On March 17, as Moscow’s warfare on Ukraine intensified, Uzbekistan made a press release few observers anticipated.
Talking on the Senate’s plenary session, Overseas Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov mentioned, “Firstly, the army actions and violence have to be stopped instantly. The Republic of Uzbekistan recognises Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.
“We don’t recognise the Luhansk and Donetsk republics.”
Whereas removed from an all-out condemnation, it marked a major shift; Central Asian nations are amongst Russia’s conventional allies and barely communicate out towards the Kremlin’s actions.
And since Shavkat Mirziyoyev got here to energy as president in 2016, the connection between the 2 nations has considerably improved to the extent that final yr, Russia surpassed China as Uzbekistan’s most important buying and selling accomplice.
As well as, Mirziyoyev has been linked with Uzbek-born Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov, a detailed affiliate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Earlier than the warfare, Uzbekistan was one step nearer to becoming a member of the Eurasian Financial Union and Mirziyoyev even participated in a gathering of the Collective Safety Treaty Organisation,” Temur Umarov, a fellow on the Carnegie Moscow Middle, instructed Al Jazeera. “[But] I feel that now Uzbekistan will attempt to distance itself from Moscow.
“I feel that Usmanov is considering his personal future. His enterprise was largely attainable to prosper within the earlier Russia, now all the pieces has modified due to the sanctions. He most likely seems to be for a chance to alter his most important location, and switch from a Russian oligarch with Uzbek roots into an Uzbek oligarch.”
Because of years of isolationist insurance policies, Uzbekistan managed to construct extra unbiased financial and political methods, in contrast with others in Central Asia.
However maybe no different nation within the area can afford to distance themselves in an analogous method.
Surrounded by Russia, China, Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea, the Central Asia area – which incorporates Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – is prone to volatility by way of geopolitical and safety modifications.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, these nations have remained within the Russian orbit and whereas many tried to pursue multi-vector overseas insurance policies, their dependence on Moscow has remained robust.
However the warfare may very well be a game-changer and alter regional dynamics.
“The best way Central Asia thinks about Russia has modified. Whereas earlier than, Russia was seen as a supply of stability, it now appears that its presence in a really delicate safety dimension has change into a weak point for the regional stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Umarov mentioned.
“I feel that Central Asian governments will search to minimise the affect of Russia, which shall be troublesome to do, however they don’t have any alternative because it has change into an unpredictable energy.”
The 5 states’ economies are closely linked to Russia.
In line with knowledge from 2021, roughly 2.5 million overseas labour migrants from Central Asian nations labored in Russia, though the actual quantity is more likely to be larger.
Most present guide labour and their remittances have been essential for the economies of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and, to a lesser extent, Uzbekistan.
The brand new Western sanctions aimed to deliver the Russian economic system to its knees, however their impact will quickly be felt additionally in Central Asia.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are two of the world’s most migrant-dependent nations, with remittances contributing to 31.3 and 26.7 p.c to the nations’ GDP, respectively.
In line with World Financial institution, Kyrgyzstan’s remittances will fall by 33 p.c and Tajikistan’s by 22 p.c as Russia’s economic system declines amid sanctions.
Uzbekistan’s remittances, which represent roughly 11 p.c of the GDP, are to fall by 21 p.c.
Confronted with the prospect of extreme financial crises at residence, Central Asian states have discovered themselves with few choices. None has overtly criticised Russia’s actions, ostensibly fearing repercussions.
Kazakhstan, the area’s richest nation, was rocked by essentially the most dramatic social unrest since its independence in the beginning of this yr and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev known as in Russian troops to assist stabilise the scenario – that means he could now really feel indebted.
Observers mentioned the transfer marked a brand new period in Kazakhstan’s overseas coverage, one among even better dependence on Russia.
“In the case of Kazakhstan, there’s been the same old name for diplomacy. Kazakhstan abstained from the vote on the UN on the Ukrainian problem however we haven’t seen open help for Russia’s place,” mentioned professor Edward Lemon at Texas, A&M College, whose analysis focuses on the transnational dimensions of authoritarianism.
“Going ahead we are able to see extra concerted strain on Kazakhstan to take a stronger stance. Solely yesterday, the information got here that Kazakhstan can now not export its oil by way of the Caspian pipeline consortium, which is a part of Russia’s unique plan to chop off oil provides to the West.”
Nonetheless, he added that Kazakhstan allowed an anti-war demonstration to occur, with about 3,000 individuals attending – a notable transfer contemplating protests should be accepted by authorities earlier than going forward.
In the long term, Lemon mentioned Moscow’s actions may push Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan away from the Russian orbit in direction of different regional gamers.
For Kyrgyzstan, it is likely to be tougher to weaken Moscow’s affect.
“Kyrgyzstan’s overseas minister acknowledged throughout a gathering of the Group of Islamic Nations that Kyrgyzstan stands for a peaceable resolution to all points and that it firmly adheres to all UN norms and to the precept of territorial integrity, specifically,” Emil Dzhuraev, a Kyrgyz political scientist, instructed Al Jazeera.
“In Kyrgyzstan, there are critical issues in regards to the seemingly penalties of open criticism of Russia, each by way of safety and politics. Nonetheless, no matter whether or not there may be such criticism or not, the impact of financial downturn in Russia are already being felt right here. There’s rising inflation and we could anticipate shortages of primary merchandise within the coming months.”
In the meantime, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have opted for neutrality, and haven’t made any official statements in regards to the warfare in Ukraine.