Russia strengthens its hand in Central Asia

Putin in Tajikistan October 2012. Photo Хадамоти матбуот, Office of the President of Tajikistan

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Dushanbe in October with Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmonov

By John Drennan, Research Assistant, IISS-US

Russia is using military aid and basing deals to shore up its strategic position in Central Asia, ahead of NATO’s 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan. A $1.1 billion military aid package to Kyrgyzstan was finalised recently, and in November Moscow announced a plan to provide $200 million in Russian assistance to upgrade Tajikistan’s air-defence system.

The Russian government has also signed two new deals trading economic assistance for basing rights in Central Asia. In October, the Tajik government agreed to extend the lease on Russia’s base in Dushanbe until 2042, in exchange for a nominal sum plus military training and better access to the Russian labour market for Tajik citizens. (Currently, almost half of Tajikistan’s GDP comes through remittances.) In September, Moscow announced a 15-year extension of its air base in Kyrgyzstan in return for $489m in debt settlement and an agreement for energy infrastructure upgrades. Kyrgyzstan’s parliament officially ratified the agreement on 13 December.

These developments strengthen Russia’s position in Central Asia at a time of great uncertainty about the future role of the United States, which has had a basing footprint in the region as part of NATO’s campaign in Afghanistan since 2001.

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Paving a new Silk Road

India's PM Singh and Afghanistan president Karzai sign a Strategic Partnership. Photo PM of India's office

By Mona Moussavi, Editorial assistant

India has big plans to increase its involvement in Central Asia, including rebuilding Afghanistan into a trade hub along a new Silk Road between the sub-continent and the energy-rich ‘Stans’. Analysts frequently speak of a ‘new great game’ in Central Asia, where Russia, China, Iran and Turkey are already competing for political influence and access to vast reservoirs of oil, gas and other natural resources. With the new ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy that it unveiled in Kyrgyzstan last month, Delhi has signalled its intentions in the region.

Fleshing out the new policy at the IISS this week, Asoke Mukerji, Special Secretary at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, said that it would range from closer military cooperation and more proactive diplomacy through bodies such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and  the Eurasian Economic Community to banking, agricultural and construction projects, including new hospitals and hotels.

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