CENTRAL EURASIA IN THE NEW GEOPOLITICAL AND GEO-ECONOMIC DIMENSIONS
Eldar ISMAILOV, Murad ESENOV
Eldar Ismailov, Ph.D. (Econ.), Director of the Institute of Strategic Studies of the Caucasus, Chairman of the Editorial Board of Central Asia and the Caucasus (Baku, Azerbaijan)
Murad Esenov, D.Sc. (Political Science), Director of the Institute for Central Asian and Caucasian Studies, Editor-in-Chief of Central Asia and the Caucasus (Luleå, Sweden)
On the political map of the world, Central Eurasia (CEA), which has stood for centuries at the crossroads of the vital arteries between Western Europe and Eastern Asia, is comprised today of nine sovereign states—Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia.1 Although a historically interdependent, single, socioeconomic area, CEA unites countries which differ immensely in terms of their natural geographic characteristics (territorial relief, supplies of natural resources, area, and so on), economic potential (level of production, investments, incomes, and so on), human development, attitude toward reform, social, environmental, and administrative standing, and willingness to engage in cooperation. Despite these differences, the countries of the region have much in common (mainly of a transitive nature), partly due to their centuries-long common political and economic history (particularly when they formed a part of the Soviet Union) and Soviet heritage, and partly to their significant interdependence in trade, water and energy systems, the environment, difficulties in gaining access to the world markets, and vulnerability to natural disasters and man-induced threats.
Along with this, based on geopolitical and geo-economic expediency, the need and importance of integrating the region into a single integral formation are growing. The stability currently achieved in the region is still rather tenuous, and although the problems arising primarily relate to the region’s countries themselves, they are arousing the increasing concern and involvement of other nations. The range of these problems is rather broad and includes military conflicts, drug trafficking, political, international, religious, economic, and other controversies. These and other problems, which are arising to a certain extent as the result of outside influence on the Central Eurasian region, are having a detrimental effect on the countries around it (Russia, Iran, Turkey, China, India, and Pakistan), as well as on the rest of the world as a whole. This is why, in addition to being a potential market for other countries, the region is also viewed as a source of specific threats, which is making regional stability and regional consent issues of urgent importance.
Dramatic changes occurred in the CEA countries after the Soviet Union ceased to exist as an entity of international law and geopolitical reality and the world socialist system collapsed. These changes were manifested in increased tension in interstate relations and aggravation of the existing historical ethnic and, in particular, territorial disputes. This in turn had an extremely negative impact on the situation in these countries and caused abrupt downward trends in all areas of socioeconomic life during the transition period. Over time, the states of the region were able to make up to one extent or another for what they had lost, but this did not compensate for all the losses in the region. For example, the breakdown in ties and appearance of new borders between the region’s states disrupted supply and demand and raised barriers hindering trade, transit, and payments, thus causing many industrial and agricultural enterprises in the CEA countries to go bankrupt. The consequences of political, economic, and social disintegration were similar throughout the post-Soviet expanse, but we believe they were most intensely manifested in CEA. This is because the region has no access to the sea, depends heavily on external relations and financial transfers, is at the mercy of political conditions, has weak state institutions, and so on.
The new borders and end of the command economy have destroyed the trade and financial, transport, and social ties established during Soviet times, raised barriers hindering interpersonal relations, undermined the integrated, but vulnerable water and energy systems, and made it difficult for the new states to integrate into the world economy. The breakdown in industrial and agricultural supply networks, the emigration of a large number of qualified workers, and the halt in subsidies from Moscow and traditional inter-republic cooperation in the key sectors of the national economy have led to a chronic economic crisis and placed the damper on economic activity. This in turn has caused serious deterioration of the population’s social protection system and an abrupt rise in poverty. Some republics of the region have experienced ethnic conflicts and civil wars. In addition to all these difficulties, each of the countries had to restore its national self-identity, build state institutions, as well as carry out market reforms, in most cases using political and administrative-management personnel from among representatives of the party establishment (nomenklatura).
But the collapse of the Soviet Union also opened up borders and helped the region to establish direct contacts with its Asian neighbors—Turkey, Iran, China, Pakistan, and others. This contributed to the revival of the trade routes that once passed through CEA, via which energy resources can be transported from the region to the world markets, as well as for strengthening ties between the region and the rest of the world. In order to take full advantage of these opportunities, the region’s countries must accelerate political and economic reform and interstate and interregional integration processes, as well as draw up mechanisms for predicting and preventing present-day threats.
The CEA nations and their governments have made notable progress in many important areas to overcome the most serious problems they encountered after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They have succeeded in restoring their national self-identity and building state institutions. Most countries have made immense strides toward creating new market mechanisms and gaining access to the world markets. They are also well on the way toward economic growth after the severe economic slump during the first years of their independence. Regional unions have been created (the EurAsEC, SCO, GUAM, BSECO, and others) which can to one degree or another promote further development of regional cooperation and integration. Whereas at the end of the 1990s, there were reasons to seriously doubt the long-term independence of each state, particularly their integration into a unified region, today there are objective prerequisites for the CEA countries to become prosperous and make rapid progress in all areas of social development. This is shown by the end results of their political, international, economic, and religious affairs in 2005, which we will discuss below.
1 In keeping with the classification we use, the first six states form Central Asia, and the other three, the Central Caucasus. Back to text