Central Asia and Its Role in global politics

There is a significant amount of high-quality scientific literature focused on Central Asia. Social and political scientists, historians, and anthropologists have studied this region for a long time.

There is a significant amount of high-quality scientific literature focused on Central Asia. Social and political scientists, historians, and anthropologists have studied this region for a long time. At the same time, the region cannot be considered as one of the most researched areas. Except for Afghanistan, Central Asia remains an understudied, unexplored, and mystical region for the Western world. The modern independent countries of the region gained statehood in the last forty years. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Central Asia was part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union. In the field of world science, the region has been studied by various scientists, including Denis Sinor, Ilse Laude-Cirtautas, Alexandre Bennigsen, Edward Allworth, Yuri Bregel, Scott C. Levi, Yuriy Malikov, and Hasan Bulent Paksoy. Western universities have departments, centers, and institutes that research the social, economic, and cultural aspects of the region.

The transition period in Central Asia following the dissolution of the Soviet Union has ended, and it is now safe to say that this occurred by 2024. The countries in the region have pursued an independent path, developing their own political systems, statehood theories, and criteria, forms, and practices for social and political relations and processes. This process, which has a definite beginning but no definite end, appears to be finally completed. Over the past decade, there have been various efforts to strengthen the political systems that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Empire. These efforts include constitutional amendments, new legislation, and the preparation of successors. Together, they demonstrate a concerted effort to ensure the stability and effectiveness of these political systems. At the same time, there is reason to believe that Central Asia will continue to make itself known. There are generally two types of observers.

Pessimists are predicting that the region is on the brink of an explosion, which could lead to a prolonged period of instability and civil confrontations. Their arguments usually center around social disintegration caused by the widening gap between the rich and the poor, out-migration, and economic hardships. A certain problem for the Central Asian stable development could theoretically come from radical Islamist groups that have some support from influential regional powers. The emergence of a radical Emirate led by the Taliban with the support of Pakistani military in Afghanistan and the growth of religious radicalism in certain areas and societies are also arguments of pessimists.

In turn, optimists do not perceive any significant cause for concern. On the contrary, they note the impressive stability of political systems. Interest in Central Asia is intensifying as it becomes more embedded in world politics. Peter Frankopan highlights the historical significance of Central Asia and its resource wealth, which has always attracted great powers’ attention. The region’s future may be challenging, but it is ambitious and promising. In recently published book, “The Silk Roads: A New History of the World” (2016, Bloomsbury), the author highlights the historical significance of the region in world history. The scholar emphasizes the role of world trade and transit of the region in strengthening contacts between Asia and Europe.

Russia has been interested in Central Asia since the first half of the 20th century. During this time, there were several attempts made to study the area, including the diplomatic embassy of Nikolai Ignatiev, a scientific expedition led by orientalist N. Khanykov, and the trade mission of Shokan Valikhanov. The annexation of Central Asia to the Russian Empire is a well-studied problem in historical science. There is a consensus on the reasons, which can be summarized in several points. During the second half of the 19th century, it was common for countries to annex new territories. By the end of the century, all of Africa had been conquered by various colonial powers. Additionally, the British Empire was extending its possessions in Asia. The German Empire, which was falling behind other European powers in world politics, pursued an aggressive strategy to catch up with its competitors and make up for missed opportunities. Unlike other colonial empires, the Russian Empire did not expand through colonization. Therefore, the expansion of royal power to the south was the most logical and feasible option for the growth of the empire. Stanford University historian Robert Cruz, in his book, “For Prophet and Tsar. Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia” (New Literary Review, 2020), notes the positive role of the Russian Empire in the development of the peoples of the Central Asian region. According to Cruz, Russia was able to peacefully integrate peoples into its cultural and socio-political space, finding compromises and complex systems of living together, more than any other power. It is worth noting that classical studies of the region’s history also mention Russia’s positive role in the formation and development of Central Asia. Richard A. Pierce’s book, “Russian Central Asia 1867-1917: A Study in Colonial Rule” (1960, Berkeley, Los Angeles: California University Press), notes the peaceful nature of the region’s accession and the ability of the parties to find compromises.

Central Asia is an important region of Greater Eurasia, which is yet to make itself in the center of world news. The restoration of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the confrontation between the West and Russia, and the growth of China’s potential and appetite led to the even greater importance of Central Asia.

Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatryan, associate professor, Lomonosov Moscow State University and Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.