Central Asia

Central Asia is the core region of the Asian continent and stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east; from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. Central Asia has been always populated by nomadic people, composed of numerous tribes and served as a crossroads between different civilizations since the earliest times. The Silk Road connected Muslim lands with the people of Europe, India, and China. Throughout centuries, Central Asia was dominated by Persians and Turkic people, and starting from the mid-19th century by Tsarist Russia and then Soviet Union. Thus, the region has witnessed tremendous amount of historical incidences and every major religion has passed through the area, such as Buddhism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, etc.  All five republics of Central Asia achieved their independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and pursued hitherto unknown processes of nation-building and self-determination in the international arena as independent states.

The newly independent Central Asian states have been facing tremendous challenges right after independence. It is widely claimed that Central Asian leaders were unintentional founding fathers. Nevertheless, all leaders were aware of the highly vulnerable conditions of their nations as premature states. Economies of Central Asian countries were tightly intertwined and seriously damaged by the collapse of the USSR: the absence of central management obscured an immediate recovery of common regional systems such as water and electricity supplies. In addition to the disappearance of central structures, Central Asian states stopped receiving subsidies from Moscow that had long helped feed Central Asia's increasing population. Moreover, newly independent countries were encouraged to follow Washington Consensus, a set of 10 economic policy prescriptions considered to constitute the standard reform package promoted for crisis-wracked developing countries. The only country that partially embraced the implementation of Washington Consensus is Kyrgyzstan. Eventually, these policies led to economic shocks and severe impoverishment of population.  Other countries, chose either to rely on natural resources and take a path of gradual transition from planned economy to open market or retain command economy during post-independent period. Unlike other four countries in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan received a bigger amount of foreign aid for its willingness to liberalize its economy during the first years of independence.

Almost every state has unsettled borders issues with one another that increase hostile tendencies in the region. Early Soviet rule ensured that no Soviet republic would have an easy succession and drew borders that did not take into account ethnicities thus creating large minorities in every country. Fergana Valley, which is shared by the three countries of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, ended up with the most complex and sensitive border delineation. Fergana Valley is a fertile and most densely populated region in Central Asia with more than 14 million people; it is also one of the potentially most explosive regions of the former Soviet Union. Since independence, Fergana Valley experienced two major inter-ethnic clashes, a massacre and an attempt of coup by a terrorist group of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. All three parts of the Fergana Valley pose clear dangers for regional security by having dangerous antigovernment sentiment, susceptibility to radical movements, drug-trafficking route from Afghanistan that intensifies organized crime presence.

Increasingly, Central Asia finds itself in a situation that is similar to “Great Game” of the 19th century between Great Britain and Russian Empire. The new great game of the 21st of century started after 9/11 events and Central Asia found itself among Russia, the USA, China, Turkey and to some extend Iran. For the United States and its allies, the region became a valuable supply hub for the Afghanistan war effort until 2014. For Russia, it is an arena in which to exert its traditional sphere of influence political influence. For China, it is a source of energy and a critical partner for stabilizing and developing the restive Xinjiang province in the Middle Kingdom's west.