Letter From the Editors

The Central Asian states are in a tough spot as Brussels prepares its 11th package of anti-Russian sanctions. As NG reports, this package will target third countries that Moscow uses to circumvent EU sanctions. According to expert Aleksandr Knyazev, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will be hit hardest by another round of restrictions, and will have to face some difficult decisions. As he explains, most of Kazakhstan’s exports are bound for Europe, so it has an interest in supporting new sanctions. But if it does, it risks losing the Russian imports “vital for mass consumption.” As for Uzbekistan, whose largest company has already taken a major sanctions hit, Knyazev believes that it will be guided by its own national interests as it navigates the sanctions waters.

Russia’s position on the new package was articulated by Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin, who said that the Central Asian countries are “displaying readiness to follow the West’s restrictive measures,” but that they understand “the artificial destruction of ties with Russia could result in more serious damage than the notorious secondary sanctions.” However, as Uzbek expert Akram Nematov points out, the “China factor” is also at play here. In fact, the Central Asian leaders travelled to Xian this week for a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is jockeying with Russia for influence in the region. The talks will focus on trade, infrastructure projects and energy sources, but, as Vladimir Skosyrev explains, there are trade-offs for Central Asia: As a thank you for loans, China will expect to become more deeply involved in regional security, which won’t sit well with the Central Asian countries that border Xinjiang, where China’s Muslim minority is facing repressions.

For a preview of how things may turn out for Central Asia, we can look to Georgia, with which Russia recently eased travel restrictions. Georgian Foreign Minister Ilya Darchiashvili welcomed the decision, saying it “makes life easier” for Georgian citizens in Russia. But Georgian oppositionist Anna Tsitlidze said the move was a sign of “Russia’s approval for what the Georgian Dream party has done over the past 11 years***to damage [Georgia’s] European path and the process for receiving EU candidate status.” And Washington warned of possible sanctions against Tbilisi, saying that “now is not the time to deepen relations with Russia”

Another part of the world in a suspended state is Turkey, where this week’s polarized presidential election ended in a stalemate. Now the country is waiting with bated breath for a runoff vote that will determine whether it continues Erdogan’s eastward course or sets sail for the West. With Turkey serving as a “key communications channel connecting Russia with the rest of the world,” Moscow is obviously hoping for an Erdogan victory, even though, as NG points out, its interests are often at odds with Ankara in places like Central Asia, for example.

Meanwhile, back in nonpolarized Russia, Putin has left the Communist Party hanging after his administration was angered by a treatise penned by RFCP leader Gennady Zyuganov. While Zyuganov praises the Kremlin for its actions in Ukraine, he also criticizes its social and economic policies. According to Konstantin Kalachov, “Zyuganov is for some reason continuing the [Russian] Civil War when he starts expounding on Red patriotism versus White patriotism and the Soviet Union versus the [Russian] Empire.*** No one really understands what we’re restoring, because some believe it’s the Soviet Union and others believe it’s the Empire. In other words, the Communists are having discussions that are not encouraged.”

Any disputes, however, are at root meaningless. As Aleksandr Zhelenin writes, “as a result of long, drawn-out political and ideological evolution, most of Russia’s organizations today are essentially ultraright. In this respect, support for them from an equally ultraright president is quite logical.” Unfortunately, this does not bode well for anyone, including Central Asia, China, Georgia, Turkey and the RFCP, to say nothing of Ukraine.