The recently intensified Afghan Civil War is serving as the impetus for closer Russian-Central Asian cooperation. This is evidenced by Moscow reasserting its traditional security role in the region through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Afghan-neighboring Tajikistan is a member of the bloc while Uzbekistan withdrew from it in 2012 during the time of former President Islam Karimov. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan also used to be regional rivals but their relations have improved since incumbent Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev entered office in 2016 and rapidly reversed his predecessor’s isolationist policies.
The Tajik-Uzbek rivalry was driven by the former’s unofficial historical and territorial claims to lands that are currently located within the latter, in particular the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. Many Tajiks feel that they were unfairly taken away from their people during the Soviet Union’s 1930s national delineation of Central Asia.
Politically reformed Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan, on the other hand, was very concerned about the former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s (IMU) presence in Tajikistan during its neighbor’s brutal civil war throughout most of the 1990s. The mutual distrust that their security dilemma provoked greatly impeded the cause of regional integration until recently.
Two developments are responsible for improving the strategic situation: President Mirziyoyev’s pragmatic policy of regional rapprochement and the recently intensified Afghan Civil War. The first saw Uzbekistan repairing its relations with Kyrgyzstan and most importantly Tajikistan, while the second saw Russia reassert its traditional security role in the region.
These combined to create a new impetus for Russia-Central Asian cooperation, which in turn advances Moscow’s envisioned goal of establishing the Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP) for integrating the supercontinent in the emerging Multipolar World Order.
The political dimension of Uzbekistan’s new pragmatic regional policy can’t be overlooked. The country sits smack dab in the middle of Central Asia, thus making it among the most centrally positioned states in the geostrategic Eurasian Heartland. Without repairing its relations with its neighbors, especially Tajikistan, it would have been impossible to bring the region together and create a solid basis for more comprehensive cooperation in the face of newly emerging Afghan-emanating security threats. President Mirziyoyev, therefore, deserves credit for truly revolutionizing regional political affairs.
Russia playing their power politics game
As for Russia’s role, it’s indisputably the most powerful military force in Central Asia and the only external actor capable of credibly ensuring the region’s security. The Eurasian Great Power understands its responsibility to its allies, both institutionalized ones like Tajikistan and informal ones like Uzbekistan.
Their potential destabilization from Afghan-emanating threats could also harm Russia’s own interests. The resultant chaos could open up Pandora’s Box of Hybrid War challenges, including large-scale refugee waves that might crash into Russia and the possibility that terrorists could try to infiltrate the country through these means.
The forthcoming trilateral Russian-Tajik-Uzbek military drills will represent a new era of Russian-Central Asian cooperation. They’ll show the region that Tajikistan and Uzbekistan truly trust each other’s intentions, at least when it comes to jointly thwarting Afghan-emanating security threats, and that Russia is responsibly doing its utmost to ensure that their newfound multilateral military cooperation in the face of these challenges is fruitful. Uzbekistan’s expanded military ties with Russia also symbolize the strength of their strategic partnership, which includes Tashkent’s observer status in the Eurasian Economic Union since December 2020.
The missing piece of Central Asian integration has always been the meaningful rapprochement between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan while Russian-Central Asian integration required an external impetus. Both have now been achieved due to President Mirziyoyev’s pragmatic regional policies and Russia’s role in responsibly leading its Central Asian allies efforts’ to thwart shared security threats from Afghanistan’s recently intensified civil war. A new geostrategic era is dawning wherein the Eurasian Heartland’s integration among its own members is proceeding apace in parallel with them accelerating their integration with regional stakeholders like Russia.
Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, radio host, and regular contributor to several online outlets. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.