The De-Russification Dream: How A Ukraine Victory Could Remake Central Asia
As Russia loses in influence in Central Asia, Ukraine has an opportunity to take over a key role in relations between countries in the region and the European Union.
KYIV — When Ukraine called on Central Asian countries this spring to move away from Russia and forge closer ties to Kyiv, Moscow responded with its usual bluster that the region is Russia's untouchable fiefdom.
The reaction is a sign of the current weakness of Russian power in the region, and that Central Asian countries from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan themselves are tired of diktat's from the Kremlin.
But what does this mean for Kyiv? For Ukrainian Member of Parliament Oleksandr Merezhko, it is a historic opportunity for Ukraine.
From a historical perspective, Russia's attitude toward the people of Central Asia has gone through several stages. During the period of the Russian empire, Central Asia and its people were subjected to brutal colonialism. Considering them "uneducated," Russian authorities were convinced that international law did not apply to their relations with Central Asians. Therefore, they could seize the territories of this region by force and impose their law.
The Soviet era brought in a period of exploitation by the new imperial center, and a de facto cultural genocide when the Communist regime tried to destroy the culture, religion, national identity and character of Central Asia.
Modern Russia has inherited certain traditions of colonial and Soviet national policy in its attitude to the region, which today has a population of circa 72 million, in five countries: Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Its current approach is, in fact, neocolonial, and Central Asian nationals who come to Russia in search of work often become victims of humiliation, discrimination and racism.
Influence from China
Russia uses international organizations such as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to maintain regional influence.
Moscow is steadily losing to the West and countries like China and Turkey.
But Moscow is steadily losing to the West and countries like China and Turkey. In the competition for influence, Russia has little to offer the countries of this resource-rich region. It has neither the modern technologies of the West nor its soft power, which attracts the younger generation of these countries, nor China's economic and financial resources.
Attempts to compensate for the lack of positive incentives with intimidation, blackmail, and propaganda no longer work as well, and are pushing Central Asian countries to distance themselves and look for alternatives to ties with Russia, which they see as a dangerous neocolonial empire in decline. Perhaps the most clear-cut statement of the Central Asian countries views on Russia was made by the president of Tajikistan: "We should not treat the countries of Central Asia as if they were still in the USSR."
Leaders from Central Asia countries meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first China-Central Asia Summit.
Stuck between two global powers
Some Central Asian countries are in a complex geopolitical situation, as they are sandwiched between Russia and China, the two powers that pursue neocolonial policies toward resource-rich Central Asian countries. Against this backdrop, Central Asian states are increasingly favoring China over Russia.
Given the complex geopolitical situation in the region, Ukraine can offer a favorable alternative. A unifying factor is a common interest in preventing the Russian Empire from strengthening its neocolonial influence in any way. Mutual support for sovereignty and territorial integrity will contribute to the stability and security of the region.
Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine has seriously concerned the countries of Central Asia, and prompted them to accelerate the process of reducing Russian influence.
Ukraine can become a bridge
Objectively, these states favor Ukraine's victory, as it will strengthen their independence in the face of Russian imperialism. Suffice it to mention Kazakhstan, which also once gave up its nuclear arsenal for security guarantees.
They are well aware that in its imperial policy, Russia is capable of undermining and using internal conflict to seize the territory of this state, regardless of international treaties. That is why Kazakhstan, like other countries in the region, is pursuing a gradual and cautious policy of de-Russification and is drifting in the opposite direction from Russia.
Ukrainian victories on the frontline have demonstrated to Central Asian states Russia's weakness and technological backwardness from the West.
In general, Central Asian states are interested in strict adherence to international law and the UN Charter, as international law is a sure guarantee against an aggressive and unpredictable neighbor.
Developing trade and economic relations between Ukraine and Central Asian states will contribute to all countries' financial security and independence. It is interesting to note that Ukraine is well remembered in the region's countries, and economically is quite attractive to local elites, some of whom studied and lived in Ukraine.
At this stage, Ukraine can become a bridge for the Central Asian states to Europe, and also a bridge for Europe and the U.S. to Central Asia.
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