A joint statement has been signed following the online meeting of foreign ministers of the Central Asia and Russia held on 15 October 2020. Its text is published on the website of the Russian foreign ministry.
According to the document, the parties identified several strategically important areas in which Russia and five regional countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – agreed to strengthen cooperation. They include political and diplomatic sphere, security, trade and economy, transport, climate and ecology, energy, sanitation and epidemiology, migration, and the humanitarian sector.
The statement is available here:
So, the near-future agenda of Russia-Central Asia relations will focus on the following tasks, contributing to mutually beneficial and equal cooperation. Here is a summary of each area-passage of the statement:
Political and diplomatic sphere: Enhancing the forms of political and diplomatic interaction, establishing regular and multi-level consultations between foreign ministries to discuss topical issues on the global and regional agendas.
Security: Support for international dialogue aimed at strengthening the security system and confidence among all states, preventing and eliminating threats to peace. The actions of states to ensure their own security should not lead to the formation of dividing lines, confrontation and be carried out at the expense of the security of others. Countering the spread of fake news, recruitment and training, fundraising, and cyber attacks. Supporting the advancement of the process of Afghan national reconciliation and reconstruction.
Trade and economy: Coordination to ensure the smooth movement of socially important goods, food, medical equipment and medicines in the region due to the challenges caused by the pandemic. Interest in improving the quality of human capital, developing trade in goods by simplifying customs procedures and creating joint ventures, expanding business-to-business contacts.
Transport: Implementation of a coherent transport policy; readiness for joint overcoming the structural and institutional challenges facing landlocked developing countries; support for the expansion of the transit potential of the Central Asian region through ESCAP and SCO initiatives; further activation of transport digitalization (development of electronic data exchange in cargo transportation).
Environment and climate change: Readiness to take joint measures aimed at reducing water and air pollution, land degradation and glaciers melting, increasing the area of forest plantations, decreasing the risks of natural disasters, as well as providing clean drinking water; interaction between scientists, environmentalists, doctors and other specialists on Aral problem.
Energy: Realization joint projects, exchange of knowledge, improvement of technologies for production, processing and supply of fuel and energy products, staff training; introduction of advanced technologies using both traditional and renewable energy sources; development of cooperation in the field of electric power.
Ensuring sanitary and epidemiological well-being: Implementing joint projects and sharing the results of research in the field of prevention and control of infectious diseases, building-up laboratory capacity, improving the collective monitoring system and rapid response to emergencies; increasing budget places in Russian universities for training of citizens for partner states in the field of sanitary and epidemiological well-being of the population. Russia will continue to provide direct scientific, methodological and advisory assistance on COVID-19 monitoring, anti-epidemic and treatment-and-prevention measures.
Migration: Creating the most favorable conditions for the life and work of labor migrants from certain Central Asian countries by developing an appropriate legal framework and high-quality professional training for this category of persons.
Humanitarian sphere: Deepening cooperation in the field of education; development of intercultural dialogue, maintaining support in the field of studying and protecting the cultural and ethnographic heritage of the region; preparation of the International cultural festival “Soul of Eurasia”, which will be held annually in one of the cities of the CIS.
Even if the statement is generously packed with mostly declarative and diplomatic turns and phrases, peculiar to such kind of instruments, in general, the document serves as action plan in view of possible future geopolitical changes in the region, primarily related to Afghanistan. For Central Asia will eventually be involved in disentangling the Afghan issue, especially from an economic point of view.
Recently, Trump has tweeted a promise to bring home American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year. However, hawks and Washington military strategists did not agree with the aspirations of the current boss of the White House.
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump 8 Oct.
– We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!
Meanwhile, the November presidential elections is just around the corner. And various predictions portend a win for democrat Joe Biden. And while Biden envisages to leave a small contingent in Afghanistan (between 1,500 and 2,000 troops), his Afghan scenario may be even worse. In February, Biden said: “I’ve been in every part of Afghanistan… here’s what I saw, there is no possibility of uniting that country, no possibility at all of making it a whole country”. He absolutely denied the notion of nation-building in Afghanistan. “The only thing we should be doing is dealing with terrorism in that region,” the democrat said.
Inevitably, the future Afghan deal will affect the behavior of the top world actors in the Central Asian region, as Afghanistan’s closest neighbor. Accordingly, any of the geopolitical players – whether it be the White House or the Kremlin – as regards Afghanistan should have some general consensus and synergy with the Central Asian region, which over the past two decades has already managed to draw this troubled neighbor into the economic orbit. The recent developments have already proved that. For instance, Washington has set up trilateral dialogues USA-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan, and USA-Afghanistan-Turkmenistan.
This is what (albeit in general terms) is stressed in the statement of the FMs of Russia and Central Asia: “Expressing concern about the high level of the terrorist threat in Afghanistan and the presence of international terrorist organizations in this country, we will continue to strengthen cooperation in order to advance the process of Afghan national reconciliation and reconstruction of the country. A comprehensive and sustainable peace in Afghanistan can only be achieved through inclusive negotiations among the Afghans themselves on a political settlement.”
“Emphasizing our concern about the threat of drug trafficking in the region and the organization of arms and ammunition smuggling, we express our readiness to jointly counter these negative trends, including with the participation of the Afghan side.”
However, unlike the US, Moscow does not draw only the Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan into the Afghan affairs, but prefers a comprehensive regional approach.
The key aspect of cooperation between Russia and Central Asia is also the economy – transport, trade, and energy. The Russian Federation remains one of the leading investors in Central Asian countries. The accumulated assets (excluding capital investments from third-country jurisdictions) are estimated at US $20 billion.
More than 17,000 enterprises with Russian capital operate in Central Asia.
In 2019, the total volume of trade between Russia and Central Asia exceeded US $ 30 billion. In 2008-2019 Russian assistance to some Central Asian countries surpassed US $ 6.0 billion.
The share of manufactured goods, products of agriculture, chemical products, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, metallurgical products, machinery is growing in the structure of trade. Most of the total trade turnover is accounted for direct links between Russian regions and Central Asian countries.
At the end of 2019, 160,000 citizens of the Central Asia were studying at Russian universities, 59,000 of them – at the expense of the Russian budget. ///nCa, 16 October 2020