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World View: Russia’s Economic Slowdown Means Financial Disaster for Central Asia

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Russia’s Vladimir Putin tightens grip on Tajikistan at CSTO meeting
  • The troubled history of the CSTO in Central Asia
  • Russia’s economic slowdown means financial disaster for Central Asia

Russia’s Vladimir Putin tightens grip on Tajikistan at CSTO meeting

Vladimir Putin at CSTO meeting in Dushanbe on Tuesday (Kremlin Press Service)
Vladimir Putin at CSTO meeting in Dushanbe on Tuesday (Kremlin Press Service)

Recent street violence in Dushanbe, the capital city of Tajikistan, is providing an excuse for Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to tighten his grip on the country.

The violence was caused by an alleged coup by armed groups led by a government official, deputy defense minister and general Abduhalim Nazarzoda, who attacked police posts and military bases around Dushanbe on September 4. The shootouts left more than 20 dead, including eight police officers, and Nazarzoda then fled into the hills, about 50 km outside the city, where he is still at large.

This occurred in the lead-up to Tuesday’s high-level summit meeting, also in Dushanbe, of the leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a mutual defense organization whose members are from the former Soviet Union — Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Armenia, and the host, Tajikistan.

Russia already maintains three military installations in Tajikistan, and after the recent violence, Russia’s president on Tuesday pledged to “help and support” Tajikistan. Putin defended Russia’s new military incursion into Syria because of threats from the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh). He said that the threat from ISIS is just as serious in Tajikistan because of the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, and because of the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan. He suggested that more Russian troops could enter Tajikistan for the purpose of guarding Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan from ISIS. According to Putin:

Terrorists publicly claim that they set their sights on attacking Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. They are planning to expand their activities to Europe, Russia, Central and Southeast Asia. […]

The real threat of terrorist and extremist groups infiltrating the countries neighboring Afghanistan is rising. […]

Here in Tajikistan you are confronted with problems, with encroachments and attempts to rock the situation, and I would like to say that you can always count on our assistance and support.

However, with an 810-mile border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, it is not clear how many Russian troops will be required.

Putin is using a similar strategy in several countries. He justifies the Russian invasion and continued Russian military intervention in Ukraine by referring to Ukraine government officials as Nazis. And he justifies Russia’s military incursion into Syria, and now into Tajikistan, by stoking fears of ISIS.

In the case of Tajikistan, however, this argument may be wearing thin. The recent violence in Dushanbe had nothing to do with ISIS; it was generated by armed rebellion within the Tajik government. EurasiaNet and The Diplomat and Reuters

The troubled history of the CSTO in Central Asia

The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was formed in 2002 as a mutual defense organization seen as a counterbalance to NATO, but also claiming to seek closer cooperation with other multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and NATO.

Russia is clearly preeminent in the CSTO, among the other members Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, and that’s the difference that makes the CSTO different from an organization like NATO. NATO is a military alliance of countries that support each other militarily, and even though the United States is the greatest power in NATO, the other members states are clearly independent.

But CSTO is much a collection of bilateral relationships between Russia and each of the member countries. A clear example of CSTO’s problems is the withdrawal of Uzbekistan from the organization in 2012.

Uzbekistan was a member of the CSTO predecessor organization, but withdrew in 1999. Uzbekistan then joined CSTO in 2006, but never ratified the guideline documents of the organization.

Uzbekistan has by far the strongest armed forces in Central Asia, and yet these forces have never participated in CSTO collective exercises, which are mainly a spectacle arranged to show off the power of the Russian military.

Uzbekistan has banned all foreign military bases on Uzbek soil, and it is believed that Uzbekistan’s refusal to remain in the CSTO is a political strategy to get what it wants out of big powers like the U.S., Russia, and China, without giving up its sovereignty in return.

With its most powerful member (except for Russia) out the organization, the CSTO seems almost to be irrelevant, and not a successful counterbalance to NATO. Global Security (March 2014) and EurasiaNet (26-Dec-2012)

Russia’s economic slowdown means financial disaster for Central Asia

Russia’s economic slowdown has been a financial disaster for Central Asian countries, especially Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Estimates vary, but in 2014 there were between 3-6 million migrant workers from Uzbekistan in Russia, with over 2/3 in Moscow. Some 2-3 million migrant workers from Tajikistan were in Russia.

In 2014, transfer payments from migrant workers in Russia to Tajikistan amounted to $3,349,000,000, or about 36.2 percent of that country’s GDP. The true figure was probably higher, because of informal remittance channels. Uzbekistan’s migrant workers in Russia sent home $5.5 billion in 2014.

Because of Russia’s economic slowdown, remittances are expected to be less than half those amounts in 2015. This means that in Tajikistan, GDP will fall directly by 20%, and perhaps as much as 50% because of the multiplier effect.

None of these countries has the economic or political capacity to make up for these shortfalls. Indeed, the reason that so many citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan went to Russia in the first place was not just for higher wages, but also due to a lack of any other jobs at home.

The loss of remittances, plus the return of millions of migrant workers, may be economically disastrous for Central Asia. Many of the migrant workers returning from Russia may decide to continue on to Afghanistan, to join ISIS or the Taliban, and so they may present a terrorist threat to their home countries. Jamestown (Paul Goble) and EurasiaNet (15-Jan-2015)

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Tajikistan, Syria, Abduhalim Nazarzoda, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Afghanistan, Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Collective Security Treaty Organization, CSTO, United Nations, Nato, Uzbekistan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Shanghai Cooperation Organization, SCO, Taliban
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