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Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, and Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov pose for a picture during the Central Asia-Russia summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.

REUTERS/Turar Kazangapov

Bickering picks up steam in Russia’s backyard


Since it invaded Ukraine, Russia hasn't just been making enemies – it’s also been losing friends. Some Central Asian countries – considered part of Russia’s backyard thanks to their Soviet heritage – have begun distancing themselves from Moscow.

Tensions have been building: In October, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon told Vladimir Putin at a summit that his country needs “more respect.” At September’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization conference, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov kept Putin waiting before a meeting. And last week, four of Russia’s treaty allies – Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan — abstained from a vote in the UN General Assembly that demanded Moscow pay war reparations to Ukraine.

“Central Asian Republics have always wanted to be free of Russian influence. Seeing Russia falter in Ukraine, they sense their opportunity,” says Husain Haqqani, director for Central and South Asia at Washington’s Hudson Institute.

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Participants of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit.

Reuters

From talk shop to regional bloc: What to make of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

As the Shanghai Cooperation Organization met last week in Uzbekistan, observers braced for impact. Would China’s Xi Jinping meet India’s Narendra Modi? (No). Would Modi meet Pakistan’s PM Shehbaz Sharif? (Also, no). Would anybody put Vladimir Putin in his place? (Modi sort of did). Would China get real with Russia over Ukraine? (Not really, though Putin did emerge as the obvious junior partner to Xi in the huddle). Amid the fanfare and the photo-ops, these developments posed larger questions: Is the SCO relevant? Does it have ‘bloc potential?’ Is it a threat to the West?

The Big Brother club? Given the exception of India, the SCO is often thought of as a talking shop of autocratic regimes. But between its eight members – China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – it represents 3.1 billion people, spans most of Eurasia, and boasts a quarter of the world’s GDP, thanks to some of the world’s biggest energy reserves. Moreover, it’s still getting bigger. Iran just acceded as a full member; Belarus is hoping to be next; and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Turkey have also taken the first step towards membership by signing on as dialogue partners. The SCO is also expanding to the Middle East, as Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar as well as Saudi Arabia have become partners.

What does the SCO really do?

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Protest against the war in Ukraine outside the consulate general of Russia in Almaty.

REUTERS/Shamil Zhumato

“How do we live?” Central Asia treads carefully with Ukraine war

The impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has echoed around the world, but spare a thought for the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia. All have close economic and cultural ties to Russia, but they also have reasons to be wary of what Vladimir Putin has done in Ukraine.

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Russia Vladimir Putin takes part in an emergency session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) Collective Security Council meeting on the normalization of the situation in Kazakhstan on Monday Jan 10, 2022.

Kremlin/EYEPRESS

Kazakhstan & The West Wing in a G-Zero world

The popular 2000s American political drama TV series The West Wing is famous for, among other things, its mostly accurate — albeit idealized — portrayal of the inner workings of US foreign policy. In the final season, outgoing President Jed Bartlet deploys American peacekeepers to stop a war between Russia and China over unrest in… Kazakhstan.

Right now, the Central Asian country is reeling from the worst political turmoil since it broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991. But the current crisis is so far playing out quite differently from the TV war script — in a world that’s a lot more G-Zero than it was in 2006.

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Taliban 2.0: Afghanistan on the Brink (US AWOL) | Journalist Ahmed Rashid | GZERO World

Taliban 2.0: Afghanistan on the Brink (US AWOL)

Few people know more about the Taliban than journalist and author Ahmed Rashid, who wrote the book on the group — literally.

In the months after 9/11, his critically acclaimed 2000 study Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia became a go-to reference as the US geared up to invade Afghanistan and knock the militant group from power.

Now, twenty years later, with the US out of Afghanistan and the Taliban back in charge, Ian Bremmer sat down with Rashid to learn more about the Taliban today in a GZERO World interview.

How much has the group changed since the days of soccer-stadium executions, television bans, and blowing up world heritage sites? How should the rest of the world deal with them?

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