The Nexus Of Global Trade Routes
The Nexus Of Global Trade Routes
Thu, 07/23/2020 – 03:30
The five post-Soviet Central Asian republics – Kazakhstan (19 mln inhabitants), Kyrgyzstan (6), Tajikistan (8,5), Uzbekistan (30) and Turkmenistan (5) – making up a joint area of almost 4 million square kilometers (by roughly one million larger than the area of India or Argentina), with the total population equalling 68 million (comparable to that of France or Great Britain) is a very important spot on the globe, landlocked between Russia, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
In the 19th century it was the Russian and the British that penetrated the area and vied for dominance there: the former from the north-west, the latter from the south-east. Their rivalry received the name of the Great Game. The five countries were a sort of colonies of the Russian Empire, though – due to the territorial proximity – incorporated into it. The indigenous populations – confessionally, linguistically and racially entirely alien to European, orthodox Russians – would pose problems occasionally, which twice morphed into an open uprising against Russian rule: in 1916 and in between 1923-24. Both attempts were quelled, which resulted in the loss of many lives and massive emigration. Bishkek, Kyrgyztan’s capital, was then renamed to Frunze, to honour the Soviet general who had vanquished the insurgents.
While the people of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan had no political representation in the Russian Duma under the tsars, they enjoyed it during the time of the Soviet Union; at that time they also exercises a sort of statehood, albeit within the framework of the communist superstate. In the 1980s they constituted the bridgehead for Soviet troops invading Afghanistan. The scars left by the Russians did not really heal: they were only allayed for a time. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the five republics declared independence, and began gravitating towards the United States.
Central Asia. Source: Wikipedia.
At present the five Central Asian states are in the cross hairs of such potent players as Russia, China and the United States. Also Turkey, due to the commonality of the religion and the ethnic relationship (notice the overlap of the demonyms Turkey and Turkmenistan), plays a certain role in the region. The residents of this area seek employment in Russia or let themselves be recruited to fight in Syria against Bashar al-Assad backed by Russia. The collective historical consciousness is fraught with bitter memories of Russians fighting against the forefathers of today’s residents of the area and of Russians combating their brothers in faith in Afghanistan four decades ago. That is something that Washington has been trying to skilfully exploit. To this purpose the United States created the C5+1 political initiative that combines the effort of the five countries and those of the United States to stymie terrorism, boost economic growth and foster the human rights in the region, as the official documents and statements say.
There is no doubt that Washington has been pursuing the tried and tested strategy of subduing the five states through financial and economic requirements, imposition of human rights and shaping the countries’ educational systems. As elsewhere in the world the five governments have been encouraged and softly forced to
 carry out reforms that would attract foreign (read: American) businesses,  make governments accountable to their citizens (read: American-backed international or non-governmental organisations that are constantly on the look-out for violations of human rights) and  alter primary, secondary and tertiary education in such a way as to promote critical thinking (read: acceptance of American point of view).
The ties with Uncle Sam are strengthened by means of occasional joint military exercises.
The five countries of the region have received loans while many of their younger residents have been invited to the United States to study there and learn the American way of life. In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, operates the American University of Central Asia, where young impressionable minds are formatted the way the managers of the world please.
The Chinese New Silk Road Initiative is being countered by the promotion of the Lapis Lazuli Corridor. In its official documents Washington underscores its commitment to help the five states maintain their independence of external actors. One can easily guess that Russia and China are meant. Sovereignty from Moscow and Beijing is going to be replaced with their reliance on the United States. The knowledge of Russian, which is still common in the region – especially in Kazakhstan – is step by step being supplanted by the knowledge of English. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan shortly after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and most recently Kazakhstan have all switched from the Cyrillic into Latin script.
Lapis Lauzli Route. Source: Wikipedia.
The region is not free from Russian influence. The famous Baikonur, a large area where Russian spacecraft are launched into orbit, is still rented by the Russian Federation. Kazakhstan was also host to the Semipalatinsk atomic testing site from 1949 till 1989. Apart from Turkmenistan, the remaining four nations belong to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a kind of loose economic and political prolongation of the former Soviet Union. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are members of the Eurasian Economic Union, created in 2014, where Russia is the largest partner; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan belong to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO, known also as the Shanghai Pact), founded in 2002, where Russia and China are the most important member states.
All the -stan countries of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan) plus Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkey also form the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO), founded in 1985.
Can the C5+1 platform counterbalance the joint influence of CIS, SCO and ECO?
The last of the three international organisations is under a strong Turkish influence.
The heir to the Ottoman Empire has been investing heavily in Kazakhstan and maintaining close ties with Turkmenistan, a nation that is related to Turks. Ankara has also extended invitation to labourers from the five Central Asian states, who do not feel particularly welcome in Russia and among Russians, their traditional employers, because of mutual suspicions. Ankara is also host to the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (CCTS or Turkic Council), formed in 2006 on the initiative of Kazakhstan’s president and comprising Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and in the future: Turkmenistan. Chinese Uyghurs keep fleeing to their confessional brothers in the region.
The autocratic rulers of the post-Soviet republics seem to be benefiting from all and any powers, playing them against one another. The said powers need to proceed warily in order to maintain their political clout.
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