“Putin Is Losing Out to China in Central Asia’s Latest ‘Great Game'”
Bloomberg Businessweek, November 6, 2014
“As President Vladimir Putin strains to keep Ukraine within Russia’s grasp, he may be losing his grip on another part of his would-be empire: the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which are increasingly turning toward China for investment and trade. … Beijing has plenty of reasons to spend big in Central Asia. Improved infrastructure would help link China to European markets and give China increased access to the region’s rich natural resources. Kazakhstan is a major oil producer, while neighboring Kyrgyzstan has large mineral deposits and Turkmenistan produces natural gas. At the same time, the planned construction would give an economic boost to adjoining areas of western China where Beijing is trying to quell a separatist insurgency… But the predominantly Muslim region, which also includes the countries of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, was annexed by the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik revolution and has remained close to Moscow in the post-Soviet era. Putin has sought to maintain those ties—for example, by inviting Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to join a customs union with Moscow. But with the Russian economy in a deep slump, he can’t match the big money that China is offering. Indeed, Russia’s economic malaise is clobbering some Central Asian economies, spurring them to seek help from China. Take Tajikistan, one of the region’s poorest nations, where an estimated 52 percent of the economy comes from money sent home by migrant Tajik workers, most of them in Russia. Those remittances are now declining sharply, dragging down economic growth and increasing Tajikistan’s ‘vulnerability to shocks,’ the World Bank said in a report last month.”
Quickie Analysis: Plenty of irony here: Putin’s attempt to maintain influence over one part of the former USSR hurts the Russian economy enough to erode Russian influence in another part of the former USSR.