Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 80

Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the one hand, and Central Asian leaders, on the other, continue to differ widely over America’s role in Central Asia. The latest high-level statements, as well as reactions to the Russian-led antiterrorism exercise just held in Central Asia, confirm the divergence of interests between a Moscow hoping to restore dominance and the region’s countries looking to the United States and the West generally for security and development.

In his annual message to the Russian parliament on April 18, Putin managed the tour de force of omitting any mention of the United States in connection with the successes achieved against terrorism in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Furthermore, he attempted to portray the antiterrorism coalition’s post-September 11 campaign in the region as a Russian undertaking that CIS countries followed:

“It was Russia’s principled position that made it possible to form a durable antiterrorist coalition. In the context of allied relationships, we–together with the leaderships of a number of CIS countries–took corresponding decisions…. Through joint effort we managed to resolve a most important strategic task–to eliminate the highly dangerous center of international terrorism in Afghanistan, to put a stop to its adverse impact on the situation in other regions of the world.” Putin went on to describe the Russian-led CIS as a single actor in the international system.

The glaring omission of the United States has precedent in the communique Russia and China drafted for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s January 7 summit and presented to the organization’s Central Asian member countries for signature. It omitted any reference to the United States when citing the September 11 assault, as if this had been perpetrated against either no country in particular or a nameless one. It referred to America only obliquely by calling for restrictions on the U.S. latitude to operate against terrorist forces (see the Monitor, January 9). At present, Putin’s representatives are increasingly asking the Central Asia’s countries to limit their security cooperation with the United States and line up again behind Russia, this time within a CIS collective security system.