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Russia Faces Multiple Challenges in Central Asia

2 MINS READApr 14, 2015 | 16:37 GMT
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Russia Faces Multiple Challenges in Central Asia

Russia has made several recent interventions in Central Asian military affairs, a region in which it has long been influential. On April 2, the base commander of Russia's 201st military base in Tajikistan said Russia would increase the number of troops stationed there from 5,900 to 9,000 over the next five years and would add more military equipment through 2020. Then on April 3, an unnamed source in the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces told Kommersant that Russia was prepared to grant Tajikistan $1.2 billion in military aid over the next few years. Moreover, Russian military specialists had reportedly been dispatched to Turkmenistan's border with Afghanistan on March 24. Turkmen officials have yet to confirm this, but local media report that Ashgabat requested Russian assistance to protect the Afghan border.

Officially, these developments are tied to the growing concern that violence is spilling over from Afghanistan into Central Asia. But despite the definite uptick in militant attacks in northern Afghanistan, no concrete evidence has emerged of attacks in Central Asian states. A spillover of Afghan militancy is possible, but so far the threat is minimal.

Russia's push into Central Asia may have other motivations. Moscow is engaged in a tense standoff with the West over Ukraine, just one theater in the competition for influence along the former Soviet periphery. Central Asia is another key region in this contest. The region possesses sizable oil and natural gas resources that are attractive to the European Union as it seeks to diversify energy supplies and end its dependence on Russia. Europe has already urged Turkmenistan to join the Trans-Caspian pipeline project.

These factors have undoubtedly influenced Moscow's security expansion efforts. However, Moscow's ability to solidify its position in Central Asia will be limited by Russia's declining ecnonomy. The West, and particularly the United States, will continue to have influence in the region. China, too, will continue to make economic and energy inroads. Meanwhile, instability in the region will probably increase. But Islamist militancy is just one concern among many for Moscow and Central Asian governments, and Russia will see its position in Central Asia tested in the coming years.

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