Abstract. Currently, sweeping changes in the balance of power are taking place at the heart of Eurasia. Central Asia is going through a fundamental geopolitical shift resulting in the new roles of China, Iran, Russia, South Africa and USA and new relationships with them. Collectively, these changes will lead to the geopolitical reorientation of the region from Eurasia and USA to Asia. By 2025 this trend will have proved out.
Central Asia is headed in the direction, which implies that the region is experiencing a massive geopolitical shift, resulting in weakening ties with Euro-Atlantic community and increasing influence and importance of China. In the foreseeable future, the key partners of Central Asia’s countries will be China and Moscow in the fields of politics, economy and security: it’s connected with the prevailing economic influence of China in the region and the Russia residual presence.
A number of experts reckon that the region has many problems that should be resolved exactly bilaterally, and not through the participation in the unions and alliances. On the other side – Central Asian elites have always known that in case of serious security threat to protect the region without the assistance of foreign partners is not simple.
In the short term (till 2025), CA States will try to preserve the current power balance. In turn, international and regional players which are interested in region, proceeding from their perspectives and opportunities, will provide security and stability of the regions to advance their own practical use. Meanwhile, in the medium turn (after 2025) Central Asian Republics will be faced with the global impact of the world political transitions.
If in the 1990s 2025 was considered as a longterm perspective, in the mid-2000s this date is already short-term. However, the previous basic settings and framework conditions flowing from this fact vary little .
It should be noted that, currently, in the center of Eurasia, there is a large-scale change in the alignment of forces. Central Asia is undergoing a fundamental geopolitical shift, which will result in new roles for China, Europe, Iran, Russia, South Asia and the United States, and new relations with them. Together, these changes will lead to a geopolitical reorientation of the region from Europe and the United States to Asia. By 2025, this trend will be showing itself in fully .
Central Asia is moving in a direction which implies that a major geopolitical shift is taking place in the region, and it will result in weakening ties with the Euro-Atlantic community and strengthening the influence and significance of China. In the near future, the main partners of the Central Asian countries in the spheres of politics, economy and security will be Beijing and Moscow: this is due to China’s predominant economic influence in the region and the residual presence of Russia.
One of the existing problems in Central Asia, which must be solved by 2025, is the long length of the unsettled Soviet-era borders. Hence, the main reason for the emergence of conflict situations in the unresolved border issues, while small skirmishes always retain the risk of developing into a large-scale confrontation. For this matter, experts recommend carrying out an audit of international treaties and find related to it resolved border issues.
Another long-term problem is the requirement to comply with international norms when constructing new hydropower stations on the transboundary rivers of the region. Until 2025 all CA countries should make the effort to participate in constructive dialogue in order to strengthen confidence, mutual consideration of interests, ensure effective energy and water conservation and search for common approaches aimed at improving the formats and mechanisms of interaction. The International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea may become the main platform for interaction between the countries of the region.
Specialists consider the multilateral format of the Rogun HPS project to be more realistic with the participation of external players, for example, Russia and China. This would reduce the tension in the water issue of the region and resolve the existing contradictions.
Further, one of the main problems of Central Asia is a poorly developed railway network, a solution for which should be worked at until 2025.
A number of experts believe that there are a lot of problems in the region that should be solved in a bilateral format, and not through participation in unions and alliances. The countries of Central Asia, realizing the danger of neighborhood with Afghanistan, are trying to create all necessary infrastructure to protect the common borders and invest the maximum amount of forces and resources in the development of their own armed forces.
However, the Afghan problem remains complex for the entire region. Tajikistan is a problematic territory for Uzbekistan, through which Afghan narcotraffic passes. Within the framework of regional and international structures, it is necessary to develop mobile operational units, which are capable of detecting and neutralizing enemy forces in mountain gorges and valleys.
On the other hand, the Central Asian elites have always understood that without the help of external partners, it is not easy to protect the region in the event of serious security threats.
Uzbekistan – 2025
The main changes in the life of Uzbekistan after 2016 are connected with the completion of the “Karimov era” and the beginning of the formation of a new political course. The Governance of the country headed by S. Mirziyoyev proclaimed initiatives to liberalize domestic politics and economy, as well as to build more constructive relations with neighboring states.
As the observers note, in the next three years (i.e. around 2020), Uzbekistan expects profound changes. Now the formation of a new team in the government is being completed, in the following years the situation can radically change. At the same time, a rigid vertical powerstructure is maintained, the course for strict secularization of public and political life and the prevention of the spread of ideas of radical Islam is continued .
The RU is the only state bordering all the Central Asian republics and Afghanistan, while geographically it occupies the central part of the region. There are Uzbek diasporas in all neighboring countries, moreover, and some are second in number, for example, in Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbek army is considered the largest and most powerful in Central Asia, in part because of a significant portion of the infrastructure and military equipment of the Soviet Turkestan Military District remained on the territory of the republic. Economically, Uzbekistan in the region is second after Kazakhstan. The republic managed to preserve the industrial potential existing at the time of the collapse of the USSR, create new industries, such as the automobile industry, and also to diversify agriculture and reduce dependence on the production of water-intensive cotton.
High birthrate, a fairly closed economy model for foreign investors, remoteness from the sales markets, poor development of the transport infrastructure, and a lack of resources prevented the creation of the required number of jobs. As a result, Uzbekistan is the main supplier of labor migrants to Kazakhstan and Russia.
Researchers associate the special place of Uzbekistan in the CA region, first of all, with a capacious internal market (more than 30 million people), its own resource base and political stability. It is also tied up with large- scale projects initiated by the new president S. Mirziyoyev on systemic reform of the republic’s economy. Corruption and bureaucracy, social contradictions, low purchasing capability of the population and the non-liberalized currency market are among the negative factors.
In the strategies of Tashkent nothing has changed – equidistance from Moscow, Washington and Beijing remains an unshakable foundation of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy. But for Tashkent it is also important to intensify the dialogue with its immediate neighbors.
In matters of national security, the country continues to focus mainly on its own forces, while not refusing to develop military ties with Russia, the United States, China, France, Germany. Uzbekistan is interested in ensuring that Russian bases in Central Asia protect the region from external threats, but do not interfere in its internal affairs. A similar situation will be arranged by Tashkent in 2025.
There are large Uzbek communities in all surrounding countries of Uzbekistan, and since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the main principle for Tashkent has been that they are the citizens of other countries and their problems are the problems of those countries, where they currently live. However, there are signs that this approach may change.
Thus, we can confidently predict that until 2025 the policy of non-alignment of the RU to military blocs will continue. Foreign military bases are also unlikely to appear in Uzbekistan, and the development of their own armed forces will remain for him the top priority. Uzbekistan will support Russia’s actions in the field of security policy towards Afghanistan. Moscow, in turn, is interested in strengthening the defense capability of Uzbekistan. Therefore, military- technical cooperation will be a priority for years. Under the treaty, the two countries will carry out mutual deliveries of military products up to 2025, which includes not only weapons and military equipment, but also works, services, intellectual property and information in the military-technical sphere.
Experts recommend in the coming years the introduction of electronic entry visas and a customs control-system “green corridor” in Uzbekistan for foreign tourists in the international airports of Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Urgench; as well as separate passage of passport control for residents and non-residents in airports and railway stations of the country.
Uzbekistan expects serious investments in the high-tech industries of the country. Many problems affect the investment climate, which is assessed as rather complex. These include issues of currency conversion, a double rate and the problem of exporting profits.
Uzbekistan continues to live according to the model whose author is the first president of the country, I.Karimov: in the regulation of the economy, the state has a leading role. The currency issue is the main brake on the entire economy. Bringing national legislation in line with market mechanisms will be a tremendous impetus, leading Uzbekistan to be the absolute leaders of the entire regional economy. This will become the central task of the new governance of the RU until 2025.
The new development strategy for 2017– 2021, adopted in Uzbekistan in early 2017, suggests an increase in GDP by 2030 to more than 2 times. For this purpose, it is planned to implement 657 investment projects with a total cost of about $ 40 billion, create new free economic zones, continue a large program of import substitution and develop large infrastructure projects.
At the same time, the list of reforms, presented by President S.Mirziyoyev, as a whole was fragmented and did not allow to make conclusions about the real scale of the planned innovations.
The strategy of actions was approved by presidential decree in early February 2017. It includes five priority areas, each of which provides an approval of a separate annual state program on its implementation:
1. Enhancement of state and social construction. 2. Ensuring the rule of law and reforming the judicial and legal system. 3. Development and liberalization of the economy. 4. Development of the social sphere. 5. Ensuring security, interethnic harmony and religious tolerance, implementing a balanced, mutually beneficial and constructive foreign policy.
At the same time, the strategic project does not contain points affecting the place and role of security agencies in the system of state bodies. At the same time, the action plan provides for strengthening organizational and practical measures to combat religious extremism, terrorism and other forms of organized crime. This means that the influence of the security forces via the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Security Service on the sociopolitical life of Uzbekistan will remain in the medium term – i.e. until 2025.
As for the liberalization of the exchange rate, the Strategy gives preference to the phased introduction of market mechanisms, and as the main task of economic development, it is indicated to ensure the stability of the national currency and prices in the domestic market. Thus, the issue of lifting foreign exchange restrictions in the short term (until 2025) is removed from the agenda.
For Uzbekistan, the Caucasian transport corridor is of special interest, which will enable the Uzbek cargo to follow through the Black Sea ports of Georgia, the Mediterranean Turkish port Mersin and further to Europe. Uzbekistan considers any opportunities for its products to enter the European market, offering natural gas, cotton fiber, uranium, nonferrous metals, cement, automobiles, fruits and vegetable products. The main issue that is being considered on the negotiations is the formation and adaptation of the through tariff for the whole Caucasian route.
Herewith the Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan- Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan magistral is only a section of the road. The project will have its logical continuation when the construction of the transport corridor China-Kyrgyzstan- Uzbekistan is begun.
At the present stage, Uzbekistan has become one of the important objects to which the Turkish activity is directed. Today in Uzbekistan, there are total 500 Turkish firms and companies. The volume of Turkish investments attracted to the economy of Uzbekistan is more than 1 billion dollars. Turks are ready to invest in the construction of refineries, agriculture, textile, leather industry, etc. Turkish investors are ready to invest 3.5 billion dollars into the Uzbek economy.
According to analysts, it is necessary to search for new formats for cooperation, for example, the formation of a free trade zone (FTZ) within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEC) - Uzbekistan. At the same time, we are not talking about Uzbekistan’s accession to the EAEC.
In the international arena for Uzbekistan, China is increasingly becoming the leading Asian partner, in relations with which interests are becoming more reciprocal. Tashkent develops bilateral cooperation with China and seeks to maximize the benefits from such cooperation for the development of not only the transport infrastructure, without which all programs within the framework of SREB will remain just good intentions. In Uzbekistan, they consider their unconditional support and participation in the implementation of the SREB concept as a broad opportunity for new projects for the development of the real sector of the national economy. Apparently, the existing approach will remain unchanged until 2025.
Uzbekistan intends to use not only China’s own investment resources, but also investment tools in organizations where China plays a leading role. Among them are the Asian Bank for Infrastructure Investments and the Silk Road Fund. Tashkent expects Chinese support to attract preferential investments and the opening of new credit lines to finance the development of the basic sectors of its economy, including the priority transport sphere. Tashkent and Beijing discuss the possibility to connect their railways through Kyrgyzstan. For this, logistics centers near two borders will be opened. First for automobile transport, in the future - for railway transport.
As regards the west, the European Union intends to implement a number of projects in Uzbekistan totalling 168 million euros. In Uzbekistan, there are three EU programs aimed at the development of the agricultural sector. One of them is aimed at helping to grow and certify fruit and vegetable products, which will be competitive not only in the region, but also among buyers in the EU. For this direction, 20 million euros are allocated for a period of two years. Two other programs support a staff training in agriculture – also about 20 million euros - and technical reform of the sphere.
According to experts, the Uzbek model of political and economic reforms is contrary to the concept of Washington. After 2008, when the whole world was embraced by the global financial and economic crisis, Uzbekistan not only stayed afloat, but also entered the top ten countries that show the highest rates of annual GDP growth. The reason for this was that Tashkent did not follow advisers from international organizations, and when implementing its model relied on a serious state presence in the economy. Now, international institutions are ready to do everything to introduce free conversion of the Uzbek currency with the help of an unreasonable comprehensive risk assessment.
A long time ago, Tashkent realized that in terms of economic cooperation and development in the modern world there are only two centers capable of such a strategically important scale: Moscow and Beijing. For political scientists it is clear that Western countries will never become serious global investors for Uzbekistan, they will not fundamentally contribute to the development of the country. Moreover, the nature of the economy and the need for investing in Uzbekistan are such, which does not promise rapid profits. The practice of other countries shows that the Arab monarchical regimes (and a number of other financially secure centers - Japan, South Korea, etc.) are quite restrained in this regard.
In terms of long-term interests, it is important for Uzbekistan to develop cooperation with Moscow, because more than 2 million citizens of the republic work in Russia, it is also an important economic partner and the largest investor, primarily in the oil and gas sector. A certain movement towards the EAEC is not excluded, but not yet at the level of full membership. With Beijing, close cooperation will continue, as China is an important investor primarily in the transport sector, a major buyer of gas produced in the republic. But caution with regard to such a powerful regional player as China is likely to persist, so that probably the proposed by Beijing the free trade zone with Uzbekistan will remain as a project. With Western countries, the situation is somewhat different: there is no serious economic cooperation base.
That is, until 2025, Uzbekistan will constantly strive to diversify its foreign economic relations, but for large projects, “big” investors are also needed. There are only two such, and both Moscow and Beijing are simultaneously interested in the stability of Uzbekistan, proceeding from their own security reasons.
With Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Tashkent has rather tense relations. The main reasons for this state of affairs are the unresolved border issue, which is especially acute in the overpopulated Fergana Valley, as well as the extremely conflicting water and energy theme. These problems will not go away anywhere after 2025.
According to some international observers, Uzbekistan will become the fastest growing country in the next 10 years, both in Central Asia and in Eurasia, and will demonstrate the fastest GDP growth per capita.
Kyrgyzstan – 2025
Kyrgyzstan has certain advantages, which include relatively liberal legislation, cheap labor, favorable conditions for the development of agriculture, light industry and tourism and active participation in the work of the EAEC. At the same time, there is no continuity of the political course in the country, there are risks of political instability and the spread of Islamist ideology .
Moreover, the Kyrgyz economy stagnates, continuing, as before, to keep on grants and loans from abroad, migrants’ transfers, services, the re-export of Chinese consumer goods, as well as gold mining.
In the long term, in five-six years, the gold reserves in the “Kumtor” deposit will be depleted and the receipt of money will cease. The same can happen with other external sources of replenishment of the Kyrgyz budget. If by that time the country cannot modernize the economy and solve at least part of the current problems, the republic will face a full-blown crisis, and this may happen before 2025.
Moscow remains the most important partner for Bishkek. The volume of Russia’s total aid to Kyrgyzstan in the past five years exceeded 3.5 billion dollars - in the form of investments, direct budget financing and other types of support. Russia is ready, as necessary, to expand its military presence in Kyrgyzstan. Russia has traditionally adhered to the principle of supporting the current government, minimizing contacts with the opposition.
Moscow annually spends about $30 million to support the state budget of Kyrgyzstan. Thus, starting from 2012, the total amount of such assistance reached $255 million. In May 2017, an agreement was reached between the countries on the write-off of Kyrgyz debt to Russia in the amount of 240 million dollars. In general, over the past 11 years, Russia has written off over $700 million of external debt of Kyrgyzstan.
According to official data, by 2017, 710 thousand Kyrgyz citizens left for work. Russia accounts for about 80%, or about 600 thousand people. About 450 thousand compatriots received Russian citizenship. The total number of Kyrgyzstanis in Russia alone is more than 900,000 people, which is more than 60% of the country’s able-bodied population. According to the National Bank of Kyrgyzstan, only for the first half of the year 2017 migrants transferred to their homeland 1.9 billion dollars.
On the other hand, China has long played a growing role in the country’s economy. China is one of the main trading partners of Bishkek. According to official data, during 25 years of establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries, China’s direct investment in Kyrgyzstan amounted to $1.2 billion. Kyrgyzstan increasingly becomes dependent on Beijing. Half of Kyrgyzstan’s external debt falls to China. This is about 2 billion dollars at 2% per annum. Chinese investments are present in the mining industry, in the supply of construction materials, in small and medium businesses.
Beijing helps the republic in the reconstruction of Bishkek-Torugart, Osh-Erkeshtam roads, in the construction of an alternative NorthSouth road, the ”Datka-Kemin” substation and the construction of small enterprises in the processing industry.
In recent years, Beijing and Bishkek have decided to accelerate the construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway. The big problem in Xinjiang is the lack of compliance with the infrastructure requirements of the initiative “One Belt - One Way”. Two variants of laying a railway are considered in Bishkek. The first variant is Torugart-Dostuk-At-Bashi- Jalal-Abad with the length of 433 km, the second – Torugart-Arpa-Kara-Suu, 278 km. In Bishkek, they plan to build a road in such way that it covers as many settlements as possible. However, in Beijing, another point of view holds, considering that the transit road will be competitive with a short extension - about 100 km. It is assumed that these problems will require their solution long before 2025.
There is also no consensus on the issue of gauge. Beijing insisted that the road have a European gauge of 1435 mm, while the Russian standard, common for all post-Soviet states, as well as for Slovakia, Finland, part of Afghanistan and Iran, is 1520 mm. Russia connects the situation with ensuring national security in Siberia, the Volga region and the Urals. If there is a Chinese track, then there will automatically appear Chinese security and the Chinese military. This is not a question of Kyrgyz-Russian relations, it is a question of the future of Russia itself. Kirghizia in this project is assigned the role of a transit country.
A major problem in domestic politics, which is unlikely to be resolved before 2025, remains the Islamic question. According to various estimates, there are about 3 thousand active mosques on the territory of the republic, not all of them have passed state registration. To this, we should add 102 acting madrassas, 7 Islamic institutes and 1 Islamic university. A number of experts believe that in recent years in Kyrgyzstan there is a religious psychosis. Religious traditions are propagated in the republic, replicas are being circulated about the possibility of creating an Islamic state in Kyrgyzstan.
According to specialists, until 2025 the role of Islam in Kyrgyzstan will only grow with time and this process is irreversible. Nevertheless, the creation of a political party on a religious basis in the coming years is not possible. Existing Muslim groups do not represent a single whole. These are disparate groups that are under different influence. The intellectual level of the Muslim community is not ripe for the creation of a political platform. At the same time, experts are concerned about the growing number of extremists.
In early December 2017, a change of power is expected in the republic following the results of the presidential elections. The new president will have to solve a number of tasks that have long ripened and are overripe. The state share in the economy is 62%, the share of budget expenditures to GDP is one of the highest in the world. External debt – 40% to the level of GDP. In 2017, the peak of payments for external debt began, which is 4 billion 100.5 million dollars. From 2017 to 2023, the maintenance of external debt from the country’s budget will go from 200 to 300 million dollars.
Keeping in mind the development of the country until 2025 and beyond, experts strongly advise it is necessary to start deregulating the economy, reduce business taxes, simplify registration for small businesses, stake on small businesses, declare a tax holiday for investors, release small businesses from payments for three years. Of course, without political reforms this can not be achieved. It will be necessary to develop state institutions, form independent courts, attract investment.
But in the coming years, observers do not see the prospects for a change in either the constitutional system of Kyrgyzstan, nor the policy aimed at cooperation with the Russian Federation, integration in the EAEC. Among recent trends, we should note a rapprochement with Tashkent. As it is supposed, in subsequent years Kyrgyzstan will be more reoriented to relations with Uzbekistan.
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