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Daily-current-affairs / 16 Nov 2023

Geopolitical Dynamics in Central Asia: Shifting Alliances and Economic Opportunities : Daily News Analysis


Date : 17/11/2023

Relevance: GS Paper 2- International Relations - Geopolitics in Central Asia

Keywords: Russia-Ukraine conflict, Multi-vector foreign policy, Geopolitics, US-Central Asia Summit, India’s Central Asia summit


  • The ongoing war in Ukraine and its repercussions on Russia's relations with Central Asian nations have ignited a seismic shift in the geopolitical landscape of the region
  • High-level meetings between Central Asian leaders and their Western counterparts are becoming increasingly common, signaling a departure from historical norms. While some analysts expressed skepticism about the longevity of Western interest, the recent flurry of diplomatic engagements underscores a significant transformation.

Unraveling Central Asia's Historical Geopolitical Struggle

  • Central Asia's geostrategic location has been a focal point of geopolitical struggle for centuries, with British geographer Halford Mackinder introducing the influential 'Heartland Theory' in 1904.
  • This theory asserted that control over Eurasia, the Heartland, would grant dominance in global resources and military power. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to the emergence of five autonomous Central Asian republics, adding complexity to power dynamics as each pursued distinct political and economic objectives.
  • The region, historically marked by major power rivalries, faced challenges rooted in the Soviet legacy, particularly border issues like those in the Fergana Valley.

Russian Concerns and EU's Role in Central Asia

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concerns over the European Union's attempts to diminish Moscow's presence in Central Asia, asserting Russia's historical ties to the region.
  • Despite Lavrov's statements, the positive response from Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov to Macron's invitation suggests an ongoing shift in regional dynamics.

Central Asia in the Wake of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

  • Since the Russia-Ukraine conflict erupted in 2022, Central Asian nations, closely tied to Russia politically and economically, adopted a nuanced multi-vector foreign policy.
  • Rather than outrightly condemning or supporting Moscow's actions, they diversified their foreign relations, especially with the West.
  • This strategic approach aligns with their existing economic partnerships with China, paving the way for potential benefits in geopolitical balancing through closer ties with the US and the West.

Shaping a Favorable Regional Atmosphere:

  • President Shawkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan has played a pivotal role in creating a favorable regional atmosphere in Central Asia since assuming power in 2016.
  • His leadership has not only transformed Uzbekistan's political and economic landscape but has also catalyzed regional cooperation.
  • Mirziyoyev's efforts have elevated Central Asia's representation in global forums, leading to leaders' summits with major world powers, including recent engagements with the US and Germany.

US-Central Asia Summit and Regional Connectivity Ministerial

  • The first-ever US-Central Asia Summit held in September marked a shift in focus from long-term security concerns to immediate issues like energy security, climate change, and expanding trade and transportation routes.
  • President Biden's announcement of additional investment in regional development programs underscores the commitment to strengthen ties between the US and Central Asian nations.
  • This diversification away from Russia, coupled with sustained Western engagement, contributes to preserving the region's balance of power.

Rising Nuclear Energy and Economic Partnerships

  • French President Emmanuelle Macron's visit to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in November 2023 highlighted the growing importance of Central Asia on the global stage.
  • Kazakhstan, the EU's third-largest energy supplier, and Uzbekistan, a potential uranium supplier to France, underscore the economic significance of the region.
  • Macron's discussions with Uzbek President Mirziyoyev resulted in a strategic cooperation agreement, emphasizing common interests, French enterprise operations, and the potential for increased investments.

Central Asia's Balancing Act: Russia, China, and the West

  • Despite improving ties with the US and other Western countries, Central Asian Republics maintain strong ties with Russia, a leading trading partner.
  • While assuring Western leaders that they won't assist Moscow in avoiding sanctions, Central Asian nations actively engage in economic partnerships with Russia, such as the recent gas supply agreement between Uzbekistan and Gazprom.
  • China's role in importing natural gas and ongoing pipeline projects further adds complexity to the region's geopolitical dynamics.

Turkic Solidarity and Regional Initiatives

  • Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, alongside Turkish President Erdogan, have emerged as proponents of Turkic solidarity. Their involvement in the Turkic organization, with Turkmenistan and Hungary as observers, highlights the region's increasing significance.
  • Emphasis on the Trans-Caspian corridor at the 10th Summit of the Organization of Turkic States underscores the commitment to enhanced transportation and connectivity between East and West. Increased cooperation with Turkey has also led to higher Turkish investments in the region.

India's Emerging Central Asia Policy:

  • India and the Central Asian region share a long history. Indian subcontinent and Central Asia share lost trade and cultural linkages, whose beginnings can be traced to the Indus Valley civilization. The Central Asian region is considered to be part of India’s “extended neighborhood”.
  • India's fresh Central Asia policy, aimed at increasing economic and trade ties, has gained attention in the region.
  • Despite the underdeveloped trade and economic relations, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are crucial trading partners for India.
  • The low volume of trade is attributed to connectivity issues, which could be addressed through ongoing projects like the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and the Chabahar port in Iran.
  • Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan's uranium reserves also hold importance for India's energy security, with plans to increase imports. India's positive engagement in the region signifies a departure from its historical lack of involvement.

The Way Forward: Revitalizing India-Central Asia Relations

  • India must recalibrate its overarching understanding of Central Asia, recognizing it as a region deeply influenced by India's civilization. The Ferghana Valley, historically a crossing point of the Great Silk Road and a hub for the spread of Buddhism, remains a crucial link connecting India with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
  • While China, Russia, Turkey, and the Islamic world engage with the region based on economic, strategic, ethnic, and religious perspectives, respectively, India should establish a summit-level annual meet to provide a cultural and historical viewpoint. This approach aligns with Central Asia's lack of specific alignment, except for Russia, and its cautious stance towards China.
  • Despite China's strong economic ties with Central Asian countries, India needs to overcome its minimal economic influence in the region. Central Asia's evolving attitude towards Pakistan, potentially influenced by factors like gradual Islamization or changes in Russia's stance, opens avenues for India to strengthen ties.
  • Leveraging the enduring appeal of "Hindustan" in the local imagination and the traditional fondness for Bollywood could be pivotal, but India must address the fading impact of its soft power with changing generations. Beyond commerce, a culturally driven policy is essential to replace vague goals and fortify the foundations of India-Central Asia bonds.


Central Asia's geopolitical landscape is undergoing significant shifts, influenced by global conflicts, regional leadership, and economic opportunities. The region's multi-vector foreign policy, balancing ties with Russia, China, and the West, reflects a pragmatic approach. Uzbekistan's leadership, the US-Central Asia Summit, and engagements with European leaders demonstrate a growing recognition of Central Asia's strategic importance. As India navigates its role in the region, the focus on connectivity and energy security opens avenues for enhanced cooperation. The complex interplay of geopolitical forces in Central Asia requires adept navigation to harness economic opportunities while maintaining regional stability.

Probable Questions for UPSC mains Exam-

  1. How has the ongoing war in Ukraine influenced the geopolitical dynamics of Central Asia, particularly in terms of the region's relationships with Russia, the West, India, and China? (10 Marks, 150 Words)
  2. In what ways has the leadership of President Shawkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan contributed to the transformation of Central Asia's political and economic landscape, and how has it impacted regional cooperation? (15 Marks, 250 Words)

Source- The Indian Express