Central Asia

Developments following the overthrow of the Taleban regime will reveal the extent to which the US anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan also served geopolitical objectives. Although Washington’s rhetoric was free of such suggestions, there are strong indications that the true picture is different. The US is more interested in the broader region than its public language allows for. America’s main geopolitical benefit from these developments is that it gains a foothold in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, at the heart of the Asian region rich in energy deposits. These republics may have become independent states but they essentially remain within Moscow’s zone of influence. In fact Russia maintains military bases in many of these states. In the first half of the 1990s, Washington tried to penetrate this region via Turkey, which has racial and linguistic similarities with some of the ethnic groups in central Asia. This was when late Prime Minister Turgut Ozal said that Turkey’s zone of influence would stretch from the Adriatic Sea to the Wall of China. Despite such triumphalism and some success, however, Ankara never quite managed to realize its imperial vision. Now, Moscow has allowed the Americans to get a foothold in its own «soft underbelly.» It is no coincidence that many Russian military commentators and senior military officers have from the very beginning expressed their opposition to President Vladimir Putin’s policies, fearing that the US will not pull out after toppling the Taleban. However, the common objective of inflicting a fatal blow to Islamic fundamentalism has brought Moscow and Beijing onto the same side. China faces the chronic problem of Islamic irredentism by its Muslim minority in the northwestern provinces. For years now Russia has waged a fruitless war in Chechnya and has been the target of blind terrorist attacks by Chechen extremists. Russia’s and China’s reward for falling behind the US-led anti-terrorist campaign is – amongst other things – that they will be left to take action on the aforementioned fronts without being subjected to Western pressure over their human rights violations. Afghanistan, because of its geographical position, carries great strategic weight for the USA, which has always sought a way to control the central Asian region and, of course, the flow of energy resources to the West. PM wants economic agreement