Libmonster ID: KZ-1844
Author(s) of the publication: Georgy SITNYANSKY


Senior Researcher Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology

Russian Academy of Sciences Ph. D (History)

The dissolution of the USSR and the weakening of Russia's positions in Central Asia and Kazakhstan generated a growing influence of other states in this region, including the old superpower, the US, and a new superpower, China. Nevertheless, Russia, even though it has lost much of its past influence, does not only intend to stay in the region but has also started to fortify its positions here anew. All the three powers - Russia, the US and China - have rather long-standing historical traditions of penetrating in this region - to be precise, the US, acting as the center of a new great Anglo-Saxon empire, continues traditions of the British Empire in what regards India, longtime British interests in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.

A certain historical continuity is also to be found in the sense that almost the entire 19th century (1815 - 1907) was a century of English-

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Russian rivalry - among other things, in Central Asia (Turkestan). Later, in 1918 - 1920, Britain once again tried to establish itself here, taking advantage of the revolutionary turmoil in Russia. Today, the US is trying to do the same.

As for China, its tradition of expansion in this region is of an immeasurably longer standing than the Russian-Eurasian one, to say nothing of the British and Americans. As far back as the 1st century B. C. - 1st century A. D., China engaged in a wide-ranging expansion to Semirechye, and in 97 A. D. Chinese forces reached Merv (today's Mary in Turkmenistan). Chinese expansion intensified in the 18th century, when, following the wipeout of the Khanate of Dzungaria in 1755 - 1759, China extended its rule over to the Balkhash Lake, establishing control over a greater part of today's South-Eastern Kazakhstan and almost all North Kyrgyzstan. The Khanate of Kokand (in today's Fergana Valley) was also forced to pay tribute to China. There still exist ruins of Chinese fortresses built in Fergana Valley in the 18th century.

At present, one can refer to at least several fields of rivalry between Russia, the USA and China in Central Asia.

1. Struggle against Moslem extremism. To be precise, there might be no rivalry to talk about if it were not for the notorious "double standard". As far as Russia is concerned, a lot has already been said about the West applying double standard to "good" and "bad" terrorists. Far less is usually said about the double standard with regard to China. For instance, there are certain groups of experts in the West and in Russia (A. G. Dugin, among others), as well as in Central Asian states - especially in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan bordering China - who regard Uigur separatists (including their Islamist wing) as "freedom fighters". The "Uigur government in exile" is active in Turkey, a member of NATO.

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In this regard, there is something to be said about Turkey, too. It may be noted that, since 2001, the US has been trying to prevent its military presence in both Central Asia and Afghanistan. It might seem strange, because the Turkish army is the second biggest in NATO, inferior only to the US, possessing a great experience of combat in the mountains (against Kurdish rebels), and, besides, Turks are Moslems. However, Washington fears that Turkey may use US support to realize its pan-Turkic plans in Central Asia, thus turning into a mighty continental power whose interests may be antagonistic to those of the US. This scenario (growing influence of Turkey in the region) would suit China and Russia even less than it would the US.

The ongoing struggle against Islamic extremism makes it necessary for Russia to retain in its sphere of influence Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in the first place. In this regard, one should refer to the Russian-Eurasian tradition. It is a century and a half ago that I. I. Zavalishin wrote that peace in Asian Russia would have been impossible "without expanding our borders to Khiva and Kokand (italicized by me - G. S.)".1 It is the limitation that deserves attention here (I believe, however, that it should be more specific: to the borders of Khiva and Kokand!). In the middle of the 19th century, many representatives of Russian political, scientific, army elite insisted that Russia should not take over the entire region, restricting itself to the Kazakh steppe and Kazakh-Kyrgyz Semirechye!2 These calls go back to the centuries-long Eurasian tradition of Slavic-steppe symbiosis, which in the 12th century resulted in establishment of a Rus-Kipchak policentric state. Considering the regions populated at the time by the Kipchaks, this state, among others, included the territories of today's

1 Завалишин И. И. Описание Западной Сибири. М., 1867. С. 3 - 4.

2 Cit. by: Венюков М. И. Опыт военного обозрения русских границ в Азии. СПб., 1877. Ч. 1. С. 14.

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Kazakhstan and Semirechye. When the Russian state was established, it is Eurasian peoples (including the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz) that acceded to Russia voluntarily, whereas military force had to be used to take over territories populated by sedentary peoples of Central Asia.

In our times, the situation is similar. The weakness of Islamic traditions among the titular population of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (many Russian scientists and politicians referred to it even in the 18th-19th centuries, insisting that Russia should take advantage of this)3 makes it possible, in the event of their closer integration with Russia, to turn them into sufficiently stable states to the south of our borders.4 As a matter of fact, steps are already taken in this direction.

On the whole, the US, China and Russia may act as allies in their struggle against Islamic extremism, provided they renounce the use of double standard. It is another matter, however, whether or not the three great powers may consider one another a greater threat than Islamic extremism.

2. Another dimension of rivalry is related to the military presence of outside - in the first place, US - forces in the region. At recent meetings of the "Shanghai Five", China also insisted on establishing its military presence in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the interests of fighting Islamic extremism in its North-Western regions. One cannot refer to the fears of China (just like those of the US) as unjustified. It is known that even in the 19th century Moslem states in Central Asia regularly supported anti-Chinese rebellions in Xinjiang, while the

3 Валиханов Ч. Ч. О мусульманстве в степи// Сочинения. Алма-Ата, 1961. Т. 1. С. 524 - 529; Венюков М. И. Россия и Восток. СПб., 1868. С. 158 - 160; Тихонов Т. За Уралом - в Сибири// Русский вестник. 1897. NN 4, 7 и т. д.

4 Ситнянский Г. Ю. Откуда исходит угроза единству России// Азия и Африка сегодня. 1997. N 11. С. 36 - 39.

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biggest rebellion of 1862 - 1878 was also supported by England, the geopolitical predecessor of the US.

It should be noted, however, that the US military presence in the region is restricted to several airbases. As yet, there is no talk of US military involvement on a larger scale, the more so that Central Asian states are increasingly insistent that even these bases be closed down. There are people in the US establishment itself who are opposed to preserving these bases - the US is a naval power, and it has nothing to do so deep within an alien continent. Recall that in the entire history there have been actually no US military operations - successful or not - that would have been conducted at a distance exceeding 500 to 800 kilometers from the sea coast.

Russia's military presence in Central Asia (except Tajikistan) is also insignificant, even though, following the "Tulip Revolution" of March 2005, the new leaders of Kyrgyzstan raised the issue of reestablishing Russian borderguards on Kyrgyz borders (primarily as a measure against drug trafficking). As for China, it can hardly agree to limited military presence - in this case, large military contingents are likely to be deployed. It is in Russia's interests to further the closure of US military bases at least in Eurasian Kyrgyzstan, if not in the entire region, and to prevent Chinese military presence here.

3. A third area of competition for influence in the region is related to the demographic situation.

Russian 19th century authors (M. I. Venyukov) noted that Russia, once it had started its conquest of the region from the Ural and Irtysh rivers, had not been able to stop until it reached the very "boundaries of Hindu Kush and Khorasan", because the region has neither natural boundaries nor territories that could sustain large

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masses of European population, for only such territories can serve as natural state boundaries.5

As a matter of fact, there exist such territories at the southern end of the Kazakh steppe, in Semirechye, and the same author referred to this in another book - Russia's natural southern boundary runs along the line Alma-Ata - Kyrgyz Ala Tau - Kara Tau mountains - Perovsk (today's Kzyl-Orda).6 M. I. Venyukov was still alive (he died in 1901) when intensive Russian colonization of these territories started. It is in these areas that large masses of Europeans were able to live without detriment to the local stock-raising population - the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. Sometimes this kind of coexistence is called symbiosis of two economic set-ups (nomadic and sedentary). Farther to the south, in sedentary Central Asia, this kind of symbiosis was no longer possible. All cropping areas were occupied by indigenous population, and even if they had not been cultivated, these lands would have been of little use for a European kind of farming. According to the 1989 poll, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan had 30 to 50% of Russian-speaking residents, whereas their share in Central Asia proper stood at 7 - 9%. In Kazakhstan, 23% of all Russian-speaking residents lived in the countryside; in Kyrgyzstan, this figure was even higher, 30%. At the same time, in sedentary Central Asia, this share was as low as 3 - 6%.7

In our days, Konstantin Zatulin calls for a differentiated approach to destinies of ethnic Russian and "Russian-speaking"

5 Венюков М. И. Опыт военного обозрения... С. 140.

6 Венюков М. И. Россия и Восток. СПб., 1877. С. 279.

7 Игнатенко А. А. Угрожает ли исламский фундаментализм постсоветской Центральной Азии?// Межнациональные отношения в России и СНГ. М., 1995. С. 63 - 75.

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people in different ex-Soviet republics, classifying these republics into two distinct groups. In one of these groups (Ukraine, Byelorussia, Kazakhstan, the Baltics), Russian Diasporas should be preserved and supported. As for Russians living in republics of the other group (Transcaucasia, Central Asia), they should simply be brought out.8 I consider this a basically acceptable concept, yet I would like to make a single correction - Kyrgyzstan should be classified in the former group of former Soviet republics, rather than the latter. In Kyrgyzstan, Russian Diaspora also has a future for it. The thing is that our politicians are too much accustomed to the mechanical subdivision of the region into "Central Asia" and "Kazakhstan", and have been used to it since the times when Russia failed to stop its expansion on reaching Tashkent but went on "to Hindu Kush and Khorasan"! Though Kyrgyzstan - at least its northern part - is actually closer to Kazakhstan...

Recall that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, addressing the State Duma on October 28, 1994, called for integration of three Slavic republics and Kazakhstan. Earlier, he had only referred to the northern half of Kazakhstan, populated primarily by Russians.9 In the 1990s, there were also other authors who referred to the need for Russia to build up a common southern border with Kazakhstan.10

Bearing all this in mind, let us try to once again answer the question why, in the long run, Russia has annexed Central Asia? One of explanations is it needed to repulse British expansion. There was a view that Britain would take over Central Asia if we fail to do it

8 Затулин К. Ф. Царство, разделившееся в себе// Литературная газета. 2001. 12 - 18.09

9 Солженицын А. И. Как нам обустроить Россию.

10 See, e. g., Ситнянский Г. Ю. Естественные границы: какой быть новой России// Общественные науки и современность. 1994. N 6. С. 112 - 119.

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ourselves. Yet was British invasion in Central Asia so inevitable? Today, the situation is similar - the US has placed its bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, its large military contingents are deployed in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, like the British in their time, Americans have not been overly successful in overpowering Afghanistan, and the existence of an airbase in Manas has not prevented Kyrgyzstan from preserving and even consolidating its relations with Russia following the "Tulip" revolution.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote: instead of conquering Central Asia (I would make a slight correction: beyond Tashkent - G. R.), Alexander II should have concerned himself with finalizing his reforms.11 This comment is relevant for not only Alexander II's epoch but our times, too.

The following tendency is typical of today's Central Asia: the more pro-Russian positions a state occupies in its foreign policy, the more loyal attitude it shows to its Russian-speaking citizens, the more advanced it is in the sphere of democracy, human rights, etc. One could arrange the local states in the decreasing order for both of the above characteristics: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan. The situation with Tajikistan is more complicated, yet in that country the pro-Russian foreign policy and certain remnants of democracy are only based on Russia's military presence. As soon as the 201st division is pulled out, both may quickly come to nought.

Let us add that if Russia in its time had restricted itself to take-over of Kazakhstan and Semirechye, the Slavs would have accounted for 80% of the population of the Russian Empire. At present, if Russia, Ukraine (without the extreme western regions

11 Солженицын А. И. Как нам обустроить Россию// Комсомольская правда. 1990.

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oriented to Poland), Byelorussia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were reunited, East Slavic peoples would make up 84% of the population of the new unified state.12

The concept of mechanical subdivision into "Central Asia" and "Kazakhstan" must have influenced the authors of the Treaty on the Common economic space, too. At any rate, Kyrgyz leader Askar Akayev was not invited to sign it as the fifth member, though Europeanized North Kyrgyzstan has - under favorable circumstances - a good chance to modernize its economy and the entire lifestyle - no worse than neighboring Kazakhstan. Therefore, the southern borders should be drawn along the southern boundaries of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, rather than Kazakhstan alone.

As for China, the demographic aspect here should be regarded from quite a different angle. In recent years, the inflow of large numbers of migrants from China to CIS states has become an undeniable fact. The northern vector of Chinese migration is currently being absorbed by territories immediately adjoining China, Xinjiang, Mongolia, etc. What will happen when the ability of these territorial niches to absorb additional (Chinese) population gets exhausted?

The states of the Central Asian - Kazakhstan region have been affected by this process, too. As far back as 1994, Kazakhstan had up to 300,000 ethnic Chinese residents13 - according to official data. One could cite the following fact to demonstrate how much official statistics differ from the real state of things: according to official figures, there are about 1,200 Chinese

12 For more detail, see: Ситнянский Г. Ю. Естественные границы: какой быть новой России// Общественные науки и современность. 1994. N 6. С. 112 - 119.

13 Казахстан. Реалии и перспективы независимого развития. М., 1995. С. 125.

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citizens living in Alma-Ata, yet residents of this city, talking to correspondents, assess their numbers at 10 to 30 thousand.14

Not all Chinese, by far, are legal residents of Kyrgyzstan, either. It is considered a norm that in Kyrgyzstan (just as in Russia), quite often, there may be up to a dozen Chinese using the same passport.15 The fact that the number of illegal Chinese immigrants in Russia greatly exceeds that of legal ones requires a serious thinking over. According to unofficial sources, the number of Chinese living in this country is way above the official figure which ranges between 300 and 700 thousand: unofficially, their total is estimated at 1.5 - 1.8 million, with 150,000 living in Moscow alone (instead of the official 10,000, etc.).16

One can surely ask why one should be afraid of Chinese immigration? There are millions of ethnic Chinese living in other countries - for instance, in South-East Asia - yet this has not at all resulted in their losing independence. The thing, however, is that about 200 years ago, when China had the biggest territory in its history (and, by the way, drew closer to South-East Asia), there happened a drastic change in the international situation, and China came up against great European powers. Over the 19th century and a great part of the 20th century (the "Eurocentrism" epoch), China, instead of expanding, has only been losing large territories.

During the Second "opium" war (1856 - 1860), Russia, which did not participate in it, took Semirechye over from China (1858 - 1862). It should be noted that, by that time, there was only one Kyrgyz tribe in

14 Нурпеисова Г. Чайнатаун в Алматы?// Казахстанская правда. 2003. 12.11.

15 The author's field record, 20 November, 2004

16 Александров А. Op. cit.

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this region - Bugu in the Issyk Kul area - that, at least formally, preserved Chinese allegiance. Nevertheless, as soon as the Chinese got over their shock from the clash with Europeans in the 19th century, Chinese expansionism once again revealed itself - at first, in politicians' treatises, and afterwards, in official Chinese foreign policy.

In 1925, for instance, a certain Xe Bing published a book, "History of territories lost by China"; the map attached to it showed as "lost" not only territories that had at whatever time in the past been part of China (even though only formally, or as vassals), but also many others, including part of Turkmenistan, almost all Kazakhstan, as well as the entire Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.17

With the coming of Communists to power in 1949, Chinese expansionism changed only its ideological form, retaining, however, its essence. In Central Asia, China, as far back as the 1950s, besides Semirechye, also laid claims to Kazakhstan territories right through to Karaganda,18 and Alma-Ata in Chinese maps is still designated as Tiao Ling.19

After 1979, the foreign policy of the Chinese People's Republic, has become, at first sight, much more peaceful. China's defeat in the war against Vietnam revealed its weakness that had been brought about by the devastating "great leaps forward" and "cultural revolution", and demonstrated to the new country leaders that powerful economy is what China needs in the first place to realize its global plans. PRC entered an epoch of market reforms. Like Russia after the Crimean war, China started "concentrating",

17 Cit. by: Doolin D. Territorial Claims in the Sino-Soviet Conflict. Stanford, 1973. P. 18.

18 Бутурлинов В. Ф., Плотников Г. К., Чубаров В. В. О советско-китайской границе: правда и пекинские вымыслы. М., 1982. С. 11.

19 Затулин К. Ф., Грозин А. В., Хлюпин В. Н. Национальная безопасность Казахстана. М., 1998. С. 13.

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systematically building up its economic and, at the same time, foreign political power.

In the first half of the 1990s, Peking started its expansion to the south of Russia's borders, drawing Pakistan into its sphere of influence. The first steps in this direction were made as far back as the late 1970s, when the Chinese built the Karakorum highway linking Pakistan to Xinjiang. In the second half of the 1990s, PRC elaborated a plan for penetration into the Moslem East using "both hands" - from Xinjiang via Central Asia and Azerbaijan right through to Turkey, and from Pakistan via southern seas and the Persian Gulf towards Egypt.

In the same period, Chinese emigration increased, too. Here is a characteristic example: relatives of one of my interviewees in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) in the autumn of 2002 leased their land lot to a couple of Chinese; in 2004, there were already as many as twenty Chinese immigrants living there. Forty Chinese came to study at the Bishkek Humanitarian University, yet there is only one or two of them who are actually studying, while the rest have "melted away".20 There are a lot of other facts of this nature to be found.

At the same time, it is well known from history one can expect absolutely no symbiosis here as in the case of Russian colonization - whenever the Chinese start migrating to a certain location, it only takes them a century or two to drive everyone else out.

In 1755 - 1759, during China's wipeout of the Khanate of Oirot-Dzungaria (the territory of today's Xinjiang), the Dzungars were physically exterminated. Only those managed to survive who fled

20 The author's field record, 15 - 16 November, 2004

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and mixed with various Turkic peoples in Central Asia and Siberia (following this, specific "kalmak" ethnic groups appeared among many of these peoples), or with the Kalmyks who had earlier resettled from Dzungaria to the Volga; today, the latter number only 152,00021 , which is seven times less than the number of the Dzungars 250 years ago.

In 1947, there were 2.5 million Mongols living in Inner Mongolia (i. e. much more than in the Mongolian People's Republic), yet there were only 400,000 thirty years later. The PRC government implemented an assimilation policy, down to encouraging forced mixed marriages, after which all Mongol members of such mixed families were regarded as ethnic Chinese, with all that it implies. It was officially announced in the PRC that "encouraging development of Mongol culture and studies of the Mongolian language does damage to China's unity". The traditional economic base of the Mongolian people was destroyed, too (pastures were plowed up, etc.)22

According to polls, two-thirds of Chinese immigrants in Russia show a favorable attitude to marriages with Russian women. In Kyrgyzstan, Chinese migrants also often marry local women. The problem, however, is that children born in these mixed families practically always become Chinese. It is known, for instance, that a person born from a Jewish woman is considered a Jew, regardless of the nationality of his/her father. There is, however, an exception to this rule - when the person's father is Chinese.

A similar policy has been and is still being pursued in Xinjiang. The share of ethnic Chinese among Xinjiang residents has grown

21 Брук С. И. Население мира. М., 1986. С. 803.

22 Эрнст Генри. Китай против Азии. М., 1979. С. 57 - 59.

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between 1960 and 2003 from 10% to 40% (other sources even cite a figure of 60%).23

Chinese research journals explicitly point out it would be advisable to spread "Chinese population over boundless territories of North-Eastern Asia".24 It has already been calculated how many Chinese colonists would be needed for this - 50 - 80 million in Siberia and 8 million in the Far East.25

China possesses enormous, practically inexhaustible demographic resources for "peaceful" expansion. Officially, China's population numbered 1.25 billion by the middle of the 1990s; according to unofficial sources, however, the number of Chinese by that time was about a quarter higher, because nearly 300 million people were not registered at all. These are primarily the second, third, etc. kids who were not registered by their parents in order to avoid sanctions for kids born "above plan", bearing in mind the family planning campaign conducted in the PRC. If the current tendency persists, the PRC population is going to reach 1,913 million by the year 2050 and 2,132 million, by 2080.26 Chinese demographers themselves have calculated that if at least 10% of the Chinese immigrate into a country its collapse is unavoidable.27

Central Asian peoples have always been aware of this danger. As far back as the end of the 18th century, sultan Nuraly, for instance, declared that, if there was a need to wage a war against Qing and if

23 Карабаев Э. Китай XXI века - путь к Евразии. Бишкек, 2003. С. 26 - 27.

24 Галенович Ю. М. Рубеж перед стартом: китайская проблема для России и США на пороге XXI века. М., 1999. С. 35, 41.

25 Портяков В. Миграционная политика на Дальнем Востоке России// Миграционная ситуация на Дальнем Востоке и политика России. М., 1996. С. 51.

26 Сыроежкин К. "Сепаратизм" в Синьцзяне: мифы и реальность// Центральная Азия. 1997. N 4 (10). С. 95.

27 Гельбрас В. Г. Россия и Китай: вопросы собирания геоэкономических пространств// ПОЛИС. 1995. N 6. С. 44 - 45.

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Russian troops arrived here for this purpose, the Kazakhs "would gladly join them, even if the Khan would oppose it".28 And if "it they are unable to hold their ground, they will themselves move closer to Russian fortresses for protection".29 Similar attitudes prevail these days, too. Kazakhs say, "When a black-haired Chinese rushes in, the red-haired Russian will be like a father to you".30 In 1992, the author of this article spoke to Talas region residents - ethnic Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Russians - about prospects of Chinese "peaceful" expansion. The answers were similar.31

China's demographic penetration into Central Asia, as well as into eastern regions of our own country, is a prospect which, even regardless of Chinese politicians' subjective intentions, represents a serious danger for peoples of Russia-Eurasia.

4. Political expansion is usually preceded by an economic one. Along with a wide-scale penetration of US and other Western companies into the Central Asian - Kazakhstan region, there is also an intense process of penetration from China. For comparison: in the 1970s, the Chinese controlled up to 75 - 80% of Indonesian economy32 ; in 1997, up to a third of all joint ventures in Kyrgyzstan belonged to the Chinese.33

Russia also shows a certain economic activity in the region, but it finds it hard to compete against the two superpowers as an equal. For instance, Kyrgyzstan plans to transfer 23 largest industrial enterprises to Russia in a debt for equity swap. These

28 Казахско-русские отношения в XVI-XVIII вв. Алма-Ата, 1964. С. 563 - 564.

29 Op. cit. P. 633.

30 Zatulin K. F. et al. Op. cit. P. 13.

31 The author's field record. 25 August, 1992

32 Ernst, Henry. Op. cit. P. 26.

33 Дмитриев М. Независимая зависимость// Завтра. 1997. N 36.

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enterprises include the Bishkek engineering works, computer plant, Tash-Kumyr semiconductor plant, etc.34 National capital is followed by the national flag. This is what distinguishes the present-day Russia's penetration into the region from Russia's penetration in the 1850s - 1880s. Today, Russia should, to the best of its capacity, build up its economic presence in Central Asia and assess the consequences of US and China's economic expansion from this angle.

5. Competition for the region's natural resources (in the first place, oil and gas) is a very important sphere, too. Here, one should primarily talk of competition between the US and China. (The only project that may probably deserve Russia's attention in this sphere has to do with using Kyrgyzstan's cheap energy resources in Siberia in exchange for Siberian oil and gas; the project was first put forward as far back as 1996, and has again been actively discussed since around 2002).

The US is trying to ensure additional supplies of hydrocarbons from the Central Asian - Kazakhstan region via Transcaucasia, bypassing Iran and Russia (the oil pipeline Baku - Tbilisi - Ceihan is meant to help achieving this). China is a growing consumer of oil and gas resources and, as such, it is a competitor of the US in this region. Plans are elaborated for Chinese companies' construction of oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan (Aktyubinsk) to China - employing, naturally, Chinese labor.35

Russia should naturally try and oppose plans for construction of pipelines bypassing its territory; as for the Chinese projects, it should also oppose the use of Chinese labor in their implementation.

34 Петров А. Киргизстан передает России свои предприятия в счет погашения долга, который составляет примерно 150 млн. $ // Дело N. 2000. 8. 11.

35 Гельбрас В. Самое слабое звено... С. 107.

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6. A specific dimension of rivalry in Central Asia has to do with construction of transcontinental transport corridors (other than oil and gas transportation). It is planned to start construction of a railway from China's Kashgar to Central Asia. Hereinafter, as the railway will in any event pass through the territory of Kyrgyzstan, we might as well refer to it as the Chinese-Kyrgyz Railway (CKRW). There are two route options discussed. One of these presupposes construction of a railway from Kashgar to Gulcha and to Osh - Andizhan. The Kyrgyz side insists that the railway be built over the mountain pass Torugart36 , to be further continued through Kochkorku to Balykchi (Rybachye) and, finally, Bishkek.

The choice of the route through Kyrgyzstan does not seem too important for China - all it cares about is having a railway here37 . However, there are other views, too - for instance, it is believed that only the route via Fergana will make it possible to start industrial mining in the Pamir region.38 One way or another, there is hardly any talk here of competition between the US and China - what we have here is rather competition among various states in the region with participation of neighbors (Russia, among others). It is only natural that Uzbekistan insists on the former railway routing option, while Kyrgyzstan prefers the latter.

In the long run, none of the proposed CKRW construction options would be to the advantage of Russia, yet the "Uzbek" one might be a somewhat lesser evil. In both cases, the CKRW project means increased competition for the

36 Бессарабов Г. Д., Собянин А. Д. Об экономическом присутствии России в Западном Китае и Центральной Азии // Транскаспийский проект. 2000. 19. 10(

37 Акимов Т. К. ККЖД как геополитическая магистраль (first published by news agency KABAR on January 4, 2001,

38 Bessarabov G. D., Sobyanin A. D. Op. cit.

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Trans-Siberian Railway and creation of overland communications lines between Far East and the West that would bypass Russia (Kazakhstan, too, which is why it is also interested in implementation of the "Uzbek" option). At the same time, if the "Uzbek" option is chosen, the railway will only pass through the Fergana Valley to Central Uzbekistan, yet the "Kyrgyz" option will take the railway through Northern Kyrgyzstan, thus drawing it away from Russia's sphere of geopolitical influence. In both cases, CKRW construction will result in increased Chinese expansion to the West - though the choice of the Uzbek route will direct the expansion vector to the south of the potential Eurasian integration boundaries, whereas the Kyrgyz route will affect Northern Kyrgyzstan and, possibly, Kazakh Semirechye.

At the same time, it does not mean that Russia should flatly reject all that is related to the CKRW project. In the event that the political situation to the south of Eurasia's natural boundaries deteriorates and/or there emerges a conflict between the Chinese and "Wahhabites", this may pose a threat to Chinese plans for restoration of the "Great Silk Route". In this case, the "Kyrgyz" CKRW option would become more relevant - yet it would call for a closer integration of Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (it might not be hard to achieve it in case of growing instability on southern borders of the three states). In this event, it might be worthwhile to build CKRW from Kashgar through Naryn and Balykchi to Semirechye and further on - along the already existing Russian railways through Kazakhstan, to Russia's Black Sea and Baltic ports, and via Ukraine and Byelorussia to Europe.


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Georgy SITNYANSKY, RUSSIA, USA AND CHINA IN CENTRAL ASIA // Astana: Digital Library of Kazakhstan (BIBLIO.KZ). Updated: 04.11.2022. URL: (date of access: 05.03.2024).

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