[TODAY]The relevance of Central Asia

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[TODAY]The relevance of Central Asia

The leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Russia held a meeting in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, and demanded the United States withdraw its armed forces from Central Asia. It makes me realize that the world has changed a lot.
Back in 1991 when Russian President Boris Yeltsin invited President Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine and President Stanislav Shushkevich of Belarus to a summer home near Brest in Belarus to liquidate the Soviet Union and create the Commonwealth of Independent States for Russian nations, there was no concern at all for the Islamic countries in Central Asia that were also part of the Soviet Union. Russia’s interest in Central Asia has changed 180 degrees in the last 14 years.
The heads of five Central Asian countries ― Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan ― went mad at the betrayal of Mr. Yeltsin at the time. They quickly gathered in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, and discussed how to respond to the absurd situation.
Among various different opinions, the idea of creating a community of Central Asian countries came up. However, they had to realize that all of the countries in the region ― except Kazakhstan, which has oil reserves ― were poor, and there would be no point in making a community of countries with poor resources.
In the end, they had to settle for a guarantee from Russia that they would be qualified to become a member of the cliquish Russian club, the CIS.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the war in Afghanistan suddenly made Central Asia important beyond imagination in 2001. The United States established military bases for U.S. armed forces in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan during the Afghanistan war. On the surface, it was meant to be a temporary measure for the war, but the real intention of the United States was to advance into Central Asia ― a strategically valuable place for the United States.
Central Asia is the backyard of China and the front yard of Russia. The reason Russia could not restrain the United States from establishing military bases in Central Asia was because of the national sentiment of the United States public after the terror attacks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin lent his support to the war against terror and tacit approval of the stationing of U.S. troops in Central Asia. In return, Russia received silent permission to harshly suppress Chechen rebels. However, now that the Afghanistan war is over and the Chechen situation is in a momentary lull, Russia has changed its mind.
Uzbekistan also got economic support and silent permission for tyranny in return for providing a U.S. military base. But Uzbekistan also started to be doubtful of the United States when a civil revolution broke out in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and its president stepped down in the blink of an eye.
Through the Rose revolution in Georgia, the Orange revolution in Ukraine and the Lemon revolution in Kyrgyzstan, they saw a shadow of the United States that intends to expand its influence around the world by spreading democracy. To President Karimov of Uzbekistan, who is a Muslim, it is unimaginable to change the rule of his country in return for the slight aid that the United States may give.
The United States gains a lot by advancing into Central Asia. It can restrain the expanding influence of Russia in the Middle East and Gulf area and press China from its back with an eye on 2020. The United States can also stand in a good position for the power struggles in Eurasia surrounding oil in the Caspian Sea.
The military cooperation agreement the United States signed with India at the end of June is also an important step that is part of its long-term strategy to contain China.
It was expected when Mr. Putin and President Hu Jintao of China announced a “Mutual Declaration on the 21st Century International Order” in Moscow to restrain one-sided leadership of the United States. Mr. Putin and Mr. Hu met five times between May and July. China and Russia are reviving their past strategic partnership to face their strongest rival, the United States.
A structure of strategic competition and confrontation between the United States and India on one side, and China and Russia on the other, is unfolding in the eastern half of the Eurasian continent including the Korean Peninsula.
Such a situation will definitely bring a huge wave of shock to the Korean Peninsula, directly dealing with the strategic flexibility of U.S. forces in Korea.
If China and Russia train their military forces together in the sea off the coast of China’s Liaodong Peninsula, it will also have an effect on the 21st century strategic plan of Korea.
We now need to think of Northeast Asia on a much broader scale. The east half of Eurasia including Central Asia has to be included in our strategic plan for the future.

* The writer is an adviser and senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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