The relations between the Central Asian countries and Russia can be considered from several perspectives:
* Science and Education
* Human Rights
In principle, it is precisely these spheres of relations that are to create conditions allowing to talk about the geopolitical influence of Russia in the Central Asian states. However, in reality, the statements of Russian politicians greatly differ from the declared goals of the Russian State and the Concept of the National Security approved in the beginning of the year 2000.
Politics: Russia has signed and ratified Agreements on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance virtually with all the CA States. The difference between these agreements is only in details, mainly of military character, since there are no military consultants or personnel in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The last Russian border troops left Turkmenistan in 1999, while in Uzbekistan they were not even present. Since 1993, the year of signing of CIS Collective Security Agreement, Russia has tried to push Uzbekistan towards a closer a military cooperation several times. Only once, a limited number of Uzbek troops, one battalion, participated in the peacekeeping troops in Tajikistan under the auspices of the United Nations.
Russian border guards are leaving Kyrgyzstan as well. The only CA country with a big number of Russian military personnel is Kazakhstan, which hosts troops supporting the Russian space program.
Hence, only Tajikistan remains within the reach of the Russian military program: according to different sources Russian troops in Tajikistan are comprised of 22 to 25 thousand people, who serve in the 201-st motorized infantry division with garrisons in Dushanbe, Kulyab and Kurgan-Tyube, in a group of the Russian Federal Border Troops and in an anti-aircraft unit. In line with the Military Agreement several dozens military advisors work at the Ministry of Defense of Tajikistan. Preparation of a big military agreement considering establishment of a Russian military base is underway. When created, it will be the first Russian military base in CA.
Among the several aspects of the military-political cooperation of Russia with the CA the most important ones are the problems of Afghanistan, fight with terrorism and “Islamic extremism”. It seems that the offensive of the Taliban on the northern provinces of Afghanistan and their closeness to the borders of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, reactivated the Russian-Tajik Military Agreement. Uzbekistan also started to actively look for a possibility of military cooperation with Russia, and got a chance to do so during the events in the Osh oblast of Kyrgyzstan in August-November 1999.
In April 2000, the press started to suggest that Russia is ready to carry on preventive strikes on Afghanistan in order to make the Taliban abandon their plans of influencing Tajikistan and CA in general.
The only country which conducts an independent policy both inside and outside of the CIS, is Turkmenistan. Russia calmly watches as Turkmenistan gets in contact with the Taliban, but is wary of the desire of Ashgabat to move away from the Russian oil and gas programs.
Economy: This is the most closed topic in the discussions about the Russian-Central Asian relations. First of all, even if Central Asia was officially declared as a zone of vital national interests by Moscow, it never became one in reality. Only in 1994 Russia managed to settle fishing quotas in the Caspian basin with Turkmenistan. As for the most important export product of Turkmenistan, natural gas, it still remains out of reach of Russia.
Russian interests in Tajikistan are defended by more than 20 thousand soldiers and officers, but among actively working enterprises in the country with the US, Canadian, British and Israeli capital, there is no single Tajik-Russian joint venture. The situation is almost similar in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and only in Kazakhstan Russia still sees a potential for an economic cooperation, and the Baykonur cosmodrome is one of the foundations for such a cooperation.
Science and Education: After the collapse of the USSR, the national Academies of Sciences got not only their independence but also an isolation from the world science, as before, scientific links were centralized and passed through Moscow. So was the financing of the science, and as a result, many branches of science which had a centralized management were abandoned owing to lack of financing. The most developed science in Tajikistan-archeology-is exclusively financed through joint projects with the French and American colleagues, whereas the most important science for the country-seismology-drags a miserable existence.
Another problem in the relations between Russia and CA is education. Even if there are students from CA in Russian universities, their numbers are insignificant compared to what was there before. The main reason is financial, as the Russian higher educational institutions have adopted a paid system of education. But stricter requirements from students have also played a role. The only adopted way of cooperation seems to be the opening of joint Slavic Universities, but so far there are only two such examples-in Bishkek (since 1993) and Dushanbe (since 1998).
Human Rights: The least popular topic in the relations between Russia and the CA countries. Russia, like China, Cuba, North Korea and other countries with a totalitarian regime, considers any declarations on violation of human rights as an interference into its internal affairs. In 1992, Russia became the successor of the USSR, including in implementation of the obligations reflected in the General Declaration of Human Rights. In 1995 the Human Rights Declaration was signed by the other CIS countries, but since then nobody observed the basic principles of the construction of a civic society.
Russia did not make a single statement concerning the mass violation of human rights in Tajikistan (more than 70 journalists were killed in Tajikistan between 1992 and 1998, more than 30 independent and party newspapers were shut down), persecutions of the political opposition in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the suppression of strikes in Kazakhstan, and finally, the arrest of one of the opposition leaders in Kyrgyzstan.
On the other hand, Russia periodically makes sharp statements about the violation of human rights of the Russian speaking population in CA counties, but only when there is no danger of damaging general policy of relations with these countries.
The foreign policies of many Western countries consider the protection of human rights as the main requirement for a partner, whereas Russia requires first of all a loyalty to its the foreign political claims, i.e. its geopolitics. Two bright examples of this approach are Turkmenistan or Tajikistan. The regime of Turkmenbashi which is very similar to the Cuban or North Korean model, does not provoke any desire of Russia to call on the President of Turkmenistan to perform his international obligations. The Russian politicians don’t even pay attention to a rather specific fact: the Russian community in Turkmenistan is in the political opposition to the President. This means that Moscow has much more reasons to worry about the violation of the human rights of the Russian-speaking population of Turkmenistan, but it attacks only the Baltic States instead.
This material was published in Bulletin №2 of Central Asian Media Support Project (May 2000)