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Friday, January 25, 2013

Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests



Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

U.S. policy toward the Central Asian states has aimed at facilitating their cooperation with U.S. and NATO stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and their efforts to combat terrorism; proliferation; and trafficking in arms, drugs, and persons. Other U.S. objectives have included promoting free markets, democratization, human rights, energy development, and the forging of East-West and Central Asia-South Asia trade links. Such policies aim to help the states become what various U.S. administrations have considered to be responsible members of the international community rather than to degenerate into xenophobic, extremist, and anti-Western regimes that contribute to wider regional conflict and instability.

Soon after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, all the Central Asian “front-line” states offered over-flight and other support for coalition anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan hosted coalition troops and provided access to airbases. In 2003, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also endorsed coalition military action in Iraq. About two dozen Kazakhstani troops served in Iraq until late 2008. Uzbekistan rescinded U.S. basing rights to support operations in Afghanistan in 2005 after the United States criticized the reported killing of civilians in the town of Andijon. In early 2009, Kyrgyzstan ordered a U.S. base in that country to close, allegedly because of Russian inducements and U.S. reluctance to meet Kyrgyz requests for greatly increased lease payments. An agreement on continued U.S. use of the Manas Transit Center was reached in June 2009. The Kyrgyz leadership has declared that it will not extend the basing agreement when it comes up for renewal in 2014. In recent years, most of the regional states also participate in the Northern Distribution Network for the transport of U.S. and NATO supplies into and out of Afghanistan.

Policymakers have tailored U.S. policy in Central Asia to the varying characteristics of these states. U.S. interests in Kazakhstan have included securing and eliminating Soviet-era nuclear and biological weapons materials and facilities. U.S. energy firms have invested in oil and natural gas development in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and successive administrations have backed diverse export routes to the West for these resources. U.S. policy toward Kyrgyzstan has long included support for its civil society. In Tajikistan, the United States focuses on developmental assistance to bolster the fragile economy and address high poverty rates. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as the region, can gain economically if water resources are properly developed and managed. U.S. relations with Uzbekistan—the most populous state in the heart of the region—were cool after 2005, but recently have improved.

Congress has been at the forefront in advocating increased U.S. ties with Central Asia, and in providing backing for the region for the transit of equipment and supplies for U.S.-led stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. Congress has pursued these goals through hearings and legislation on humanitarian, economic, and democratization assistance; security issues; and human rights. During the 113
th Congress, the Members may review assistance for bolstering regional border and customs controls and other safeguards to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), combating trafficking in persons and drugs, encouraging regional integration with South Asia and Europe, advancing energy and other resource security, and countering terrorism. Support for these goals also has been viewed as contributing to U.S. and NATO stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. For several years, Congress has placed conditions on assistance to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan because of concerns about human rights abuses and lagging democratization (the Secretary of State may waive such conditions). Congress will continue to consider how to balance these varied U.S. interests in the region.


Date of Report: January 9, 2013
Number of Pages: 71
Order Number: RL33458
Price: $29.95

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Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests



Jim Nichol, Coordinator
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

Russia made uneven progress in democratization during the 1990s, but this limited progress was reversed after Vladimir Putin rose to power in 1999-2000, according to many observers. During this period, the State Duma (lower legislative chamber) became dominated by governmentapproved parties, gubernatorial elections were abolished, and the government consolidated ownership or control over major media and industries, including the energy sector. The Putin government showed low regard for the rule of law and human rights in suppressing insurgency in the North Caucasus, according to critics. Dmitriy Medvedev, Putin’s longtime protégé, was elected president in 2008; President Medvedev immediately designated Putin as prime minister and continued Putin’s policies. In August 2008, the Medvedev-Putin “tandem” directed military operations against Georgia and recognized the independence of Georgia’s separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia, actions condemned by most of the international community. In late 2011, Putin announced that he would return to the presidency and that Medvedev would become prime minister. This announcement, and flawed Duma elections at the end of the year, spurred popular protests, which the government addressed by launching some reforms (such as the return of gubernatorial elections) and holding pro-Putin rallies. In March 2012, Putin was (re)elected president by a wide margin. The day after Putin’s inauguration on May 7, the legislature confirmed Medvedev as prime minister. Since then, Putin appears to be tightening restrictions on freedom of assembly and other human rights. 

Russia’s Economy 


Russia’s economy began to recover from the Soviet collapse in 1999, led mainly by oil and gas exports, but the decline in oil and gas prices and other aspects of the global economic downturn beginning in 2008 contributed to an 8% drop in gross domestic product in 2009. Since then, rising world oil prices have bolstered the economy. Russian economic growth continues to be dependent on oil and gas exports. The economy is also plagued by an unreformed healthcare system and unhealthy lifestyles; low domestic and foreign investment; and high rates of crime, corruption, capital flight, and unemployment. 

Russia’s Armed Forces 


Russia’s armed forces now number less than one million, down from 4.3 million Soviet troops in 1986. Troop readiness, training, morale, and discipline have suffered, and much of the arms industry has become antiquated. Russia’s economic growth during most of the 2000s allowed it to increase defense spending to begin addressing these problems. Stepped-up efforts have begun to restructure the armed forces and improve their quality. Opposition from some in the armed forces, mismanagement, and corruption seemingly have slowed this restructuring. 

U.S. – Russia Relations 


After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the United States sought a cooperative relationship with Moscow and supplied almost $19 billion in aid for Russia from FY1992 through FY2010 to encourage democracy and market reforms and in particular to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In the past, U.S.-Russia tensions on issues such as NATO enlargement and proposed U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe were accompanied by some cooperation between the two countries on anti-terrorism and nonproliferation. Russia’s 2008 conflict with Georgia, however, threatened such cooperation. The Obama Administration has worked to “re-set” relations with Russia and has hailed such steps as the signing of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in April 2010; the approval of new sanctions against Iran by Russia and other members of the U.N. Security Council in June 2010; the accession of Russia to the World Trade Organization on August 22, 2012; and the cooperation of Russia in Afghanistan as signifying the “re-set” of bilateral relations. However, in late 2012, Russia ousted the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from the country, and criticized the help that USAID had provided over the years as unnecessary or intrusive. H.R. 6156 (Camp), authorizing permanent normal trade relations for Russia, was signed into law on December 14, 2012 (P.L. 112-108). The bill includes provisions sanctioning those responsible for the detention and death of lawyer Sergey Magnitsky and for other gross human rights abuses in Russia.


Date of Report: January 2, 2013
Number of Pages: 86
Order Number: RL33407
Price: $29.95

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