A On the occasion of a series of regional summits between October 12 and 14, the leaders of several States marched in the Kazakh capital, Astana: Qatar, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Iraq, Belarus, Pakistan… as well as the Chinese vice-president, Wang Qishan, or the Turkish presidents, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Russian, Vladimir Putin. A diplomatic activism in the image of the role that Kazakhstan dreams, not without excess, of playing on the international scene: a bridge between Eurasia and the Middle East.
But behind the scenes, another game is taking place, both geopolitical and economic: the earthquake authorized by the war in Ukraine is also reshuffling the cards in Central Asia. A tectonic shift is at work. It represents a risk of destabilization of the countries in question but also an opportunity for them to gain greater independence.
Until now, Russia has ensured military security in the region, through the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. But here it is: weakened by the war in Ukraine, Moscow is no longer capable of playing the police in the former Soviet republics. Hence the resurgence of old conflicts in recent weeks, particularly between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Hence the hope, too, of greater emancipation of the region with regard to Moscow. In Astana on October 14, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon said that “Russia should not ignore the interests of small Central Asian countries, as it did in Soviet times”while his Kazakh counterpart, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, did not even come to welcome Vladimir Putin personally at the airport – unimaginable there is one yet!
Redraw the trade map
These desires are not new in Kazakhstan, which does not recognize the annexation of territory in Ukraine and welcomes Russians fleeing the mobilization. The country which, like Ukraine, is experiencing a terrible famine under the Soviet game, has been pursuing a so-called “multi-vector” policy for years: cultivating good relations with Moscow as well as with Beijing, Ankara, Washington and Brussels. Which has always annoyed Russia. Since February, zealous close associates of Putin have sometimes threatened to “denazify” Kazakhstan, like Ukraine.
What Beijing said stop. For his first visit since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to Astana on September 14, where he said he supported “national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity” from Kazakhstan. In short: Beijing will intervene if Moscow sets foot in the country. An unlikely scenario. “But these words from Xi Jinjing mark a major turning point”explains Annette Bohr, of London’s Chatham House think tank.
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