Why Is Central Asia Dumping Russia for China?

Russian president Vladimir Putin listens to his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, during a meeting in Moscow, April 26
Russian president Vladimir Putin listens to his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, during a meeting in Moscow, April 26 (Kremlin)

Central Asia has long been stuck between a rock and hard place in terms of its geopolitical environment. Landlocked, with China to the east and Russia to the north and west, Central Asian leaders have had to balance their alliances with the powers that surrounded them.

In pre-Soviet times, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Uzbek leaders would utilize relationships to gain wealth for their countries. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union it became more about security, making sure the newly-formed states were not overrun by the bigger boys. To this end, Central Asian states entered into regional cooperative organizations with China and Russia like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the hopes of controlling the influence each power exerted on the five nation states.

25 years on, this struggle to balance relations has failed and China is now poised to make a spectacular economic conquest of Central Asian markets.

In 2015, China became Uzbekistan’s largest trading partner with $3 billion worth of trade and Kazakhstan’s largest investor with 33 deals delivering $23.6 billion to the nation.

China has also focused heavily on Turkmenistan’s energy sector, where it has been purchasing some 30 billion cubic meters of gas a year since 2009 while providing substantial military aid. China also took over in Kyrgyzstan last month as the builder and partner in two hydropower projects. Read more “Why Is Central Asia Dumping Russia for China?”

Kurdish Independence Would Reverberate Across Region

Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, speaks with European Union foreign policy coordinator Federica Mogherini in Munich, Germany, February 13
Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, speaks with European Union foreign policy coordinator Federica Mogherini in Munich, Germany, February 13 (EEAS)

The secession of the Kurdish Autonomous Region from the Iraqi state increasingly appears to be a matter of when, not if. It is already essentially de facto independent, as the Kurds conduct their own foreign policy and trade deals from their capital in Irbil with little regard for Baghdad’s wishes.

It is therefore unsurprising that early last month, Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, reiterated calls he previously made in 2014 for a referendum on the independence of Kurdistan.

While there are no immediate plans for actually carrying out such a referendum, it is worth considering the impact that an independent Kurdish state would have on the Middle East. Read more “Kurdish Independence Would Reverberate Across Region”

Timing Ideal for Iraq’s Kurds to Declare Independence

View of downtown Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, December 21, 2014
View of downtown Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, December 21, 2014 (BZ/Hawre Khalid)

After almost a century of broken promises and political strife, the Kurdish population of the Middle East seems to be coming into its own. Kurds in Iraq and Syria have been essentially the only force to persistently enjoy success in combating ISIS and have provided enclaves of relative stability as their respective states have crumbled.

The Iraqi Kurds have been especially successful. Since the formation of the Kurdish Autonomous Region following the American invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds have essentially created their own state based around their capital at Irbil, complete with a largely autonomous income from oil sales and trade with Turkey. Due to a variety of domestic, regional and international factors, the time is now ripe for Iraqi Kurdistan to formally declare independence and sever the ties which bind it to Baghdad. Read more “Timing Ideal for Iraq’s Kurds to Declare Independence”

Belarus Caught in the Middle Between EU and Russia

Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev, Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia meet in Minsk, October 24, 2013
Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev, Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia meet in Minsk, October 24, 2013 (Kremlin)

On Monday, the EU decided to put an end to a set of sanctions, in place for five years, against Belarus. Travel restrictions, the freezing of personal assets and sanctions on state-owned firms were in place since the repression of political opposition following the 2010 presidential elections. Read more “Belarus Caught in the Middle Between EU and Russia”