How is the Russian war against Ukraine impacting Central Asian states and societies? How can the OSCE utilize its field operations in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) to respond to state and societal needs, despite increased geopolitical tensions?
To answer these questions, the IFSH’s Centre for OSCE Research (CORE) met with Central Asian partners at workshops organized in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Astana (Kazakhstan), and Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan). CORE’s Frank Evers, Cornelius Friesendorf, and Argyro Kartsonaki traveled to Central Asia from May 13-23 within the framework of the project “Security Needs of States and Societies: Options for the OSCE.” This project is managed by the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions, a Track II initiative coordinated by CORE and the University of Birmingham (Professor Stefan Wolff) and funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.
The workshops brought together researchers, members of the OSCE Network, representatives from OSCE field operations, and officials from Central Asian ministries of foreign affairs. Additional workshops in the framework of the project have been held or are planned to be held in Belgrade, Pristina, Chisinau, and Tbilisi over the course of 2023.
The discussions underlined several challenges and dilemmas in the region. Central Asian economies depend on close ties with Russia, and Moscow is exerting pressure on Central Asia. Western states are simultaneously trying to get Central Asia to limit its cooperation with Russia. Central Asian states must not only balance relations with Russia and the West but also cope with the growing role of China in the region.
Workshop participants also highlighted how security risks in Afghanistan impact Central Asia. Transnational drug trafficking is thriving, and political violence could spill over the weakly controlled borders between Afghanistan and Central Asian states. There are also conflicts within Central Asia that hamper regional cooperation, such as the border dispute between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Many of these problems are exacerbated by authoritarian governance, although such governance simultaneously leads Central Asian states to increase international cooperation, not least to enhance their legitimacy.
The workshops showed that OSCE has the potential to mitigate many of the challenges facing Central Asia, and that Russia’s policies have inadvertently led to growing demand from Central Asian states for support from the OSCE. There are new opportunities for OSCE support in familiar policy areas such as conflict management, as well as new areas such as climate security.
However, whether the OSCE can respond to the security needs of Central Asia depends on the organization’s ability to enhance its institutional vitality. The hostility between Russia and Western states has aggravated a budget crisis that is causing problems for OSCE field activities in Central Asia and elsewhere.
Findings from the workshops will be summarized in a report that will be presented to the OSCE community in Vienna in autumn 2023.