Eurasia News Online

Central Asia – The road “bypassing Russia” – New transport project

Summit Central Asia – China left no one indifferent. Its significance and the agreements reached are of fundamental importance for the region of Central Asia, China, and Russia and outline ways for a further geopolitical confrontation around the world

In Central Asia, synophobic sentiments are almost overcome. Somewhere by society itself and the expert community, which are aware of the importance of developing relations with an eastern neighbour, and somewhere — not without the participation of law enforcement agencies, as in Kazakhstan, where protests of pro-Western opposition under anti-Chinese slogans were suppressed.

We are discussing the consequences of the decision to build the Uzbekistan – Kyrgyzstan – China railway. It was confirmed at the last forum and is China’s critical infrastructure project implementing the One Belt – One Road (OBOR) strategy.

Critical assessments of the summit’s results mainly concern the railway. It should ensure the flow of goods from China to Europe, bypassing Russia. It might thereby lead to a conflict of interests between the two powers. From the “patriotic” segment of the Russian media, the traditional “China outplayed Russia” cry is louder than ever.

Want to get rich? Build the road and railway!

The construction project of this road has been discussed for the past 20 years. Russia’s position on this issue was unclear and never directly voiced. However, the geopolitical realities of recent years have pushed Beijing and Moscow to a strategic alliance.

Already in September 2022, a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding on constructing the 454-kilometre railway of Uzbekistan — Kyrgyzstan — China was signed at the SCO summit in Samarkand.

Following the SCO summit, where the leaders of all Central Asian countries were present, a tet-a-tet meeting was held between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in Moscow.

The Collective West is still trying to apply the old “divide and conquer” strategy in Central Asia

In Western media, this road is loved to be presented as a way around Russia. Apparently, because of the Western sanctions. But in reality, Russia is only increasing trade relations with China. It is setting a new record of — 153 billion dollars for ten months of 2022. That is 33% more than last year.

Therefore, Russia is interested in new logistics chains for trade with China. And a significant part of the future cargo on the new road will ultimately go either to Russia or through Russia.

Uzbekistan maintains economic relations with both China and the Russian Federation. Moscow and Beijing — are two leading economic partners of Tashkent. There, they seek to increase the economic benefits of possible flows. It is all showing the greatest independence under the pressure of Western sanctions.

Kyrgyzstan will also benefit from the project. The project will create new jobs plus the development of transport networks.

The President of Azerbaijan also evaluated the project. Ilham Aliyev emphasized that the new railway will become part of the Middle Corridor. The Trans-Caspian international transport route will run through China, Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, and Azerbaijan. The project will contribute to the growth of trade.

The geopolitical context of the project

Implementing this strategic project will bring the region out of the transport impasse. It will unite about 4 billion people and expand the transportation geography from Asia through Turkey to Europe, to the Middle East, Iran, the Gulf and North Africa.

Implementing the railway project will also be a significant step towards the rapprochement of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization ( SCO ), where Beijing plays the first violin, and the Eurasian Economic Union, where Moscow has a decisive influence.

In implementing its strategy, China considers Russia, Iran and Pakistan its allies in the Central Asian macroregion. These are countries with a population of tens of millions and access to the seas. They can replace Turkey and other countries in the supply of agricultural products to the markets of the SCO countries. It is food — the trump card of Russia in this situation.

Merging between EAEU and the SCO

As a result, the EAEU and the SCO in the coming years have every chance of merging to expand by at least two continents — Eurasia and Africa.

The implementation of this major infrastructure project was preceded by attempts to destabilise the region. Here, the interests of the United States are visible. The US is trying to disrupt the creation of an additional logistics route for its main competitor — China.

We are talking about mass protests in Karakalpakstan (Uzbekistan). The demonstrations were coordinated mainly through international social networks, including neighbouring Kazakhstan. Also, the unrest in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan; cross-border conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; “Kempir-Abadsky case” in Kyrgyzstan, when pro-Western activists tried to organise riots in a wave of nationalist sentiments; January events of 2022 in Kazakhstan and many other attempts to provoke tension.

In addition to the threat of internal or border destabilisation, the threat posed by Afghanistan remains for the entire region.

Moreover, in addition to military-political factors, a special role in attacks on a new transport route is assigned to the information sphere. Attempts to warm up the contradictions between Moscow and Beijing surprisingly reveal a single dungeon both in Central Asian countries and in Russia itself.

Collective West is unable to abandon the “zero-sum.” approach

It is increasingly evident that Western strategists are getting entangled in their networks of NGOs and other organisations trying to turn Russia against China and Central Asian countries against Russia – everyone against everyone in principle. The West’s inability to understand the relationship between Russia, China and Central Asia will result in their strategic defeat in this region.

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