The US is desperately attempting to bring discord to communities connecting people of the former Soviet Union, using all the tools available to it – political, economic and military ones. Its main goal is to get the upper hand in the geopolitical confrontation with Russia and its closest ally – China. Central Asia is one of the regions where the United States is trying to change the geopolitical situation.
On November 1, 2015, the Forumlar Majmuasi center in Samarkand hosted the first meeting of foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, with their US counterpart. The US, which initiated the meeting in the format that became known as “C5+1” was represented by State Secretary John Kerry. The participants adopted a joint statement on partnership and cooperation, which, on America’s suggestion, declared security of the member states, sovereignty, stability and economic development within the Silk Road initiative. It might seem that no harm could come from something setting the same goals as the SCO member states set for themselves, when deciding to revive the ancient trade routes. But Washington’s implication was that China or Russia should have no part in it.
The American design is simple: as soon as Central Asian countries start falling out from the sphere of influence of Russia and China, the emerging vacuum will be immediately filled with the US economic and military presence. Knowing that Central Asian states pursue multi-vector policies within the SCO and other inter-government associations and are in acute need of foreign investment, the Department of State announced a host of economic programs right at the first C5+1 meeting.
These long-term projects included increase of youth employment, organization of annual Central Asian trade forums, mitigation of the consequences of the Aral Sea shrinking and training specialists in water use and conservation.
But the main focus of the US is on education programs that do not simply promote American values, but seek to develop young people’s leadership skills that can be used for political purposes at an appropriate moment. Exchange projects among students and young scientists, English language studies, internships for journalists in the United States, and various grants for supporting non-government organizations are advertised as creating conditions for unlocking young people’s potential, but in fact pursue certain political goals. It is this stratum of society that was the most active during protests, pickets and rallies in the countries where color revolutions took place.
The Central Asian countries are interested in getting access to the lending resources of the US and the World Bank. During Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to the US in May 2018, which was organized as part of the C5+1 format, Uzbek companies signed over 20 contracts for more than $4.8 billion. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s visit to America in January 2018 resulted in signing of mutually beneficial agreements on investment, trade and economic cooperation worth about $7 billion. Yet signing agreements and making promises is one thing and creating real conditions for their fulfillment is another. Analysts point out that Central Asian states have taken on huge risks by placing their bets on projects and scenarios proposed by the US administration.
It is well known that it was the US that cajoled Pakistan into participating in Turkmen gas supply as part of the international TAPI project. Turkmenistan has already spent billions of dollars, but still doesn’t know when the project will be completed.
Another big international project, CASA-1000, providing for electricity exports from hydropower plants of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan and Pakistan, partially financed by the World Bank, may also carry hidden risks. The power grids go across unstable areas of Afghanistan, and, in theory, the United States may stay in the country indefinitely, citing the need to defend the emerging power system.
Political observers say that as of the beginning of 2019 Central Asia’s interaction with the United States in the C5+1 format did not contradict the goals and objectives of international organizations, including the SCO, and was in the interests of the republics. But the unequivocal hints about the impossibility of Russia’s and China’s participation in these projects show that C5+1 is still a political project rather than an economic one.
Each Central Asian state pursues its own foreign and domestic policy, and if in the foreseeable future the US will try to turn the dialog of foreign ministers in a tool of abuse, pressure, or intrusion and impose an agenda on Central Asia that contradicts its interests, the C5+1 format will reach a dead-end.