“The Central Asian countries have problems with Russia, but they can be solved”

Interview by Maria Sidelnikova. Exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza

The head of the Socio-Political Studies Center, Vladimir Yevseyev, told Vestnik Kavkaza about prospects of development of the situation in Central Asia. Continuation. See http://vestnikkavkaza.net/articles/politics/35598.html

-    If anything scary happens in Central Asia, should Russia expect a new wave of migrants?

-    I don’t think we should exaggerate the problem of migration, because all developed countries have to face it. This problem really exists and Russia tries to limit it. But if there are some cataclysms, how can you limit it?  Russian cannot just abandon them, plus they will always find a possibility to come when the borders are open. The border with Kazakhstan will not be closed. It is quite transparent although it is technologically equipped. When the big waves of migrants start coming, you can try to filter them somehow but it will cause so much negative. I am not sure if Russia is ready for it. From this point of view it is better not to let the situation boil, but to focus on the further borders.  Russian has this possibility within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty and the bilateral agreements.

Many people say that Russia is losing its positions in the Middle East in Central Asia. It is not that simply because the position of the US and the EU in Central Asia is not really clear.  The NATO is present but limited. They do not want to get involved too much. And how can you get dividends like this? It is impossible.  Central Asia is not a priority for the US.

The Central Asian states have problems with Russia, but the problems can largely be solved. There are much more difficult problems among the states of Central Asia. Tajikistan needs light in the winter, and they want to use water, but it leads to water-logging in Uzbekistan, which needs water in summer, not in winter. How to solve a problem when they should drain water – in winter or in summer?

When the Soviet Union existed, it suppressed these problems or solved them. Uzbekistan conducts exercises to capture dams, and then there is a leak of information, for example, in Kyrgyzstan, that, if it is destroyed, it will lead to some problems in Uzbekistan. It is actually a very dangerous game, because it can lead to some clashes, especially now, when Uzbekistan has left the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and it turns out that Russia formally should protect, let's say, Kyrgyzstan from Uzbekistan or, for example, Tajikistan from Uzbekistan.

I think that the withdrawal of Uzbekistan from the CSTO is temporary. I believe that it will take some period of time, and Uzbekistan will return. You see, there are lots of reasons why it should return. I was considering the development of Russian relations with Uzbekistan in the last 20 years. I can say that the vector has changed. In the early 1990's there were very close Russian-Uzbek relations. Then, near the end of the 1990s, Russian-Uzbek relations deteriorated very seriously, influenced by the Americans. Then there was 9/11, after which there was a surge of Uzbek-American relations. Then there was Andijan, after which the relationship turned sour. Then there was a surge of Russian-Uzbek relations. Now again we are moving to the next wave of changing the vector.

At one time Tashkent was one of the initiators of the Treaty on Collective Security, and then it did not renew it. After Andijan, it joined the CSTO. Currently, it has withdrawn its membership. We can observe a certain cycle here. Why does Uzbekistan behave in such a way? The U.S. promised it weapons. But the free cheese is only in a mousetrap. Suppose the Americans give the weapons, but how can these weapons be supported? You have to pay to keep the weapons in working order, and these amounts are quite large. It turns out that Uzbekistan becomes dependent on the United States. I do not think that Uzbekistan really needs this. From this point of view, I think the supply of arms is not an obvious dividend that is positive for Uzbekistan, because it falls into the trap of dependence on the U.S. It will be worse if they go further and, for example, allow them to return to the base in Khanabad. Andijan can happen again. The base in Khanabad may be a Trojan horse, so there is no need to create a reason for Americans to intervene, especially since the transfer of power is difficult because, as I understand it, Islam Karimov has no successors now. In Uzbekistan, there are a very large number of clans, the seven major clans are mainly mentioned. And Karimov can hold them, but it is unclear what will happen when he is gone. I'll give you one example. Assad's father did the same thing in Syria, and he could hold the country, where there were many nations, all sorts of people who professed different religions. If I were Islam Karimov, I would think twice about whether I need to go very far away from Russia, because help may be necessary.

-    Is there a conflict between Russia and Iran for influence in Central Asia?

-    If we look at the region of Central Asia, there are three states which have a major impact - Russia, China and the U.S. In fact, they cannot push each other; perhaps someone will unite with someone, for example, Russia and China against the U.S., but this is not very realistic. Apparently, the three players remain. Iran would still be attributed to the second level of influence. Iran can actually influence Tajikistan, which is culturally close to it, but even there it is not the only player - there is a very strong constraint on the part of China. Iran is not a unique player even for Tajikistan. If we look at other countries, Iranian impact is even smaller. Turkmenistan is using Iranian territory for transit of gas. But if you look at the pipelines, you'll find that here, of course, Iran does not benefit compared to China, because they are simply incommensurable in power, the Chinese pipelines are several times more powerful than the ones that go through Iran.
There are other states that have influence. You might be surprised – Qatar has recently become one such state. In recent years Qatar has become very active in many of the states of Central Asia. It provides funding to those states which are in great need - this is Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan has a very large external debt, and it would very much like to be financed by someone. Of course, it does not want to give away anything; it wants to get money for nothing. Qatar is now giving under such conditions that you'd think that it is for nothing. We can say that there is the influence of Turkey in Central Asia. When you talk about Iran, I would probably compare this with the Turkish influence. The Turks at one time wanted to spread their influence throughout Central Asia. They did not have the capacity. So now the influence of Turkey can be reduced to two states: first, Turkmenistan, which is close enough culturally to Turkey, and here the influence of Turkey is very strong, probably the strongest influence in Turkmenistan. There is some impact, surprisingly, in Kyrgyzstan, Turkish influence is essential. Turkish influence on other states is much less. In general we can say that perhaps the influence of Iran and Turkey is comparable.