Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has sought to maintain its influence on its outskirts. Central Asia occupies an important part of this near abroad. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited 27-28 February to visit the countries of Central Asia - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. All of them are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) headed by Russia. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in addition, are members of the Eurasian Economic Union, and Tajikistan is considering the possibility of joining the EAEC. Russia maintains a significant military presence in these countries (primarily the Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan and the 201 military base in Tajikistan) and cooperates with local armed forces in the framework of regular joint exercises.
However, these three countries are also in a difficult situation: their economy has been in a desperate situation due to low oil prices and dependence on the Russian economy weakened by sanctions. These pressures can lead to a rapid growth of protest movements and the activation of armed groups. Russia is particularly concerned about the growing influence of the DPAI and other terrorist groups in neighboring northern Afghanistan. Moscow hopes to ease instability factors in the region and at the same time take advantage of the opportunity to expand its military and economic influence.
The first stage of this political tour was a visit to Kazakhstan, which emphasizes the close working relationship between Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The meeting began with an informal ski trip in the vicinity of Almaty. Putin expressed his approval to Nazarbayev in connection with the role that Kazakhstan played in the holding of peace talks on the settlement of the Syrian conflict. In addition, both sides are preparing for the upcoming process of transferring power in Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev, who has already turned 76 years old, recently announced plans to transfer part of the presidential powers to the cabinet and parliament. Moscow hopes that the next Kazakh leader will stick to Nazarbayev's firm pro-Russian position, and intends to work closely with Astana at this critical moment.
Putin's visit to Tajikistan was mainly devoted to the alarming situation in neighboring Afghanistan. Both sides agreed to intensify cooperation to protect the long and transparent southern border of Tajikistan. They did not disclose details of their plan, but Putin said that the capabilities of the Russian military base in Tajikistan will be used to implement it. Moscow recently indicated that it would like to expand its military presence in that country by renting the Ayni airbase near Dushanbe in order to strengthen the country's territorial defense with an air-force component, mainly based on the need to prevent the flow of military operations from Afghanistan.
However, while Russia denies talks included discussion of the expansion of its military presence. Moscow is actually offered Dushanbe certain concessions, promising to pay more attention to the problems of Tajik migrants and to lift the ban on entry into Russia with those who have been deprived of this right. Remittances from Russia make up almost half of Tajikistan's GDP, and Moscow hopes to maintain those relationships that allow it to compete with the growing influence of China.
During his visit to Kyrgyzstan, Putin discussed the problems of security and economic cooperation, in particular, the role of Kyrgyzstan in the Eurasian Economic Union. A meeting between the Russian and Kyrgyz Minister of Internal Affairs where they discussed cooperation in the fight against drugs and terrorism.
The timing of the current visit of the Russian president is noteworthy. The fact is that it was held against the backdrop of anti-government protests that intensified in Kyrgyzstan after the arrest of opposition leader Omurbek Tekerbayev over the weekend. While these demonstrations have not acquired significant proportions, but in the future they can lead to an escalation of political confrontation and destabilize the country. Kyrgyzstan experienced two revolutions, in 2005 and 2010, and remains vulnerable due to long-standing clan differences between the northern and southern parts of the country. Given that presidential elections are scheduled for this November, and also taking note of President Atambayev's recent statement about his refusal to participate in them, Russia will closely monitor the situation in Kyrgyzstan.