A regional group bringing together China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan is calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The Washington bureau chief of Korrmersant, a business and political daily in Moscow, said that the recent demand captures the attitude of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization toward U.S. influence in Central Asia.
Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Dmitri Siderov explained that it is definitely not to Russia or China’s advantage to have a large U.S. presence in the region. According to Mr. Siderov, both have a strong interest in Kazakhstan’s oil and gas resources and in Turkmenistan’s natural gas potential. Furthermore, he said, Russia is signaling the West that it won’t give up its influence in Central Asia as readily as it surrendered in Georgia and Ukraine. He noted that the Uzbek government in Tashkent enjoys almost 100-percent support from the Kremlin.
The U.S. military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan were established after 9/11 in preparation for a war in neighboring Afghanistan. But Uzbek journalist Nadir Rakhman argued that the need for these bases has diminished because the situation in Afghanistan has improved. Mr. Rakhman said Central Asian countries are inclined to accept Russia’s dominance because of long historical ties, and they clearly see China’s potential as a trading partner. He described the region as a “buffer zone” and he views Russia’s strategy as an attempt to establish a “balance of power.”
But the Indian-born Beijing correspondent for the Boston Globe, Jehangir Pocha, argued there has actually been a movement away from Cold War notions of bipolarity. He said he thinks that for Russia, China, India, and Iran, it is important to protect their “back yard” geopolitically. In addition to China’s primary concern with terrorism in Central Asia and its own western province of Xingiang, Beijing is intent on enhancing its already huge share of trade and securing its rapidly expanding energy needs. Furthermore, for Moscow and Tashkent, Mr. Pocha said, recent political upheavals in the former Soviet republics have been unnerving, particularly the one in Kyrgyzstan.
Consequently, Kyrgyz journalist Alisher Khamidov said, Russia and China are now putting significant pressure on Uzbek and Kyrgyz leaders. He noted a growing fear in the Kremlin that Russia is losing its former influence. And from a Central Asian perspective, he said, it’s a “lesser evil” to alienate a powerful but distant country like the United States, which “always criticizes your human rights record,” than it is to alienate close neighbors like Russia and China. Nonetheless, Kyrgyz journalist Alisher Khamidov said he remains optimistic about democratic development in his own country, but is uncertain whether in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan that change can come without violence.
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