Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 33 Issue 9
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi
The forthcoming United States + Central Asia summit, scheduled for mid-September 2023, stands as a resounding affirmation of the region’s enduring geopolitical significance.
This event serves as a poignant reminder of the intricate nexus between international powers and the Central Asian republics, underlining the concerted strategies aimed at shaping the region’s trajectory.
In a world where the dynamic interplay of global forces has intensified, marked by the confrontational dynamics between Russia and the West, as well as the competition between Washington and Beijing, Central Asia emerges as a focal point where the currents of geopolitical contention and cooperation converge.
This summit encapsulates the delicate balance of power struggles and collaborative ambitions that define the region’s pivotal role in an ever-evolving international landscape.
On August 18th, 2023, the magazine Forbes published the letter of invitation that the US President Joe Biden wrote to the Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Dated August 11th, 2023, the letter invited the Uzbek leader to attend the “United States + Central Asia” summit in the C5+1 format.
This format, established in November 2015, is a regional diplomatic platform involving the US government and the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The aim is to cooperatively tackle security concerns, ecological obstacles, and boost regional commerce, while augmenting the potential for US trade and investment in the area.
On August 23rd, 2023, the Chairman of the US Senate Committee on National Security and Government Affairs, Gary Peters, met with the Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and informed him of Joe Biden’s invitation to the “United States + Central Asia” summit scheduled for September 2023 at the United Nations General Assembly.
During the discussions, Gary Peters emphasised the strategic importance of Central Asia and underscored Kazakhstan’s pivotal role in the region. Peters affirmed Washington’s commitment to fostering opportunities for further collaborative endeavours in the region.
Previously, on February 27th, 2023, the US Department of State published a document in which articulated the summit’s core objective: strengthening cooperation within Central Asia and between the US and the region to facilitate an independent, prosperous, and secure region.
Central Asia: A Geopolitical Scenario
Central Asia has evolved into a hub of international and regional power interests. Particularly since the onset of the Ukraine conflict, the region has captivated the attention of global players, such as the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, the United States, Turkey, Gulf Arab monarchies, India, and Iran.
The upcoming “United States + Central Asia” summit vividly exemplifies the heightened interest in the region, underscoring its pivotal role in shaping global affairs. Indeed, the region has been the epicentre of numerous events, such as summits and economic forums in the past year, which have been intended to promote regional collaboration and bilateral relations with foreign actors.
Saudi Arabia hosted the “Central Asia + Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf” (CA + GCC) Summit on July 18th-19th, 2023. The summit served as a platform for evaluating Gulf Arab monarchies’ initiatives in Central Asia and fostering collaboration in the realms of culture and religion. Despite geographical challenges, the Gulf countries’ active investments in the region were cemented through this initiative, underscoring their commitment to reinforcing their regional presence.
On June 2nd-3rd, 2023, the second “EU-Central Asia” summit, held in the Kyrgyz city of Cholpon Ata, convened leaders from Central Asian countries and the European Union to discuss the prospects of regional cooperation and explored prevailing international and regional developments.
A few weeks before, on May 18th-19th, 2023, in the Chinese city of Xi’an, Central Asian heads of state participated in the inaugural “China-Central Asia” summit, where Beijing deliberated on a substantial investment package of approximately $3.7 billion. The allocated funds were intended for infrastructural projects that align with the Belt and Road Initiative, reinforcing China’s economic influence in the area.
Simultaneously, on May 18th-19th, 2023, the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan hosted the second EU-Central Asian Economic Forum. During this forum, EU representatives reiterated Brussels’ unwavering commitment to supporting Central Asia’s transition towards sustainable growth, social resilience, and climate neutrality.
On October 14th, 2023, in the Kazakh city of Astana, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Central Asian leaders at the first “Russia – Central Asia” summit. Their discussions cantered on intensifying and deepening economic cooperation among these nations. Emphasising cooperation on mutually beneficial terms, this summit reaffirmed the importance of the Russian Federation in Central Asia and the necessity of fostering economic ties.
These summits allow us to define the following geopolitical scenarios:
- Russia Strategic Imperative in Central Asia. Central Asia, often regarded as Russia’s blizhnee zarubezhe (near abroad), holds paramount significance in Moscow’s geopolitical calculus. As an integral component of its historical lebensraum (vital space), Russia views any foreign interference in the region as a direct challenge to its sphere of influence.
To fortify its regional presence, the Kremlin has adeptly leveraged institutions like the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Through these mechanisms, Russia has orchestrated a multifaceted strategy focused on augmenting both local security and economic development. Notably, this involves bolstering security apparatuses to counter terrorism and enhance border integrity.
Additionally, Russia’s commitment to regional economic growth underscores its determination to safeguard its interests and prevent any unwelcome encroachments in its backyard.
- China’s Belt and Road Embrace of Central Asia. The region occupies a pivotal position in the grand tapestry of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), making it a cornerstone of Beijing’s strategic vision.
This has spurred substantial investments from the People’s Republic of China into the region’s infrastructural development, underscoring China’s ambition to cultivate a stable market and environment. The proximity of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to China’s borders has facilitated Beijing’s active involvement in these nations’ domestic dynamics.
- Multilateral Interplay: United States, Turkey, GCC countries, and Iran. Amidst this intricate geopolitical panorama, the United States, Turkey, and Iran have also solidified their interests in Central Asia.
While the upcoming summit highlights the United States’s continued engagement in the region through soft power projection, educational initiatives, and economic partnerships, the developing dynamics of global politics, including the Ukraine conflict and China’s rise, have prompted Washington to recalibrate its strategic focus.
Central Asia, nevertheless, remains an indispensable component of the US foreign policy calculus, guided by the imperative of averting the emergence of a power that could challenge American supremacy across Eurasia.
Turkey, driven by its Pan-Turkism ideology, has strategically extended its influence in Central Asia through initiatives like the Organisation of Turkic States. This effort aims to carve out an alternative bloc encompassing Central Asian nations, offering a counterbalance to the European Union, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and the Belt and Road Initiative.
Iran, repositioning itself amid Western sanctions, has turned its gaze Eastward, with Central Asia emerging as a strategic focal point. Tehran’s engagement signifies its intent to harness the potential of Central Asia to diversify its partnerships and expand its influence within the region, offering an alternative axis of power in the global arena.
The Gulf Arab monarchies have consistently showed their unwavering commitment to Central Asia through robust engagement and multifaceted collaborations. Their active participation in financing local developmental projects underscores their recognition of the region’s strategic importance.
Notably, their collaborative efforts extend beyond economic initiatives, encompassing a spectrum of areas, including culture, religion, and humanitarian aid. This multifarious approach exemplifies the Gulf Arab monarchies’ earnest desire to cultivate enduring relationships with Central Asian nations, underscoring their proactive role as partners in fostering sustainable growth, cultural exchange, and the betterment of local communities.
The impending United States + Central Asia summit, scheduled for mid-September 2023, not only underscores the region’s enduring geopolitical importance but also mirrors the intricate interplay of global dynamics that seek to shape the destinies of Central Asian republics.
The summit stands as a testament to the region’s centrality and its significance within the intricate Eurasian geopolitical chessboard. Amidst the backdrop of heightened tensions, epitomised by the Russia-West confrontation and the Washington-Beijing rivalry, Central Asia emerges as a focal point where both cooperative and competitive forces collide.
The current state of affairs involving Central Asian republics demands a delicate equilibrium. While these summits reaffirm the region’s allure and the fervent attention it garners from foreign actors, local governments must adeptly navigate the intricate web of external pressures. Each international power seeks to imprint its influence upon regional dynamics while countering its adversaries.
Crucially, foreign investments to fuel socioeconomic advancement and local infrastructure initiatives offers a prospect for Central Asian republics. These summits can serve as gateways to realising these developmental goals. However, the prudent management of such engagements is imperative, as an overreliance on external support – be it financial, military, or political – poses the risk of tying Central Asian republics to the whims of international actors.
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