RUSSIA IN CENTRAL ASIA: Accepting the Necessities, Defining the NeedsPHOTO: Sergei Borovikov: Kyrgyz beauty on Kyrgyz Summer Folk Festival on the Issyk-Kul lake. 27.07.2006

Published: Русское стрелковое общество, журнал «Профи»

The article below of Valentin Bushkov, Igor Majarov, Alexander Sobianin is the translation from «Niezavisimaia Gazeta» (, translation was made by the Russian Rifleman Society (Russkoe strelkovoe obschestvo), that Society was the editor of the «Profi» journal in 1998-2003 years.

Shortened version published in Russian by Sodruzhestvo — Niezavisimaia Gazeta (Sodruzhestvo-NG). No 1, January 31, 2001, page 14:

What follows is the full text of V.I.Bushkov, I.V.Mazharov and A.D.Sobianin, as it is here:

Professor Valentin Ivanovich BUSHKOV was Head of the Department of Central Asia, the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology (IEA) of the Russian Academy of Science, author of the «Anatomy of the Civil War in Tajikistan» (V.I.Bushkov dead in 2009);

Orientalist Sinologist Igor Vitalyevich MAZHAROV was Head of the «Profi Far Eastern bureau», expert on China Armed Forces (now is a consultant living in Hangzhou, his web-site;

Orientalist Indologist Alexander Dmitrievich SOBIANIN was Assistant Editor of the «Profi» journal (now he is Head of the service for strategic planning of the Association for trans-border cooperation (Russia) and Head of Strategic Planning Department — member of Expert Council of the Centre of Strategic Conjuncture, Moscow).

The “MOUNTAIN REGIONS OF ASIA: Economic and social developments and the problems of security of the neighboring states” round-table discussion concerning economic and social developments in the mountain regions of Central Asia took place on December 1, 2000. It was organized by the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology (IEA) of the Russian Academy of Science, the Russia Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), and the Profi journal (Moscow). Basing on the discussion, the following preliminary conclusions have been made by the authors of the article.


А. Russia in Central Asia: Challenges and Mistakes

1.        Russia has not developed any consistent policy in Central Asia. Although a new government came into power in 2000, the events of that year showed that Russian policy in the region is still limited to situational response to individual challenges and problems.

2.        Menace to Russia’s security is increasing. As a result, Russia is losing her economic and political advantages, while the menace to her security is increasing. The main dangers Russia is now exposed to are listed below in decreasing order:

  • A. The USA, as well as China, Japan and some others, obtain still greater access to mineral resources of the Pamir and Tien-Shan Mountains (gold and silver ores, uranium, rare earth elements, non-ferrous metals, complex ore deposits, etc.), which have been the sphere of Russian strategic interest.
  • B. Russia’s formal allies – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – are now interested in the USA, China and Pakistan increasing economic presence in the region, by means of either functioning, constructed or projected transportation auto and railway routes, gas and oil pipelines. Thus Russia is automatically losing many of her strategic advantages.
  • C. Since 1990, national elite of the CIS Central Asian states has been schooled mainly in Europe and the USA, and not in Russia. As a result, a new generation of administrators emerged that is no more Russian-oriented and can easily drive their Soviet-style elders out of power.
  • D. After the power in the Mujaheed Afghanistan had been seized by the U.S.-projected Taliban, another American-backed project was launched, that of the takeover of Central Asian secular regimes by the Islamists (the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Party of the Revival of Tajikistan, the Uighur separatist movement, etc.). As a result, in the nearest future new territorial bodies may come into existence that no secular government will be able to control, and Russia may be caught up in a large scale war either in 2001 or in 2002.
  • E. There is a risk that radical Islamist organizations, headed by emissaries from Central Asia, emerge in the Volga and Ural regions of Russian Federation. The religious propaganda of Arab and Chechen teachers there has not borne much fruit until now, due to a kind of psychological rejection; but Central Asian missionaries may be more successful, as nothing of the kind is felt towards Uzbeks and Kazakhs, in spite of them having studied in the same Arab countries as the Chechen.
  • F. The number of drug addicts has already risen several times in Russia. One more danger lays in the fact that, due to cheap drugs from Central Asia, where traditionally only marijuana has been used, Russia changed her status from that of a drug transit territory to a consumer of hard stuff (heroin and synthetic drugs).

3. The only way to block the negative tendencies is to understand and accept what has happened since 1991. Russia has to exclude the possibility of relapsing into imperial thinking and must stop copying the USSR policy in the region, for which she has neither force, nor means. She should concentrate instead on the future of her relations with Central Asian nations and on the integration tendencies.

4. A sensible Asian policy should be developed in Russia, intelligible both to internal  and external forces. The problem is that analytical institutions in Russia tend to overvalue the confidential information they get and to underestimate the ongoing large-scale social processes, as well as changes in the geopolitical force relationship. As a result, the number of analytical institutes and centers being excessive, neither of them is able to provide the government with adequate analysis of what is going on in Central Asia or what are Russian prospects there. Thus a new system of priorities should be developed for analytical institutions too.


B. Russia in Central Asia: Accepting the Necessities, Defining the Needs

There are several things Russia should do to respond adequately to imminent dangers. These things are as follows:

  • Estimating menaces right.  Incorrect understanding of how grave different kinds of menaces really are leads to an ineffective response. E.g., Russia is unable to deal with the Islamist challenge, which she is the best prepared to. There are no Russian military forces in crucial subregions, mostly between Badakhshan and Kuliab, which Islamist movements use to build up their forces. At the same time unnecessarily large units are kept in places that are in lesser danger, mostly around Dushanbe. Our view of the correct hierarchy of menaces is exposed in the Point 2 (above).
  • Developing a comprehensive information policy in the region. In case our estimation of  menaces is correct, it’s the development of a clear and concise information policy that should be given preference. The Russian economic interest should go next – Russia must protect it with real actions, including measures against foreign economic presence.
  • Activating the pro-Russian elite. One must admit that there is already a large number of Central Asian middle-level leaders, who are oriented towards the USA, Iran (especially the Tajiks), and the EC, to a lesser extent towards Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or China, but not towards Russia. As a rule, all of them are decided to make every effort to defend their nations’ independence and ready to oppose tendencies towards unification of the CIS. After a new and sensible Russian policy is worked out, Russia must counterbalance them by activating the pro-Russian (they say “pro-Soviet” in Central Asia) part of local elite. Russia should openly support those among second- and third-echelon administrators, who are more pro-Russian than their presidents. It is of utmost importance that the interest towards integration were expressed rather by the local elite, than by Russia.
  • Making China accept the Russian leadership in the region. It’s typical of the Chinese to stick to their obligations only if their partner is an equal or a stronger player. As a result, Russian policy in Central Asia will be doomed to failure unless China begins to perceive Russia as “the only leader” of the region. China cannot be turned into an ally, but should not be made an enemy. Until now, the Russian policy towards it has been a combination of the opposites: namely, attempts at general rapprochement, on one hand, and tendency towards total counteraction wherever possible, on the other. The both proved to be ineffective. The rapprochement fails, because China has been viewing Russia as a negligibly weak nation and not as a partner. In what concerns the second tactic, one should realize that Russia neither has, nor will have in the nearest future, the resources adequate to fight China’s increasing influence. A more practical approach should be adopted. Russia must work out her stance on every single disputable point (e.g., spheres of influence in the Ferghana Valley, on the Altai, and in Mongolia; boundary disputes; defense cooperation; joint economic projects, etc.) and also on every item of probable mutual interest.  After that, the only suitable tactic will be that of sticking doggedly to the Russian interest. Russia should give over all the attempts to change her course depending on  the situation. Or else she must be ready for recurring losses, like Kazakhstan, which has finally conceded to China the control over the upper reaches of the Chorny Irtysh river (the Black Irtysh). China cannot be played strategic games with – but may  and should be induced into serious political negotiations after Russia is acknowledged by Beijing as the Central Asia’s only leader.
  • Organizing “total opposition” to the USA among the local elite. Unlike China, the USA can be “totally opposed” even now – Russia has only to use the political advantages she inherited from the USSR. At the moment, the USA rank second to her in the influence on Central Asia. Russia should give over her “contract politics” and stop dividing the spheres of influence with the USA. Quite the contrary, she must not enter  negotiations of any kind, either official or non-governmental, in order to block the American presence in the region. The experience proved that such agreements just tie her hand and foot and are neglected by the American part. It’s only the “total opposition” to the American influence in Central Asia that can turn out effective, including countermeasures in economics, especially in the mining industry. One should  remember that in the mainland Russia American investment in mining means only the U.S. increasing influence, while in Central Asia  the same results in the local administration adopting pro-American and anti-Russian policies.

Russia is too much dependent on the world market to oppose the USA in Central Asia all alone. This should be done by the pro-Russian part of the local administrative elite. Any Russian attempt to take part in negotiations herself will lead only to the decline of her influence in the region.

  • Restoring control over Afghanistan. The Najibullah’s regime retained power for several more years after Soviet troops had left Afghanistan. That was the proof that Russia still has chances to influence Afghanistan by non-military means.  For the moment she must work out a concise program of supporting pro-Russian Afghanistan leaders (Akhmad Shah Masoud, immigrant supporters of Najibullah, etc.); however, every one of them must be given clearly to understand what he will have to do to support Russian interest in the region if the Taliban finally leave Kabul. The experience has showed that threats from Moscow or Russian military presence in Afghanistan are less effective and far more expensive than such a kind of allied action.
  • Blocking Pakistan’s counteraction. After the breakup of the USSR, Pakistan was one  to be hit hardest by the change in geopolitical force relationship. As the American policy in North-West and South Asia shifted to rapprochement with China, and India declared the USA her main trade partner, Pakistan was shorn of American financial and military support. Therefore access to resource-rich regions, such as Central Asia or China (via Xinjiang), became a matter of life or death from the point of view of its statehood. Russia must accept this fact and therefore work out the conditions, on which Pakistan may get access to Central Asia’s resources: via the existing route from Karachi by the Karakorum highway to the Ferghana Valley. At the same time she must make it clear what her reaction will be if Pakistan tries to lead talks with Central Asian states only, excluding Russia, or goes on supporting Uzbek and Tajik extremist movements that aim to overthrow secular regimes in the region. At the same time Russia must not copy the former USSR anti-Pakistani stance, which was based on the support of India – the latter developing the partnership with the USA and striving for hegemony in South Asia, Russian support for her would be rather ill-judged.
  • Preparing for possible increase of military presence in the region. As the events of the years 1999 and 2000 demonstrated, even the best armed military force in the region – the Uzbekistan army – is unable to resist the Islamists on its own. Therefore we must conclude that in future Russia will have to stop their progress all alone. After the probing actions of 1999 and 2000, an armed invasion is imminent in 2001 and 2002, and most likely the task of defending the region will rest entirely with Russia. The armed forces of Central Asia will perform only auxiliary duties, like the Taliban, which played similar role, when helping Pakistani regular troops to overthrow the Mujaheed power in Afghanistan.

In such a situation Russia needs to:

  1. Prepare for possible deployment of her Central Asian Corps, which must not be subordinate to the Collective Peace Keeping Forces.
  2. Deploy service and auxiliary troops in the Osh and Batken oblasts of Kyrgyzstan (first of all, in the cities of Osh and Batken and in the Alai Valley).
  3. Move several units of the 201 Motorized Infantry Division from the Dushanbe and Kuliab neighborhoods to the Sugd oblast (Khujand, Khojent), first of all to Karategin.
  4. Deploy rear service troops in the Alai Valley, in order to provide for the on-land support of the Russian Federal Border Guard Separate Group in the Republic of Tajikistan (Badakhshan), past the existing railroad via Uzbekistan, which can be easily cut off in case the Islamists gain larger support in the Ferghana valley.
  5. Organize a joint military exercises by the 201 Division and the Uzbekistan troops in the Uzbek-populated oblasts of the Ferghana Valley, to bolster the alliance with Uzbekistan and to prevent Uzbekistan from organizing any joint exercises with the NATO in the Ferghana valley.
  6. Provide for an overt (to be noticed by the Chinese) presence of a group, even a small one, of Russian military advisors on the passes of Irkeshtam and Torugart at the Kyrgyzstan border.
  7. Make good contacts with local population, namely with the Karategin and Darwaz Tajiks, and the Pamir Ismaelites.
  • Leading an independent campaign against drug traffic in the region. Presently the anti-drug efforts of Central Asian governments are in reality mere elements of political game with Russia and the USA, as well as a means of controlling local population. But as to Russia drugs are a serious threat. Moreover, drug addiction has become an epidemic in several Russian regions. One must realize that an anti-drug campaign can be effective only under condition that Russia starts one on her own. The USA have done it alike, launching their own campaign in Latin America and coordinating only a small part of their actions with either local governments or European allies. Similarly, Russia should claim her right to fight drug trade in Central Asia on her own, not delegating this task to the local security structures.
  • Creating an open information center. After the Soviet troops had entered Afghanistan in 1979, the inadequacy of Afghan studies carried on by closed analytical institutions  became obvious. It was only in 1982, when experts from open research centers joined the work, that the Soviet policy in the region became much more effective. Today the level and the novelty of challenges Russia is facing exceed by far those of the year 1979; however a considerable part of the Soviet-time research capacity has been lost since and the continuity of scientific schooling is broken. That’s why the pool of experts, which can be turned to, if needed, for an advice, should be made considerably larger.

The people working in the closed research institutions, in spite of their having access to confidential documents, are bound to suffer from narrow-mindedness and scholarship weakness as they never participate in normal scholar life and are not exposed to criticism. The USA, where there are few closed and many open academic institutions, may set a useful pattern for the organization of analytical work in Russia. However, in Russia the work in state institutions is less prestigious, than in the USA, that’s why besides creating an open research center a large scale PR action is needed to improve their image with young researchers. The best way to deal with the problem is to create an information center for the analysis and development of Russian policy in Central Asia, which would cooperate with both academic institutions and state-owned information projects, such as the Russian Mass Media Congress (, Strana.Ru (, etc.