Prospects for Coperation between Russia and Central Asia

On May 17-18, the II Central Asian Conference "Russia — Central Asia: Cooperation and Development Amid Instability" was held at the Valdai Club. The event was attended by about 40 experts from 10 countries – Russia, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. 

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Andrey Rudenko in his welcoming speech gave some data on Russia's cooperation with the countries of Central Asia. In 2021, the trade turnover between Russia and the countries of the region amounted to $ 27 billion, which is 30% higher than in 2020. The volume of accumulated investments in Central Asian countries is $30.5 billion. Migration is an important aspect of relations: more than 4 million citizens of the countries of the region are in Russia on a permanent basis, 160,000 of them are studying at Russian universities, including state scholarships.

Rudenko noted that Central Asia is a region that is perceived as an island of stability in turbulent times.

The first day of the conference was devoted to geopolitical challenges and joint development of the countries of the region and the states bordering them.

Wang Wen, Executive Dean of the Chunyang Institute of Financial Studies at the People's University of China, said that the world community has not faced such a number of one-time and large-scale challenges since 1945. Among the challenges he mentioned the pandemic and its consequences, the armed conflict in Europe, climate change, the food crisis, inflation and the undermining of confidence in the global financial system as a result of the confiscation of Russian assets by Western countries. 

Daniyar Kurbanov, Director of the Information and Analytical Center for International Relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, spoke about the relations between Russia and Uzbekistan. He stressed the importance of partnership between Russia and Central Asian countries in ensuring regional security, socio-economic stability, and the implementation of national modernization strategies.

The speaker named the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a platform for the development of practical cooperation.

The threats to the region were discussed at the conference, among them terrorism, drug trafficking, radical ideology and the migration crisis. Experts consider the situation in Afghanistan as the main problem for the region, stressing the need to prevent the transformation of this country into a "rogue state". Another challenge for Central Asia is the archaization of society and its extreme traditionalization. Experts agreed that this is the reverse side of attempts to preserve the national identity of the peoples of the region.

The issues of economic cooperation and world trade were also not ignored. The speakers discussed the need to reorient the Russian economy and the opportunities that open up for Central Asian states if they participate in the redirection of Russian logistics flows. Experts also talked about non-standard solutions for international trade. For example,there was a proposal to allow cabotage transportation and registration of Russian and Belarusian carriers' vehicles in Kazakhstan.

To circumvent the sanctions on consumer goods, it was also proposed to involve Kazakhstan, offreing it to open shopping centers with sanctioned products in the areas bordering Russia.

The second day of the conference was dedicated to the relations of Russia and China with the countries of Central Asia in the new conditions. The experts stressed that the current geopolitical situation opens a window of opportunities for cooperation in the Eurasian space.

The participants of the meeting discussed the role of China in the region. Experts evaluated the experience of the Central Asian republics' participation in the Chinese "One Belt, One Road" initiative.

In Kazakhstan, this project has become an impetus for the development of the logistics industry and the formation of a wide pool of specialists in the sphere, as well as the role of Kazakhstan as a transit state has grown.

An expert from Kyrgyzstan, Nursulu Akhmetova, noted that China's investments in the republic exceed Russian ones. She expressed hope for the resumption of modular projects within the framework of the "One Belt, One Road" against the background of the ongoing revision of logistics cooperation and recommended that the Russian Federation adjust its policy in Central Asia taking into account the Chinese factor. Akhmetova noted that China is deepening cooperation with the countries of the region, including in the social sphere, but Russia still has more in common with the Central Asian republics than China.

Part of the discussion was dedicated to changing the perception of China in the region since the beginning of the pandemic and the Beijing's shift towards its domestic policy. Experts' opinions were divided: some argued that there is a reason to believe that China will close, but temporarily; others suggested that in modern conditions isolation is not possible for China  due to its status of a "global power". The opinion was expressed that despite the closeness and inaccessibility to visit, China has preserved its image in the region.

For the Central Asian republics, the country is attractive in terms of economy, and the republics, like other developing countries, are still waiting for Chinese investment.

The conference also discussed the complicated situation in the information field, ways to counter disinformation, propaganda and xenophobia aimed at destabilizing the countries of the region and dividing the population. Rahim Oshakbayev, director of the TALAP Center for Applied Research, said that neither Russia nor the Central Asian countries properly possess the skills of countering or managing information tools, which entails a significant gap in the information confrontation.

The second day of the conference ended with a discussion of economic aspects of relations and an exchange of views on the further development of the economy of Russia and the countries of the region. Marcel Salikhov, Director of the HSE Center for Economic Expertise, suggested that in the long term, the economic growth of developing countries, including the Russian Federation and the Central Asian republics, will be carried out through the acquisition of technologies, despite the fact that today this process has become significantly more complicated.

The expert also noted that classical import substitution in modern conditions is not possible or profitable, since the closeness of the market leads to lagging behind those who have access to the international market.

The conference participants named the limitations for the modern economy of Russia, among them:

  1. Narrowing of the global system;
  2. Change of financial architecture, loss of accessibility and loss of financial instruments;
  3. Absence of macroregulators;
  4. The problem of new international chains, integration into them, and reorientation to Eastern markets;
  5. Prioritization of partners.

In these conditions, the Russian economy needs to formulate clear tasks. Experts are sure that in order to cope with crisis situations, Russia needs to form a clear goal-setting strategy.

The speakers estimated the depth of economic relations between Russia and Central Asia, but stressed that the countries need to further develop cooperation with a more pragmatic approach and choose a model according to which they will work in the future. It is proposed to use the EurAsEC platform to discuss these issues.

Experts also named trends and challenges that the post-Soviet space may face during the fourth industrial revolution:

  1. The next stage of redistribution of global wealth and influence is taking place. In these circumstances, the Russian Federation and the Central Asian countries should pay more attention to details in bilateral relations in order to avoid the emergence of "Black Swans".
  2. There is a change in the structure of the global academic core in the technological field: Western countries - 39.7% of specialists, Asia-Pacific countries – 38.5%, specialists, Russia and the post-Soviet republics - 10% of specialists, it is necessary to continue to increase the potential.
  3. The emergence of new types of critical raw materials as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in particular lithium and copper. It is emphasized that Afghanistan possesses large reserves of these resources, therefore it should be gradually integrated into the world economy.
  4. Problems of human substitution with new technologies and robotization.
  5. The crisis of values caused by significant technological changes, the transformation of the moral compass.

Source Valdai Discussion Club

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