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Analysis

Putin’s Central Asia Tour: Reinforcing Backyard Influence

Sunday 5 March 2017
Putin’s Central Asia Tour: Reinforcing Backyard Influence

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Central Asia, the Center of Extremists’ Activities

Alwaght- Just days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin set off on a Central Asian tour, visiting Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan to celebrate the 25th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations with these republics.

Being an oil and gas-rich hub and locating on the trade route that connects Asia to Europe, the Central Asia region was of specific significance for Kremlin during the Soviet era. After collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the newly-established republics got engaged in international interactions, and somehow slipped out of Moscow domination.

Plagued by economic and technological setbacks, the post-Soviet Moscow for two decades remained far from being able to maintain its relations with the Central Asia and Caucasus. As a result, the Russian backyard was subjected to the Western penetration, particularly that of the US.

During this period, Washington that considered itself as the winner of the 45-year-long competition with Moscow, tried to intrude into the traditional area of influence of Russia and solate Moscow within its national borders. This work was done by the US through helping the NATO expand eastward, as at the same time Washington established close diplomatic ties with the Central Asian republics. These measures actually were the most highlighted reactions of the West to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Fearing that the Russian domination over them could return after Moscow's recovery from the ill conditions, the regional nations warmly welcomed the Western entrance to their region. The regional leaders sought to create balance in hosting both the West and Russia in a bid to steer clear of falling back under the Russian influence as they remained dependent on Moscow in terms of economy, trading, and industry even after the Soviet fall.

Since the beginning of the second decade of the new century, the Putin-led Russia came clean on the fact that it wanted to restore its influential role on the global stage. As recently in late 2015 Moscow staged an anti-terror military deployment to Syria at the Syrian government's behest, or it braved a confrontation with the West in Ukraine and never backed down in the face of the Western excesses. Following the same suit, Russian foreign ministry has put a premium on boosting its relations with the Central Asia.

Therefore, the recent Putin’s trip to the three Central Asia republics can be seen a step aimed at materializing Moscow’s first layer of national interests. Some analysts try in a way to link the trip to the new US President Donald Trump entrance to White House. But the new American leader has yet to express his stance on the Russian backyard, and it does not seem that even recent Trump administration officials' scandals in relation to their meetings with the Russian ambassador to the US can force an anti-Russian shift at the White House, or an American intrusion into the Russian backyard.

In addition to preserving Moscow’s central Asian area of sway, another goal behind Putin’s central Asia tour is setting in motion pre-emptive measures to block ISIS terrorist group’s entry to the region, which if happens, will mean closeness to the Russian borders.

Kazakhstan, for instance, shares 6846 kilometers of borders with Russia. So this country’s security and military power enhancement will leave a positive influence on improved security of Russia on its southeastern borders. That is what makes Kazakhstan stand as one of the key Central Asian allies for Russia.

Russian boost of military and economic relations with Tajikistan which borders the chaos-struck Afghanistan is also of great importance for Moscow. In fact, Afghanistan is the loophole of any terrorism infiltration to the countries in the Russian vicinity.

Before emergence of ISIS terrorist group, that seeks expansion into other countries, Afghanistan’s domestic conflict that to a large extent was caused by Al-Qaeda and Taliban presence posed no threats to the Russian national security. Prior to ISIS rise in the West Asia region, Kremlin leaders took advantage of the Tajik military needs to build up presence in Central Asia and subject Dushanbe to Moscow’s influence.

At the time being, regarding the fact that ISIS is active in Afghanistan and Kabul is incapable of pushing it back, Russia is exposed to terror threats. The same danger also looms over China as recently the ISIS militants in a chilling video threatened to join forces with the Uyghor separatists from the Chinese Xinjiang province to turn China into a “bloodbath.” Also bordering China, Kyrgyzstan can prepare the ground for Russia to deploy military forces next to the Chinese borders to cope with the perils coming from rising terrorism.

This becomes clearer if we know that the Russian fighter jets' anti-ISIS air campaign in Syria has triggered a sense of anti-Moscow retaliation of the terror organization, sending the Kremlin officials into a spin. Therefore, sharpened military contacts of Russia with these three Central Asian nations which are by the way members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance led by Moscow and comprising six Central Asian and Caucasian countries, can relax the Russian worries about terrorism risks, and also help Moscow check the Western muscle flexing in the region.

It is likely that Putin during his visits has alerted the leaders of hosting countries to the Western reactions to the terrorism-caused chaos and insecurity, and also to the ISIS penetration to their countries. The poor performance of the US-led anti-terror military coalition in the terror-hit Syria and Iraq and even abusing the chaos in these countries to get military toehold there could be Putin’s evidences against Western anti-terror plans' inefficiency during his talks with the Central Asian leaders.

Moreover, Putin during his visit also pursued an aim to help expand the Eurasian Economic Union, a bloc also containing these three countries and Russia. The Russian leader is well aware of the fact that economic weakness is an essential drive to the regional countries' moving toward the West. Actually, economic troubles can stir political opposition which endangers their rule, not to mention the fact that improved living conditions stifle any tendency of the dissenters to the extremist groups.

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Russia Central Asia Visit Terrorism Threats

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