Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is upending the geopolitical calculations of states around the world. The fallout is especially complex for the post-Soviet states of Central Asia, which maintain extensive economic, political, cultural and other ties to both Russia and Ukraine. While Central Asia is far from the front lines of the ongoing war, and therefore less directly impacted than states like Moldova or Georgia, its leaders also face difficult decisions.
Independent for three decades, the Central Asian states remain dependent to varying degrees on Russia as a security provider and economic partner, and as a source of political support. Their peoples and leaders, however, remain wary of Russia’s neo-imperial ambitions, which they fear will not remain confined to Ukraine. This combination of dependence and fear limits the Central Asian states’ freedom of maneuver. Central Asian elites largely oppose the war, which they worry could give Moscow a pretext to turn on them. With Russia likely facing a long period of isolation and sanctions, the Central Asian states will likely try to further reduce their economic and political dependence on Russia—without provoking a forceful response.
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Jeffrey Mankoff is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Center for Strategic Research at National Defense University.
The views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.