Empires that go, empires that come. Thrones, swords and power

(To Gino Lanzara)

Foreign policy does not slow down, even if prompted by any conflict situation that arises. Shifting the focus towards Central Asia touches an area of ​​significant importance but not easy to grasp.

The five former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, reverberating the reflections of the Ukrainian war, present themselves as a fault point where strategy and energy resources attract the major political players. The shadow of the Kremlin over time has continued to obscure the geopolitical profile of a region paid for autocracy and yet unable to prevent the protests that first manifested in 2005 in Kyrgyzstan; then in Uzbekistan with the bloody repression that resulted in the Andijan massacre1; later in Kazakhstan with the intervention of the Russian-led CSTO in 2022. The problem lies in the impermeability of a power system capable of triggering a reaction which, by obeying the third principle of dynamics, develops in an equal and opposite way and which feeds a fundamentalist underground opposition, facilitated in its motivations by the social instability that followed at the end of relative communist welfare.

It is undeniable that the Soviet years left their mark, also as regards the aggregation of ethnic groups and the secularization of society; all this led the countries of the area to rediscover or invent their own national identity since none of them had ever existed within their own borders today.

The post-Soviet discovery of hydrocarbon deposits has partially alleviated the socio-economic situation, however, causing an increase in social inequalities and unbalancing the regional political situation, which has underlined the importance of the Caspian basin, before a narrow and closed Iranian Russian prerogative, now openly courted by Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

It is geography that commands and unfolds: Central Asia is surrounded by global and regional actors, separated by the element of Afghan instability, and with Indo-Pakistani power projections, which must constantly remind us that the area is the most important point of global intersection of powers. nuclear. The risk that socio-economic instabilities become functional to a military security perspective is well founded, so much so that the assertion, in the medium to long term, of China or of fundamentalist elements supported by Pakistan cannot be considered impossible.

The American stabilization attempts after 11 September were contrasted by the singularity of a heterogeneous and fragmented area that replicates its dynamics in the Chinese province of Xinjiang (not surprisingly East Turkestan), home to more than one million Kazakhs. In the face of the growing Chinese presence, which defines the eastern borders of the region, the Islamic presence is imposed as a unifying cultural element, although the general attitude towards an instrumental use of religion in public life is highly controversial. Political Islam marks the Uzbek area, where the regime supports a nationalism based on Muslim elements of tradition; an Islamism considered elsewhere, albeit in its marginality depending on the case, a threatening factor to be repressed and whose containment is functional to a legend which makes these countries attractive to Western investment.

For Moscow, Central Asia remains a strategic reservoir of resources both in economic-security terms and for human capital, given the huge migratory mass that has moved towards the Russian north, anemized by a significant demographic collapse. For the Kremlin, Central Asia represents the platform from which to set up foreign policy aimed at the Muslim world2, also given the arrival of American forces and the competition they have ignited, questioning the law natural Russian to intervene in internal matters, in order to protect the Russian-speaking communities. Moscow is present in all multilateral area structures within a unified economic space which also includes Belarus, and which helps to reconstruct the old Soviet political map.

Last but not the least, here is uranium, the real future resource. What Russian politics has long lacked is the concrete and considered long-term vision, ancillary to the balance necessary to rebalance the effects of American strategic penetration which considers, among others, the energy factor, characterized by the corridors created by oil and gas pipelines that they change the type of geo-economic openness, and which provide the countries in which they develop a geopolitical lever.

The Ukrainian invasion has effectively disavowed the apparently staid Russian policy towards former satellite spaces; the imperial and revisionist return of Moscow has led most of the countries of the former Soviet area to a cautious and ambivalent attitude3 because they are logically intimidated by possible reprisals and strategic and economic consequences.

Noteworthy is the position of Kazakhstan, whose president, rescued from internal turmoil in January by Russia with the CSTO, nevertheless declared that he recognized Ukrainian territorial integrity, while other Kazakh officials asserted that their country would not legitimize independence. the people's republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, like Uzbekistan; It is useful here to recall Xi's official defense of Kazakh sovereignty and Medvedev's stupid insult4 towards a country that is looking for alternatives to transport useful for its energy exports.

The Kazakh reaction is a modulated and understandable reaction in the light of the security and economic dependence hitherto ensured by Moscow, a still central player despite the loss of influence; from this point of view, one cannot fail to consider that Central Asia is the region of countries that have been trying to consolidate national sovereignty and identity for at least 30 years, therefore nothing strange that the enthusiasm for the invasion of a contemporary neighbor, too, wavered.

Appeals from Russian deputies for the denazification of Kazakhstan5, or the threats directed against Transnistria can only arouse fear and rejection, given that the Ukrainian counter-offensive has opened up unthinkable and complex scenarios for a country, Russia, which for the first time in the last 200 years is in the position of relegating attacker and not the asymmetrical defender; a conflict in which the blocking of energy supplies facilitated the sacrifice of the Moscow trade surplus, and in which the consensus was supported on the avoidance of anti-war rhetoric widespread in the main cities of the European side, hitherto spared by unpopular calls to arms .

The doubt to reflect on concerns the correctness of the visions that the Kremlin is cultivating, starting with China, increasingly concerned about Ukrainian developments, up to the Georgian and Moldovan separatist territories.6. The mobilizations decreed by the disputed numerical entity could open up the possibility of Ukrainian reprisals aimed at bringing down morale. Obviously, recourse to tactical nuclear power is excluded since, according to the Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin's theory7 (otherwise strategy of escalation-to-de-escalation), it is guaranteed by a fear that does not relieve the risk of ending up disintegrated on one's own vessel. But that's another story, unless you take the risk of pulling the last white rabbit out of the hat, playing on cognitive and disinformation aspects.

The war, as a logical first consequence, can only push for the diversification of foreign policy by inducing the "Stan " both in multivectoral relationships and in assuming certain and unequivocal positions.

For the USA, Central Asia is the last link in a chain which, starting from Eastern Europe and arriving in the Caucasus after passing through the Balkans and the Black Sea, must contain Moscow in its peripheral incursions; a political line that remains uncertain, given the loss of influence and the little tolerated interference exercised in the internal affairs of the various countries.

China also focuses strongly on Central Asia but there is no doubt that Xinjiang, between Tibet and Mongolia, awakens the Uyghur Turkic nationalist yearnings, stifled by Han immigration and urged by Afghanistan, where both Americans and Russians8 they had to lay down, after London, their imperial ambitions, and where it became clear that any type of investment is at risk. For Beijing it is an indispensable space given its strategic value that allows projections towards the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and Siberia. The value is both energy and security, given that 80% of the need for resources comes from SLOC9 which can be interrupted and which must contemplate a valid alternative10.

Russian weakness and doubts about security could give Beijing a greater incentive to be more involved in regional affairs. China does not proceed according to commercial logic: its aim is to block as many resources as possible to allow the creation of stocks of reserves necessary for a long-term approach, taking care only and exclusively of its own interest according to the assumption of Lord Palmerston; proof of this is the Taliban interest in the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative, ed), which would guarantee funds and works in Kabul which, however, the more orthodox groups that have relations with Uzbekistan would no longer trust, and (in) security in Beijing.

You can be sure that Chinese accountants have pointed out that in that politically seismic area, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor it has already cost approx 62 billion dollars compared to an estimated 282 billion and loaned globally. crystal clear. There can therefore be no doubt that the SCO11, which tries to look out over the Mediterranean, provokes more than a thrill in the West, especially since Pakistan, India, which have not failed to groom Russia for the Ukrainian events, and Iran12, who signed a memorandum of obligations, which open alternatives to Western politics in the area; the downside is that the SCO has difficulty both in making compatible the needs of such varied political subjects, and in regulating the competition between China and Russia, which feels threatened by the leadership of Beijing which aims at a common market in the face of consolidation military politician desired by the Kremlin.

Since politics is not made of impalpability, it would not be surprising if, with the Russian retreat in Ukraine, China increased its influence in the central Asian republics by varying the geopolitical balances but recalling the results of the forecasts on Eastern Europe. American Brzezinsky, who predicted strong instability in the east. Moreover, the miracles, if they are not performed, sometimes come close, just as Xi and the Pontiff have touched, both passing through Nur Sultan, and both interested in the solution of the problem of Chinese bishop appointments in need of the imperial approval of the Dragon. Probably, material ratio, we expect more than a prodigy which, as such, the realist school of international relations insists on failing to see, as it fails to see easy exit strategy for the Ukrainian crisis.

For the Pope politics is an art and a noble vocation, and the arts are excellent manifestations of human capacities that have little of transcendence, so much so that the Pontiff himself, while admonishing about the need to pursue a dialogue, drew attention to his inevitable smell. In the face of friendship without limits in February, the opinion of the Washington Post stands out, which writes: Russia has vision and interests in Central Asia, and China is slowly devouring them. Here is Lord Palmerston's national interests again. After all, if Xi intends to confirm the predictions of his reappointment at the top Chinese institutional leaders, how could he allow himself to be tied to the Russian ballast?

Among other things, the financial problems still remain unresolved, the quarrel of Taiwan with American support for Vietnam and the reprise of Covid, which force to put aside the projections of a declining BRI, and advise to pursue a cautious and ambivalent policy that does not you renounce a leading role when confronted with Russia, a pure exporter of raw materials, as in Samarkand. If it is true that the Uzbek meeting was an alternative to possible and analogous ones Rendez Vous Westerners, it is equally true that there has been no uncritical adherence to the Russian vision: no confrontation or disavowal, but coldness and mutual distrust, also because one cannot forget that Turkey is still a NATO country, that India joins the Quad, and that on the occasion of the recent joint naval exercises in the Sea of ​​Japan, Moscow has found nothing better than to deploy a spy ship as group leader.

In the region, a potential crossroads for a new transport logistics network, the presence of Ankara stands out13, patroness of the Turkish-speaking republics involved in maintaining the east-west energy axis14. If Kazakhstan, which cultivates important relations with China for being a gas transit country for Turkmenistan, is seeking Turkish, Chinese and European protections, Kyrgyzstan15 did not hesitate to take the Russian side, while in the background loom the risks of a resumption of inter-ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, who maintain a detached position on Ukraine, and between Tajikistan16, the scene of a bloody civil war, and Kyrgyzstan.

To remember the clashes between Armenia (not assisted by the Russian ally and prodded by Turkey) and Azerbaijan, gas supplier for Europe and lover of the double oven policy that takes it to Russian and Ukrainian shores, for the 'long-standing issue of Nagorno Karabakh, while also having relations with Iran; to remember the condemnation of the invasion by Uzbekistan, also due to the economic and financial consequences of the sanctions which, although directed at Russia, are damaging the neighboring countries17, except perhaps Turkmenistan, which is linked to Moscow and Tehran, and which cultivates relations with Afghanistan. In this context, China will, very concretely, continue to provide diplomatic support to Russia, perhaps by recommending to reactivate the Nord Stream European, to counterbalance Washington and Western financial pressure, without however lending tactical support that would squander its prestige and credibility.

Excluding immediate military action, it is not so difficult to hypothesize a future Russian desire for revenge against Baku or Nur Sultan (soon again Astana), using Armenia as a proxy, or fomenting internal Kazakh riots.

The Westeros del Game of Thrones, and time of the House of Dragons, offers an interesting parallelism for the regional events dealt with: the States fight against each other openly or in a more or less hidden form, animating the perennial anarchy of international relations and justifying any end and any means in order to maximize the interests at Palmerston; all while flaring up the constant search for the conquest and maintenance of power in a world that looks to the unipolarity of the American family threatened by the new Sino-Russian suitors and allies at the time.

Impossible not to think of the explosion of a conflict that designates the new, or confirms the old, legitimate holder of the crown, capable of containing and controlling any disintegrating thrust.

But who will be the recognized ruler? In real history, where fantasy and reality sometimes merge, the impossible ideality of a Jon Snow is missing, realistically condemned to exile by that same North which he had also freed.

1 May 13, 2005. Uzbek National Security Service troops fired on a crowd of demonstrators. Estimates of those killed range from 187, according to government data, to several hundred. Many bodies would have been buried in mass graves. The official motivations cite the instigation, disputed by many, of Islamic movements.

2 Iran, China, Pakistan

3 While supporting Moscow, Belarus has so far opposed the dispatch of troops; Moldova and Georgia condemned the invasion by accelerating efforts to join the EU, which is not exempt from accountability for the decisions taken by the German political decision maker. Reactions from other countries have fluctuated between not condemning Russian aggression and supporting Ukrainian territorial integrity. They abstained from voting for Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, or Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan avoided voting. 

4 Kazakhstan artificial state; also to remember the speech of August 2014 (shortly after the annexation of Crimea) in which Putin, stating that the Kazakhs did not never had a state, invited them to stay in the great Russian world.

5  March 26. KazTAG - Deputy of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) Sergey Savostyanov, who sits in the Moscow Duma, has called for the "denazification" and "demilitarization" of Kazakhstan following the example of Ukraine, the agency reports.

6 Abkhazia, Ossetia, Transnistria

7 Star Wars, A New Hope, 1977. Governor Tarkin is the commander of the Death Star

8 The US withdrawal from Afghanistan did not lead to a complete security vacuum given the presence of over 8.000 Russian soldiers in Tajikistan and a military base in Kyrgyzstan.

9 Sea Lines Of Communications

10 China is present in the exploitation of a large part of Central Asian resources: hydroelectric in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, metalliferous in Kazakhstan, rare metals in Tajikistan, uranium of which Kazakhstan owns 17% of the world reserves.

11 Shanghai Cooperation Organization during which energy cooperation between Russia, Pakistan, India and China was discussed in Samarkand, which has secured resources for an amount of USD 44 billion since January. Since June, Russia has become the top oil exporter to Beijing, replacing Riyadh. Full members, in addition to the original five and Uzbekistan, as well as Pakistan and India (always divided by strong rivalry), are added the observers Afghanistan, Mongolia, Belarus and Iran. THE dialogue partner they are Sri Lanka, Turkey, Cambodia, Nepal, Azerbaijan and Armenia, Egypt and Qatar. For the future, Bahrain and the Maldives are also candidates for this status

12 It supplied the Shahed drones used by Russia to Ukraine

13 Turkey has entered into a strategic partnership agreement and a trade agreement with Uzbekistan, has agreed to create an ANKA drone factory with Kazakhstan, has come to a joint declaration with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia on the eastern transport corridor -west. 

14 Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan. Neutral Turkmenistan is missing

15 It houses an important Russian air force base in Kant, about 20 kilometers from the capital Byshkek

16 the capital Dushanbe hosts a Russian infantry division

17 The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said in March that Central Asia would be heavily affected by the decline in the value of the ruble and the restrictions on its convertibility, as it is heavily dependent on remittances received from Russia

Photo: Kremlin - TASS / web