Tremors in CARs

The five Central Asian Republics (CARs) are genuinely nervous and are carefully doing their best not to annoy Russia.

In the contemporary world, the big power competition is for the domination of global commons. Global commons is a term typically used to describe international, supranational, and global resource domains in which common-pool resources are found i.e. the earth’s shared natural resources, such as the high oceans, the atmosphere, and outer space and the Antarctic in particular; besides, domination of ground, air and sea lines of communications and cyber spaces for ensured security and uninterrupted economic supremacy. In the field of international relations, a sphere of influence is a spatial region or concept division over which a state or organization has a level of cultural, economic, military, or political exclusivity. Almost all the former and new global superpowers also jealously guard their spheres of influence and react violently whenever any state tries to slip out of political/ diplomatic, economic, and security circles. In this context, while the Russian invasion of Ukraine dominated headlines in early 2022 and the countries Germany invaded were a vital part of World War II, the United States has itself been an aggressor on many occasions. Instances of the United States invading non-U.S. territory range throughout the country’s history, from the 1805 Battle of Derna in what is now Libya to the 2001-2021 takeover and occupation of Afghanistan, followed by Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. In total, the United States has invaded 68 countries in its history, although the US did not declare war on all of these countries.

The former USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was an attempt to increase her sphere of influence, possess more natural resources, and secure strategic lines of communication. America contested it by using Pakistan as a front-line state - the USSR was defeated and the old empire fell apart with Central Asian Republics and some Eastern states slipping out of Russian control. During the failed 1991 August coup, communist hardliners and military elites attempted to overthrow Gorbachev and stop the failing reforms. However, the turmoil led to the central government in Moscow losing influence, ultimately resulting in many republics proclaiming independence in the following days and months. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was dissolved on 26 December 1991 by Declaration № 142-Н. Since then, in her quest to keep tight control of former territories, Russia has fought the First Chechen War(1994–1997), the Second Chechen War (1999–2000), the Russo-Georgian War (2008), the Russo-Ukrainian War(2014) and the Russian invasion of Ukraine(2022–present).

While Russia is busy reasserting its influence in Ukraine, the five Central Asian Republics (CARs) are genuinely nervous and are carefully doing their best not to annoy Russia. The former colonial master is always breathing down their necks to ensure a smooth flow of energy and other precious natural resources from South to North; besides ensuring that no rival military presence/ influence in CARs takes place. Dr. Stephen Blank, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program, in his piece entitled “Is Kazakhstan Russia’s Next Target?” explains his contention by stating, “This is not an idle or frivolous question, quite the contrary. Admittedly many NATO members and NATO’s senior leaders have recently warned that Russia has designs on their territory and within 3-8 years might attack them. Indeed, in the last year, the most consistent barrage of Russian threats has targeted Kazakhstan in Central Asia as a possible candidate for Moscow’s territorial aggrandizement and invasion. Presumably, such threats are directed at least at Kazakhstan’s northern territory that adjoins the Russian Federation and which many Russian nationalists, not least Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, claim should be or is actually part of Russia proper”.

Kazakhstan has a population of 20 million and one of the lowest population densities in the world, at fewer than 6 people per square kilometer. Ethnic Kazakhs constitute a majority, while ethnic Russians form a significant minority. Officially secular, Kazakhstan is a Muslim-majority country. Kazakhstan dominates Central Asia economically and politically, accounting for 60 percent of the region’s GDP, primarily through its oil and gas industry; it also has vast mineral resources. With an area of 2,700,000 square kilometers, equivalent in size to Western Europe – Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest country and largest landlocked country in the world. It shares borders of 6,846 kilometers with Russia, 2,203 kilometres with Uzbekistan, 1,533 kilometers with China, 1,051 kilometers with Kyrgyzstan, and 379 kilometers with Turkmenistan. While located primarily in Asia, a small portion of Kazakhstan is also located west of the Urals in Eastern Europe.

Saleem Qamar Butt
The writer is a retired senior army officer with experience in international relations, military diplomacy and analysis of geo-political and strategic security issues.

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