07.11.2015 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

Why Did Kerry Visit Central Asia?

345345444In the context of the ebb of Washington’s international prestige happening today, the current US administration is striving hard to paint a rosy picture of the foreign policy successes during the Obama’s presidency. However, it is very difficult to do so, because of the continuous failures: in the Middle East, Ukraine and in many other regions of the world.

Wanting to compensate for their shortcomings, as well as against the background of the resurgent international image of Russia and China in recent years, the White House has decided to turn its additional attention to the Central Asian region. To this end, on October 28, Secretary of State John Kerry was sent there, and a new format of diplomatic contacts, C5 + 1, was invented specifically for this, i.e. the five Central Asian republics (Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan) and the United States. In the near term, according to the strategists of the White House, this format will ensure the confident penetration of the USA into Central Asia and search there for reliable pro-American politicians. At the same time, all at once it became clear that the White House is actually considering this format as 1 + C5, where the leading role should belong to the United States and to no one else. It is no wonder that in recent years Washington has created an “arc of instability” near the borders of its main rivals – Russia and China, playing the role of the world leader in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, and has already nurtured (instead of the ubiquitous ad nauseam “Al-Qaeda”) a new regional and even Euro-Asian chimera – the “Islamic State.”

Using John Kerry to launch the C5 + 1 program is no accident. After all, the appointment of this Vietnam War veteran and supporter of Barack Obama’s military operation in Iraq in February, 2013 had already meant the end of the “reset” policy between Washington and Moscow, pushing Russia not only out of the regions where it was supported in the past, particularly the Middle East, but also out of Central Asia and the CIS. And proof of this can be the shift of Ukrainian “Maidan” into the active phase fairly quickly after Kerry’s appointment to the post of Secretary of State in November, 2013; the new Secretary of State’s “intransigence” in this conflict with Moscow; the unleashing of the flywheel of “revolutions” not only in the Arab world, but also in a number of CIS countries, including Central Asia.

Recent developments in the Ukrainian conflict, the sanctions standoff between Washington and Moscow, the war in Syria and the participation therein of Russia, as well as confrontational speeches by Obama and Putin at a session of the UN General Assembly, marked a new stage of geopolitical struggle, which the White House embarked upon, resulting in the appearance and urgent promotion of the C5 + 1 program. To assess the importance of the active promotion of this program for Washington can be seen in the fact that, on October 28, heading from Vienna to tour the five Central Asian states, Kerry refused to participate in negotiations on the very vital questions for the USA – on Syria in Paris, where they sent their Deputy, instead. And although the United States have assured the world that they have given up their “Cold War” thinking, however, even with the naked eye one can see that this war has not been relegated to the archives and continues to gain momentum in all regions of the world.

This circumstance, and Washington’s desire to play the Central-Asian card in its confrontation with Russia and China, has been confirmed by the recent interview by “Afganistan.Ru” with Abdul Karim Khorram, the former Head of Administration of the former President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai who admitted that “for the past 13 years Washington’s military operation in Afghanistan has been actively trying to seize control over the regional terrorist groups in order to minimize their damage to the US, and then send them against their rivals: Russia and China.” In this game of chess, the White House had definitely assigned an important role to the destabilization of the situation in Central Asia by means of Afghanistan – on the one hand, tie them more securely to the United States and the “US umbrella” and, on the other hand – constantly threaten Russia and China from there, keeping them on their toes and dependent on any steps the United States may take there.

The timing of such a mission by Kerry also was not accidental. Not without the secret involvement of Washington, the situation in Afghanistan has recently deteriorated significantly, and the “Taliban” movement has launched an offensive in the major cities, including in the north, and part of the Taliban has defected to the “Islamic State.” On the one hand, this was done by the White House to justify the “need”, not only to preserve, but also to increase the US military contingent in this country. On the other hand – having noticeably stepped up the fighting around the perimeter of the Central Asian borders with Afghanistan of the Afghan security forces with the Taliban, Washington seeks to make the Central Asian states believe that they can be protected only in alliance with the United States and under the “American umbrella”. Hence, it is necessary to return to the opening of US bases in the region, many of which have ceased to exist recently, including due to Russia’s position.

Therefore, from the point of view of geopolitics in the region, Kerry’s visit to Central Asia can be regarded as a challenge to Russia. It shows that the US is not going to give up its influence in the region, and in the light of the Syrian and Afghan crises, will increase their military-political rather than economic presence in Central Asia. Moreover, they have already achieved their first successes in this matter with the placement of the US Air Force military airfield “Mary-2” in Turkmenistan. The price for this – the location of the US Air Force base in Turkmenistan – does not exceed 200 million dollars per year.

It is for these reasons Kirghizia was the first country Kerry visited during his visit to the region, where he actively attempted to sign a new military agreement, opened the new building of the US embassy and the campus of the American University in Central Asia. Special attention to this country during the visit was due to several factors: it is the recent loss here of the US military base, “Manas”, and the denunciation of the Agreement on Cooperation between the two countries by the Kyrgyz government from August 19 of this year, and a significant strengthening of Russia’s positions here in the last period.

On November 01, the Foreign Minister of the United States held a summit in Samarkand in the format of US-initiated diplomatic contacts “C5 + 1” with the foreign ministers of the Central Asian republics, which adopted the “Joint Declaration on Partnership and Cooperation of the five Central Asian countries and the United States.” It contains only a fairly common phrase on expanding cooperation in trade, energy, transport; improving the business climate and the expansion of business contacts. However, in a document of one page, there is no hint on the prospects for cooperation between the US and Central Asian ‘C5’ in the field of international relations and joint participation in solving key regional security issues, and there is no clarity why this meeting was attended by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the region, if the purpose of the forum and its final document had an economics basis.

Thus, although by organizing Secretary of State, John Kerry’s visit to the Central Asian states and promoting the specially devised format “C5 + 1”, the White House had hoped to introduce a new emphasis in regional policy, nonetheless, the balance of power remains unchanged here. The result of this mission is zero, as, indeed, the entire foreign policy of the United States recently. Because, actually, even if some politicians in the region would like to hide behind the “American umbrella”, they cannot fail to understand that friendship with the United States has not helped to protect those that bet their own destiny in the global game on their friendship with Washington, like many of the Middle Eastern leaders, who became victims of the “Arab Spring”, actually initiated by the US, or other attempts of “democratization” which follow the same American templates.

Vladimir Odintsov, political commentator, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.