Society. This Soviet legacy is one that in some ways continues to this day – but is one that reformist leaders like President Mirziyoyev are now trying to reckon with. In the place of the old logic, they are seeking to turn the tables, and turn state institutions into bodies that exist to serve the citizens of the country rather than to control them or extract rents from them.

This is the background to the constitutional reform process in Uzbekistan, launched in the summer of 2022. As such, it is not an isolated event, but very much a step in the process of reforms that have been introduced since President Mirziyoyev acceded to the presidency in 2016.

This process is one that the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program documented in several entries in the Silk Road Papers series, and in the 2018 book, Uzbekistan’s New Face. This time, the Joint Center was pleased to have the opportunity to cooperate with the Center for Development Strategy in Tashkent to organize a Symposium on the constitutional reform process. This event, held in July 2022, provided an opportunity for Western and Uzbek researchers to exchange views on the reforms process. This publication is a collection of their presentations.

We are grateful to the authors of these papers and to the Center for Development Strategy, and particular its Director Eldor Tulyakov, for the opportunity to bring these papers to print.

Friday, 02 December 2022 18:18

Turkmenistan Lifts Its Head

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Tuesday, 01 November 2022 18:58

Can Central Asia Seize the Initiative?

By S. Frederick Starr

October 30, 2022

https://nationalinterest.org/feature/can-central-asia-seize-initiative-205553

TNI

The meetings by heads of state in Issyk-Kul and Tashkent earlier this summer showed clearly that America’s abrupt departure from Afghanistan last year and its long-term neglect of Central Asia did not mark the end of history. Quite the contrary.

SINCE THEIR independence from the USSR, the five Central Asian states that emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union in 1991 have been the object of great power dreams. Russia, with steady persistence, has tried to lure them back into its sphere of influence, if not of direct control, through economic and security alliances. The United States and Europe have worked to develop them as market economies, and to implant civil society and democratic institutions there. Meanwhile, China assigned them key roles in its Belt and Road Initiative and loaned them billions to develop economic strengths that complement Beijing’s own. Applying Julius Caesar’s classic divide et impera maxim, all these major powers have offered rewards for cooperation and withheld them from the recalcitrant. As a result, the Central Asians risked becoming mere objects of great power maneuvers and not subjects in their own right.

This summer, the Central Asians themselves took two steps to overcome this fate. First, on July 21 the presidents of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, meeting at Issyk-Kul in the Kyrgyz Republic, signed a far-ranging agreement to coordinate their efforts by forging a web of institutional links. These cover areas as diverse as trade, economics, social policy, ecology, medical research, and security. Such a regional consultative structure is urgently needed. Until now, Central Asia has been the only major world region that does not have its own web of institutional ties, i.e., a structure for formulating common policies and organizations capable of implementing them. This left the region at the mercy of major powers and of neighboring states, all of which have proven adept at playing Central Asians off against each other.

Furthermore, on July 26 the same regional states, supported by senior officials from several dozen other countries worldwide, including the United States, Russia, India, the European Union, and China, convened in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, for the purpose of expanding contacts with the new government in Kabul. Their immediate goals were to eliminate threats from extremist bands operating from Afghan territory and to identify changes in Taliban policies that would open the door to broader interaction between Afghanistan, its Central Asian neighbors, and the world. These meetings covered areas as diverse as information, finance, and women’s and minority rights. Their longer-term objective was to improve relations to the point that the Central Asians could open direct transport corridors through Afghanistan to Pakistan, India, Southeast Asia, and Iran.

Whether these two ambitious initiatives will succeed is an open question. Their very existence, however, reflects the Central Asians’ determination to shape their own destiny and to emerge as a world region with linking institutions comparable to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Baltic Council, or other regional bodies worldwide.

WHY, THREE decades after gaining independence, have the Central Asian states suddenly focused on linking arms and collaborating? Three very different developments gave rise to this important movement. First, the unplanned and abrupt American withdrawal from Afghanistan left the Central Asian countries facing a chaotic and potentially dangerous neighbor to the south. Besides threatening a rise of instability across the region, the tumult in Afghanistan extinguished the hope of opening southward trade routes that would give the Central Asians direct access to the Indian subcontinent and the booming economies of Southeast Asia. The importance of that potential “door to the south” cannot be overestimated. Without it, all Central Asia would be left under Russia’s economic and political thumb and unable to constrain China’s economic incursions. Only with such a corridor to South Asia would these countries be able to affirm their own sovereignty and independence while at the same time establishing balanced and constructive relations with all the major political and economic powers.

Second, Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine sent a shock wave across all Central Asia, not least because, like Ukraine, all the states in that region had only recently freed themselves from Russian rule and now feared that Moscow was trying to impose it anew.  This was no mere paranoia on the part of the new sovereignties. Had Vladimir Putin not compared himself to Peter the Great, who expanded Russia’s territory by conquering neighbors? Had Dmitry Medvedev, head of Russia’s Security Council and former Russian president, not announced that the attack on Ukraine was but the first step towards reassembling all the lands that had formerly been part of the Soviet Union? Central Asians had already established contacts with the West, but those links did not suffice to enable them to counterbalance pressures from the north and east. The obvious next step was to create new economic and political links with South and Southeast Asia. But this requires reopening links of communication and trade that have lain dormant since the rise of the Soviet Union.

The third factor that gave rise to the new spirit of regional vitality on display at Issyk-Kul and Tashkent was the rise of Shavkat Mirziyoyev as president of Uzbekistan. His predecessor, Islam Karimov, had solidified Uzbekistan’s independence by walling the country off from its neighbors, including the other four Central Asian states and Afghanistan. Uzbekistan advanced, but at the price of the resentment of its regional neighbors and the hostility of the West, which condemned its heavy-handed treatment of its own population. Mirziyoyev, Karimov’s former prime minister, brought a sharp change of course after his election in 2016. In a series of dramatic moves, he instituted legal reforms, set about developing a market economy, and loosened many long-standing controls on the Uzbek populace. Most important, he declared peace with all Uzbekistan’s neighbors, opened cross-border contacts and trade, and began systematically reaching out to the other Central Asian states. By so doing, he launched the movement that bore fruit in Issyk-Kul and Tashkent.

What was actually accomplished in the region-wide protocol—formally known as the Agreement on Friendship, Neighborliness, and Cooperation for Development of Central Asia in the 21st Century—that the five presidents agreed upon in July? The document includes thirty-two sections that are designed to “consolidate their efforts” for mutual benefit. Of course, it commits signatories to respect existing borders, to not interfere in the internal affairs of other partner countries, and to resolve differences peacefully (sect. 2). But it goes far beyond this. Thus, section 5 calls for mutual support in the face of threats to the “independence, sovereignty, and territorial wholeness” of any member state. Backing up this call, the protocol (sect. 6) commits the signatories to abstain from joining any military bloc that might threaten any of the five states, and to forbid their territories to be used by any foreign state for activities directed against any of the other member states.

Nor were these mere words. Section 7 calls on the parties “to realize mutual action to develop collaboration in military and military-technical sphere on issues of mutual interest.” This parallels Article V of the Washington Treaty that governs the actions of NATO members, which states that an attack on any NATO member is to be considered an attack on them all. Section 7 also commits the signatories to coordinate their actions with respect to all other international and regional organizations to which they may belong. Among threats requiring such coordinated action are specified: terrorism, extremism, separatism, international criminal groups involved with narcotics and arms, and human trafficking. However, the same logic would extend to all other threats to the sovereignty of any member state. The goal, states the protocol, is to establish all of Central Asia as a “zone of peace.”

The many other chapters of the protocol commit members to develop structures for cooperation in legislative and judicial matters, transport, logistics (sect. 14), and all activities affecting trade and investment. The document then goes on to commit members to joint action with respect to the reconstitution of the depleted Aral Sea (sect. 19). Topping off this ambitious agenda is the call for closer links among the academic institutions of member states (sect. 20, 21), structured exchanges of teachers and specialists, the sharing of fundamental and applied research (sect. 24) in diverse fields, including medicine and technology, and the development of common information systems (sect. 23). Tourism also claims a place in the document (sect. 27), which calls for region-wide tours supported by common visas.

One may object that the five presidents papered over important differences between the languages, histories, and cultures of the signatory states. Anticipating such criticism, they went out of their way to affirm that Central Asia constitutes “a single historical and cultural space” (sect. 25), in which diverse peoples have fruitfully interacted and collaborated for millennia. Their agenda called for studying and making known these neglected commonalities. Moreover, the presidents acknowledged that within the borders of each country are linguistic, cultural, and religious minorities. On this delicate issue, they all agreed to support such minorities within their borders and enable them to thrive without compulsion from the national governments (sect. 26).

Three of the presidents signed the protocol at the Issyk-Kul meeting, while the other two—Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan and Serdar Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan—gave assurances that they would sign at the next meeting of the group. The former evidently wanted first to resolve the conflict on the Tajik border with Kyrgyzstan, while the latter, in office for only three months, wanted first to consult with his colleagues in Ashgabat. Both assured their colleagues of their support for the project.

 

 

S. Frederick Starr is founding chairman of the Kennan Institute and chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute.

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News

  • New Article Series on Changing Geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Wednesday, 24 November 2021 11:53

    Eurasia

  • CACI Initiative on Religion and the Secular State in Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Sunday, 24 January 2021 13:53

    In 2016, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program launched an initiative on documenting the interrelationship of religion and the secular state in the region. This initiative departed from the fact that little systematic reserch had been undertaken on the subject thus far. While there was and remains much commentary and criticism of religious policy in the region, there was no comprehensive analysis available on the interrelationship of religion and the state in any regional state, let alone the region as a whole. The result of this initiative has been the publication of six Silk Road Papers studying the matter in regional states, with more to come. In addition, work is ongoing on a volume putting the regional situation in the context of the Muslim world as a whole.

     

    Case Studies

    Each study below can be freely downloaded in PDF format.

    az-formula-SRSP

    Azerbaijan's Formula: Secular Governance and Civil Nationhood
    By Svante E. Cornell, Halil Karaveli, and Boris Ajeganov
    November 2016   




    2018-04-Kazakhstan-SecularismReligion and the Secular State in Kazakhstan
    By Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr and Julian Tucker
    April 2018

     

     

     

    1806-UZ-coverReligion and the Secular State in Uzbekistan
    Svante E. Cornell and Jacob Zenn
    June 2018

     

     

     

    2006-Engvall-coverReligion and the Secular State in Kyrgyzstan
    Johan Engvall
    June 2020

     Event video online

     

    2006-Clement-coverReligion and the Secular State in Turkmenistan
    Victoria Clement
    June 2020

    Event video online

     

     

     

    Articles and Analyses

    Svante E. Cornell, "Religion and the State in Central Asia," in Ilan Berman, ed., Wars of Ideas: Theology, Interpretation and Power in the Muslim World, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021.

    Svante E. Cornell, "Central Asia: Where Did Islamic Radicalization Go?" in Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds. Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

  • Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories
    Wednesday, 07 October 2020 09:01

    Rehab-coverIn 2010, the CACI-SRSP Joint Center cooperated with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus to produce a study of the methodology and process for the rehabilitation of the occupied territories in Azerbaijan. The study was written in the hope that it would prove useful in the aftermath of a negotiated solution to the conflict.

    Such a resolution nevertheless did not materialize. At present, however, it appears that some of these territories are returning to Azerbaijani control as a result of the military conflict that began in late September, 2020. While it is regrettable that this did not come to pass as a result of negotiations, it is clear that the challenge of rehabilitating territories is as pressing today as it would be in the event of a peaceful resolution - if not more, given the likelihood that such a solution would have included a time-table and provided the Government of Azerbaijan and international institutions time for planning.

    It is clear that the study is a product of a different time, as much has changed since 2010. We fully expcect many updates and revisions to be needed should the recommendations in this study be implemented today. That said, we believe the methodoloy of the study and its conclusions remain relevant and would therefore like to call attention to this important study, published in English, Russian and Azerbaijani versions.

    Click to download:

    BASIC PRINCIPLES FOR THE REHABILITATION OF AZERBAIJAN’S POST-CONFLICT TERRITORIES

     

  • Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict
    Monday, 05 October 2020 08:19

    Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

     

    The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program have a long track record of covering the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict. This page presents the key resources and most recent analysis. 

    In 2017, Palgrave published the first book-length study of the International Politics of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, edited by Svante Cornell. The book concluded by arguing that if international efforts to resolve the conflict are not stepped up, “the ‘four-day’ war of April 2016 will appear a minor skirmish compared to what is sure to follow”.

    In 2015, CACI & SRSP released the Silk Road Paper  “A Western Strategy for the South Caucasus”, which included a full page of recommendations for the U.S. and EU on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. These are reproduced below:

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    Develop a substantial and prolonged Western initiative on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

    o This initiative must be led by the United States, in close consultation with its European partners – primarily the EU Commission and External Action Service, and France. Barring some process to reinvigorate the Minsk Process – a doubtful proposition given Western-Russian relations in the foreseeable future – Western leaders must be prepared to bypass that process, utilizing it where appropriate but focusing their initiative on developing direct negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.

    o The U.S. and its European partners must abandon the practice of relying solely on the Minsk Group co-chairs to resolve the Karabakh conflict. These diplomats have contributed greatly to formulating a workable framework agreement. However, strong and sustained U.S. Government leadership from the top level is needed to complement or, failing that, to replace the Minsk Process. In practice, this means the expressed support of the President, involvement of the White House, and leadership manifested in the appointment of a distinguished citizen as Special Envoy for the resolution of the conflict.

    o The EU must take a more clearly defined and substantial role in the process, by integrating to the highest degree possible the French co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group with EU institutions. While Washington will need to take the lead on the political side, it would be natural for the EU to take the lead in organizing an international development program for the currently occupied Azerbaijani provinces and Karabakh itself. That effort, too, would need to be led by a senior EU figure.

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    In 2011, CACI & SRSP helped launch an extensive study of the steps needed for the post-conflict rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's occupied territories, in cooperation with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus. The monograph "Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories" can be accessed here

     

    More background resources:

    Svante E. Cornell, "Can America Stop a Wider War Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?", The National Interest, October 2020

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, Occupied Elsewhere: Selective Policies on Occupation, Foundation For Defense of Democracies, January 2020. 

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, "The U.S. Needs to Declare War on Proxies", Foreign Policy, January 27, 2020

    Svante E. Cornell, “The Raucous Caucasus”, American Interest, May 2017

    Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, RoutledgeCurzon, 2001.

    Svante E. Cornell, The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Uppsala University, 1999

    More recent analysis:

    Turkey Seeks to Counter Russia in the Black Sea-Caucasus Region,” Turkey Analyst, 10/5/20, Emil Avdaliani

    Turkey’s Commitment to Azerbaijan’s Defense Shows the Limits of Ankara’s Tilt to Moscow,” Turkey Analyst, 9/25/20, Turan Suleymanov & Bahruz Babayev

     “Cross-Border Escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 9/25/20, Natalia Konarzewska

    Russia and Turkey: Behind the Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 8/31/20, Avinoam Idan

    Armenia and the U.S.: Time for New Thinking?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 10/2/19, Eduard Abrahamyan.

    Why Washington Must Re-Engage the CaucasusCentral Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 7/8/19, Stephen Blank

    Azerbaijan’s Defense Industry Reform”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 5/7/19, Tamerlan Vahabov.

    Military Procurements on Armenia's and Azerbaijan's Defense Agendas”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/27/19, Ilgar Gurbanov

    Armenia's New Government Struggles with Domestic and External Opposition,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/20/19, Armen Grigorian.

    Bolton's Caucasian Tour and Russia's Reaction”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 12/17/18, Eduard Abrahamyan.