Central Asian Leaders Pledge Further Cooperation As Russian Influence Wanes

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Leaders from five Central Asian nations have ended a summit in the Kyrgyz resort town of Cholpon-Ata with a pledge to increase cooperation to strengthen the region as Russia -- the main strategic and trade partner of the region -- is being weakened by its war in Ukraine.

The meeting ended on July 21 with the signing of the Agreement on Friendship, Neighborliness, and Cooperation for Development of Central Asia in the 21st Century by the leaders of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Tajik and Turkmen leaders did not sign the document, citing domestic proceedings.

The summit was the first gathering of heads of state in the region since Russia -- which was not a participant in the meeting -- launched its invasion of Ukraine five months ago. Despite Moscow's waning influence in the region, none of the five presidents in attendance mentioned the war in Ukraine.

The meeting came just weeks after several dozens of people were killed in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan after security forces brutally clamped down on anti-government protests in their respective autonomous regions, Gorno-Badakhshan and Karakalpakstan.

Meanwhile, more than 200 people were killed in unrest in Kazakhstan in January, prompting Nur-Sultan to invite Russian-led security forces to swoop in and help restore order.

This year's summit was held as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have seen social unrest in the past two years while the cost of living has been on the rise in the region, with the situation exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, severe droughts, supply issues, and the war in Ukraine.

"There is a necessity to prevent security crises created by those who use social, economic, inter-ethnic, religious issues as excuses and I call for joint efforts for that," Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov said.

Another focus of the meeting was the situation in Afghanistan, where Taliban militants are nearing the first anniversary of their takeover of the country following the withdrawal of international forces in August 2021.

Tajik President Rahmon said the five nations should keep the developments in the war-torn nation under "permanent focus" as they may affect geopolitical situation in Eurasia in general.

"According to our prognosis, the situation in Afghanistan may go from bad to worse. Since taking over the country, Taliban leaders have failed to provide assurances to the international community, Afghan citizens with security, or solve social and economic challenges," Rahmon said.

Talking about disputed border issues in the region, especially border-related problems between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan that have caused deadly shootouts in recent years, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev offered to assist the Tajik and Kyrgyz governments in finding a peaceful solution to ward off further violent clashes.

Toqaev's offer appeared to be an attempt to sideline Russia from its usual role of ironing out differences between former Soviet republics.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.