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Diplomacy
President of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

Putin’s Tactic of Inaction Could Backfire at Home

by Tatiana Stanovaya

Putin’s plan is to wait out what he sees as inevitable changes in the West and Ukraine. These days, however, Russia’s elites are liable to see defeatism in inaction.Nothing is happening in Russia. At least, that’s the impression given by Vladimir Putin over the past six months. On some level, the president has been extremely active, secretly micromanaging the war effort and publicly pretending to be dealing with routine matters from meetings on the economy to the launch of a tram line in the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Yet there are no presidential initiatives in the works for adapting the country to the new wartime reality and all that it involves.  Putin has stubbornly remained disengaged in this sense, despite drone strikes on the Kremlin, mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin’s crusade against the Defense Ministry, and even Ukraine’s looming counteroffensive. He prefers to give lectures on history and offer optimistic assessments of Russia’s economic prospects—and pessimistic ones of the West’s. This doesn’t mean, of course, that there really is nothing happening in Russia: quite the contrary. But what is happening has far less to do with the president’s plans or strategic interests than it does with the corporate interests of individual departments and figures. What is happening is largely a response to the worsening conditions facing Russia. Take the digitization of Russia’s system for issuing conscription notices, a move forced by the difficulties surrounding conscription during a war that is not going according to plan. Or how repression has deepened, in an attempt at self-preservation by the system amid fast-growing geopolitical risks and fears of defeat. Repressive inertia and self-aggrandizement by major institutions such as the FSB and the defense and finance ministries have driven many recent decisions, including the return of ideology. Justice Minister Konstantin Chuichenko has spoken openly about the possibility of introducing a new official ideology that would extend to education, cinema, theater, and poetry. This process has long since ceased to be under Putin’s direct control and is now developing independently of him, albeit with his passive consent. Here and in other important debates, Putin’s voice is absent. Should Russia’s borders be closed? Should those who have already left have their rights restricted? Who is to be exempted from mobilization? How are those designated as “foreign agents” by the state to be punished? What should be done about Prigozhin? How should the country respond to incidents like drone strikes and attempts to assassinate “ultra-patriots”?   The stances of parliamentarians, party leaders, cabinet ministers, military bloggers, and the security services on these and other matters are all well known. Yet Putin says nothing, intervening only to take steps such as retreating from the key Ukrainian city of Kherson, suspending Russia’s participation in the New START nuclear agreement, or pulling out of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Even in his long-awaited address to the Federal Assembly, he merely listed measures already taken by the government. Today, Putin is just about the only person in Russia who is not increasingly engaged in politics, from former president Dmitry Medvedev, State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, and Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev to Prigozhin, the war bloggers, and television hosts. It is as though the president has recused himself, devoting himself to secret military and geopolitical matters, the details of which are known to few. This is not a sign of fear or weakness. Rather, it reflects Putin’s growing messiah complex. At present, literally all his political hopes and plans hinge on external changes that are out of his control. Putin has no instruments or resources with which to change the situation in his favor. Yet he believes that the world will change all the same and deliver him Kyiv’s capitulation.  Putin’s plan is to wait out what he sees as the inevitable transformation of the West and Ukraine. Any fear of a Ukrainian counteroffensive has given way to the conviction that little will change on the battlefield, beyond minor setbacks that he is prepared to tolerate. The calculation in the Kremlin is that absent a military breakthrough, Ukraine’s elite will fracture, leading to the emergence of a “party of peace” (i.e., capitulation), while in the West, internal divisions will force cuts to military and political support for Kyiv. Putin’s hopes cannot be dismissed as completely baseless, but his problem is that this approach is anathema to Russia’s restless political class. For all its loyalty and pliability, it has evolved dramatically during the war. These days, Russia’s elites are liable to see defeatism in inaction. All of this creates the conditions for the political ambitions of parastatal actors to soar. Despite their reputation for being instruments of the Kremlin, they are gradually building political capital and may one day run out of patience with the regime and challenge it. Already, Putin is struggling to explain what exactly he is waiting for.    In the first months of the war, many took notice of how the once-marginal pro-war “ultra-patriots” had matured politically and come to dominate the information space. Today, the officious hawks, such as Medvedev, Volodin, and Patrushev, are losing their place in Russian politics to the angry patriots, including Prigozhin, former Donbas commander Igor Strelkov, and the war bloggers. Compared to each other, the former seem like opportunists and armchair generals, while the latter, having emerged in combat conditions, look much more like the real thing.  The regime is not under threat so long as Putin’s ratings remain stable, and besides, the mechanism of power is still completely under his control. Yet his public paralysis and refusal to assume responsibility for the resolution of the most pressing problems facing Russia cannot but render him and his courtiers politically irrelevant and create a vacuum to be filled by the ultra-patriots. The day may come when Putin finds himself dependent on a once harmless bunch made dangerous by his opacity and inaction.

Diplomacy
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Central Asian countries leaders: Uzbekistan Shavkat Merziyoev, Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov, Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, Kazakhstan Kosym Tokaev

Why Did Central Asia’s Leaders Agree to Attend Moscow’s Military Parade?

by Temur Umarov

Russia’s annual Victory Day holiday on May 9, when the country marks the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, was expected to be a fairly low-key affair this year. Just three days before the festivities, which included a military parade on Red Square, only one high-ranking guest was due to attend: Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov.  On the eve of the parade, however, it emerged that the presidents of four other Central Asian nations had also arrived at the last minute, along with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. For over a year now, following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, the Central Asian leaders have tried to avoid the issue of the war. So why have they now risked both their reputations and their safety (after all, there were drones flying over the Kremlin the week before the parade) to attend Moscow’s military festivities in what is being seen by many as a gesture of support for Russia? Even before the war, the Central Asian presidents preferred to celebrate May 9 in their own countries: any holiday that unites the nation is seen as a way of strengthening their relatively young statehood. Some also tried to use the Soviet-era holiday to make the point that the major victory of the 20th century had not been achieved by Russia alone. Each of the Central Asian capitals held its own military parade and competed with Russia and among themselves to stump up the most lump-sum payments for veterans. Sometimes their leaders still attended the parade in Moscow – that was never a problem. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine changed everything. Russian President Vladimir Putin began to use Victory Day to justify his aggression, comparing Russia’s historic fight against the Nazis to its current so-called “special operation” against the Ukrainians.  This year’s parade inevitably resulted in images of the Central Asian leaders sitting alongside Russian troops who have been fighting in the war and applauding Putin’s speech about a “sacred struggle for the motherland.” Those images will make it much harder to insist that the countries of Central Asia do not support Russia's aggression against Ukraine. This conclusion was, of course, perfectly clear to those involved, which is why the Central Asian presidents did not initially intend to be there, as evidenced by official statements. Two weeks before the parade, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced that on May 9, he would commemorate those killed in World War II in the capital Astana, while Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev ordered a fireworks display in Tashkent on May 9, with the clear intention of attending himself. Nor did Moscow itself even intend to invite anyone at first. On April 24, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that since it was not a big anniversary this year, no “special invitations” had been sent to anyone. Only Japarov’s visit was planned in advance: both the itinerary and the makeup of the impressive official delegation were made public. It seems, therefore, that everything in Russia is now conducted like a special operation – even invitations to a parade. “Special invitations” were issued one after another just a few days before the parade in the form of phone calls from Putin, as reported on the websites of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon on May 5 and Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov on May 7. Mirziyoyev and Tokayev’s attendance, meanwhile, was announced with photographs of them exiting their planes in Moscow. In all likelihood, with the exception of Japarov, the Central Asian presidents initially managed to politely decline the invitation to Moscow. But when Putin called them, it became not only difficult to do so, but also dangerous. All of the Central Asian nations are proud of their multi-vector foreign policy, and relations with the West are just as important to them as with Moscow or Beijing. Now that Russia and the West are on the verge of war, it has become far trickier for Central Asia to maintain its partnerships with both sides. The last few years have shown that when the West imposes sanctions against a country, they are observed by everyone, including China. Accordingly, since the invasion, Central Asia’s leaders have tried to strike a balance. None of them have recognized the territories annexed from Ukraine as part of Russia, but nor have they publicly criticized Putin or condemned the war. They have all agreed to comply with sanctions, yet have made no real efforts to stop Russia from using their territory to circumvent the restrictions. It’s a precarious balance. Much to Moscow’s annoyance, Western delegations have repeatedly traveled to Central Asia to advise local authorities on sanctions compliance, and have threatened secondary sanctions for failure to comply. Moscow has responded with veiled and asymmetrical threats, such as halting exports of Kazakh oil to Europe or prohibiting the import of products from Eurasian Economic Union countries, supposedly over GMOs. Central Asia’s leaders are left to decide for themselves how much of this is coincidence, and how much a response to their statements and actions. Therefore, the deciding factor in the presidents’ visit to Moscow was likely that the West’s actions are predictable, while Moscow’s are not. Quite simply, taking part in Moscow’s Victory Day celebrations may have looked bad, but Washington and Brussels were unlikely to impose sanctions simply for attending a parade, while the potential consequences from Moscow of refusing to attend were hard to predict. There were also pragmatic reasons for visiting Moscow. Contrary to expectations, far from severing ties with Russia, Central Asia actually drew closer to it in 2022. The reality is that it can be profitable to be located next door to a giant, isolated economy and diplomatic pariah. Firstly, Central Asian companies have made record profits from the disappearance of Western imports from the Russian market. Exports from all five Central Asian countries to Russia soared in 2022. Secondly, Central Asia is becoming a financial hub for Russians moving their savings out of Russia. Last year, more than $770 million was transferred from Russia to Kazakhstan – an almost sevenfold increase from 2021. Transfers to Uzbekistan, meanwhile, more than doubled to $17 billion. Thirdly, Central Asia is now the focus of far more international attention than ever before, with Western countries trying to persuade the region not to help Russia in any way, and Moscow trying hard to stop it from drifting away. Recognizing that this attention is largely the result of their proximity to Russia and will not last forever, Central Asia’s leaders are trying to milk the current situation for all it is worth. Accordingly, individual actions should not be interpreted as either definitive support for Russia or a move to sever relations with it. Central Asia’s political elites view the invasion of Ukraine through the prism of their own interests, top of which is the preservation of their own regimes. For this reason, they will continue to show loyalty to Putin, attending parades with him and periodically praising Moscow in public speeches. It might look like an attempt to have it both ways, but this is the survival strategy the Central Asian regimes consider most likely to work.

Diplomacy
Flags of Moldova and European Union standing close with Russian flag staying in the far background pointing Moldova is getting closer with EU than Russia

How Russia Torpedoed Its Own Influence in Moldova

by Galiya Ibragimova

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned neighboring Moldova into a tinder box. Its border with Ukraine stretches for over 1,200 kilometers, and Russian missiles have entered Moldovan airspace on more than one occasion. Moscow has threatened to prevent Moldova from becoming another “anti-Russia,” while making fearmongering accusations that the Ukrainian army has plans to seize Moldova’s breakaway region Transnistria. The direct military threat to Moldova, however, receded after the Ukrainian army defeated Russia in Kherson, and the Moldovan government appears to have successfully adapted to the new situation and restored relative stability. Despite historically strong pro-Russian sentiment, the vast majority of Moldovans now agree that cooperation with Moscow has become too toxic, while the allure of EU integration—such as the opportunity to work there—is more tempting than anything Russia has to offer. Chisinau is accordingly taking increasingly decisive measures in its fight against Russian interference.  A state of emergency has been in effect in Moldova ever since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, affording the government and law enforcement agencies additional powers. So far, the authorities have not resorted to radical measures, but the fact that the state of emergency is extended every two months shows that they are seriously concerned about the threat of destabilization. Throughout the past year, Chisinau has condemned Moscow for the war, but avoided direct confrontation, and was initially reluctant to actively oppose Russian interference. Moldovans welcomed Ukrainian refugees, but declined Kyiv’s requests to sell it six MiG-29 fighter jets, which was a bitter pill for Kyiv to swallow, considering that the Ukrainian army had thwarted Russia’s attempts at the start of the war to carve a corridor through Ukraine to Moldova’s Moscow-backed breakaway region, Transnistria. If it were not for Ukraine’s counterattack, then Moscow would likely have already taken control of Moldova and installed a pro-Russian president there: Russia’s rhetoric about the illegitimacy of the current Moldovan leadership is getting louder and louder. It is unlikely that Moldova, neither a large nor wealthy country, would have been able to put up much of a fight. Chisinau’s caution is understandable: after all, there are 1,500 Russian troops stationed in Transnistria, both as peacekeepers and as guards for Soviet-era arms depots. Moldova only joined anti-Russian sanctions this spring. Before that, the government demurred, citing the country’s dependence on the Russian economy, even though Moldova’s main trading partner has long been the European Union. Last year, almost 60 percent of Moldovan exports went to the EU, while less than a quarter went to the entire Commonwealth of Independent States, including Russia. And while exports to the EU increased by a third in 2022, those destined for Russia decreased by about the same amount. Even Moldova’s long-standing and almost complete dependence on Russian gas supplies has significantly weakened during the past year, largely due to the actions of Russia itself. Last October, Russia’s Gazprom reduced gas supplies to Moldova from 9 million to 5.7 million cubic meters per day in a payment dispute.  Moscow also reduced gas supplies to Transnistria, which almost left Moldova without electricity, since until 2022 up to 70 percent of electricity supplied to the rest of Moldova came from Transnistria and its regional power plant, which runs on Russian gas. The rest was supplied by Ukraine. Due to the reduction in gas supplies, Transnistria stopped selling electricity to Chisinau, while Kyiv also stopped exports due to the Russian missile strikes against its energy infrastructure, which had caused severe energy shortages across the war-torn country. Soon afterward, Chisinau reached an agreement with Tiraspol, Transnistria’s de facto capital. Chisinau agreed to send its own Russian gas supplies to Transnistria in exchange for the resumption of electricity supplies from the latter. To meet its domestic requirements, Moldova began buying gas from the EU, which by January 2023 had enabled it to save $330 per 1,000 cubic meters compared with Russian prices thanks to the relative stabilization of the European gas market.  In the spring, Ukraine resumed electricity exports, and the Transnistria power plant returned to its prewar capacity. The energy crisis hit Moldovan consumers hard, but prod Chisinau to establish alternative gas suppliers, including Romania and Greece, with plans to add Azerbaijan to that list. This energy diversification has strengthened the Moldovan government’s position in its relationship with Moscow. By this spring, following the resignation of the government and a subsequent reshuffle, Moldova had begun to toughen its stance on Russia. New Prime Minister Dorin Recean was previously a national security advisor and interior minister, and his appointment was a signal that security issues are Chisinau’s top priority right now. A few days before the reshuffle, President Maia Sandu said that Ukrainian intelligence had intercepted a Kremlin plan to organize a coup in Moldova through opposition protests and the involvement of foreign mercenaries. It’s hard to verify the claims, but what is certain is that Russia has always had extensive influence in Moldova, and has traditionally enjoyed the support of about half the population. Even now, polls show that while the majority of Moldovans condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, about 30 percent still admire Putin. Since last fall, the Shor party has been leading Moldovans in anti-government protests, officially against high utility prices. Russian propaganda portrays the protests as anti-European and nationwide, and describes the party’s head, the fugitive oligarch Ilan Shor, as the leader of the Moldovan opposition. But in reality, the protests only attract a couple of thousand people, and those participants do not hide the fact that they are paid to attend.  Ilan Shor fled to Israel after being sentenced to fifteen years in prison in Moldova for his role in laundering $1 billion in three Moldovan banks. A change of regime in Chisinau to a pro-Russian government would allow him to avoid prosecution and return to Moldova. Many believe that the Kremlin has offered him precisely these guarantees. The Moldovan government was concerned by the protests, but did not dare to take tough action: the Shor party has six seats in parliament, and freedom of assembly is enshrined in the constitution. But the reports of Kremlin plans to destabilize Moldova, and then the emergence of a document titled “Strategic Goals of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Moldova,” which spelled out a plan for regime change, forced Chisinau to act more decisively. The new Moldovan cabinet has appealed to the Constitutional Court to declare the Shor party illegitimate for promoting the interests of a foreign state. Meanwhile, in response to the opposition rallies, Sandu has called on Moldovans to assemble on Chisinau’s main square on May 21 in support of EU integration. About 60 percent of Moldovans are in favor of their country’s accession to the European Union. The reshuffled government has also stopped the broadcasting of Russian TV channels, and stepped up its efforts to publicly refute dubious Russian claims, such as that Ukraine is preparing to occupy Transnistria. The powers of the Information and Security Service, Moldova’s main intelligence agency, have been expanded, and a number of Russian officials—including President Vladimir Putin—have been banned from entering the country. Chisinau’s position on Transnistria has also become tougher. In February, the Moldovan parliament amended the law to make separatism an offense punishable by jail time, prompting outrage in Tiraspol. Chisinau insists that the amendments will not be applied retrospectively: only to future manifestations of separatism. Still, it is not yet clear how the new law will work in practice, so for now, Transnistrian officials prefer not to be seen in Chisinau. Russia’s actions have also prompted a public discussion in Moldova about the country’s armed forces, which will not be able to put up much resistance to a serious security threat. At the Munich Security Conference in February, Sandu asked NATO countries to provide Moldova with air defense systems. The government has not yet abandoned neutrality, but is making it clear that it is ready to turn to NATO for help in the event of an escalation. Chisinau’s course toward more resolute resistance to the Kremlin doesn’t mean that the country will be able to rid itself of its dependence on Russia overnight, of course. Nor will Moscow relinquish its foothold inside the country without a fight. Most likely, the Kremlin will continue to interfere in Moldovan political life by financing pro-Russian parties, portraying NATO as a threat, and accusing Sandu of trying to drag Moldova into the war. It’s possible that the pro-Russian forces will be able to take advantage of the country’s socioeconomic problems to put in a decent showing in the next elections. Even that scenario, however, will not result in fundamental changes to Moldova’s foreign policy. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is helping to consolidate Moldovan society in favor of EU integration and emancipation from Moscow. No matter who ends up leading the country in the future, they will not be able to ignore that consensus.

Diplomacy
Chinese president Xi Jinping on the phone screen and Volodymyr Zelensky the president of Ukraine

Beijing’s Kyiv outreach is about acquiring a global role for itself

by Harsh V. Pant

It aims to signal its diplomatic ascendance and challenge Washington as the big shaper of outcomes. Late last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping finally made that much hoped-for call to Ukraine’s President Volodymr Zelensky and informed the world that his nation “always stood on the side of peace.” This was the first outreach by Beijing to Ukraine since  the latter’s invasion by Russia last February, and Zelensky was keen on this engagement, especially after Xi’s visit to Moscow in March. Ukraine views China as an important interlocutor that can engage with Russia and seems to have been encouraged by the “long and meaningful” phone call between the two leaders that in its view would “give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations.” Last week, Ukraine’s finance minister also suggested that Kyiv should use its bilateral relationship with China as leverage to bring an end to Russia’s full-scale invasion, though he refused to consider China as a friend. The Chinese President has been reported as saying that China, “as a responsible majority country,” would “neither watch the fire from the other side, nor add fuel to the fire, let alone take advantage of the crisis to profit.” But there was no suggestion that Beijing would be doing anything meaningful going forward. The call and associated choreography had more to do with positioning China as a global power that is willing to engage in resolving problems, as opposed to the US that is creating more trouble by continuing to support Ukraine and prolonging the war. China has already laid out its cards on the table when it comes to the Ukraine crisis. It had released a 12-point position paper on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis earlier this February. In an attempt to present itself as a neutral peace broker, Beijing has enunciated a few standard principles, including respect for the sovereignty of all countries, resumption of peace talks, keeping industrial and supply chains stable and opposition to unilateral sanctions  as well as the use of nuclear weapons. Taking this forward, China has decided to send special representatives to Ukraine and hold talks with all parties in an attempt at peace-making. But beyond these principles, China’s credentials are hardly supportive of a larger role as a peace-maker, as it has long refused to view its ties with Ukraine and Russia at the same level. Russia has shown no inclination to step back from its aggression and Ukraine is seemingly preparing to launch a large-scale counter-offensive against Russian forces in a bid to retake territory in the east and south for which it has been preparing for months now. While Moscow has given no indication of backing down, perhaps assuming that it has time on its side and waiting for the Western consensus on backing Ukraine to collapse, Ukrainian forces feel that the weaponry delivered by the West over the past few months is likely to give them the momentum needed to shape battlefield realities in their favour. China is also unlikely to be viewed as an honest broker, given its ties with Russia that are increasingly becoming tighter. And despite repeated statements that the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all  countries must be effectively upheld,” Beijing has not only refused to acknowledge Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, but has continued to privilege its partnership with Moscow. Though Xi’s visit to Moscow in March did not result in any concrete help to Russia, it did signal to the West that  the China-Russia entente can shape the global balance of power in ways that can be deleterious to Western interests. More than anything else, Chinese posturing in the Ukraine conflict is aimed at the West. In its position paper, Beijing talks about the need to abandon a “Cold War mentality” and argues that “the legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and addressed properly,” making it clear that it largely agrees with Moscow’s perspective that it was the West that created the conditions for this war with the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). China has also been critical of Western sanctions on Russia, arguing that “relevant countries should stop abusing unilateral sanctions and ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ against other countries, so as to do their share in de-escalating the Ukraine crisis.” Both of these issues are germane for the long-term trajectory of China’s role on the global stage amid deepening tensions with the US. For China, clearly, this crisis is more about itself than it is about Russia. As China comes out of its covid- induced isolation, it would like to have a stable international environment for a sustained economic recovery. But it is also using an opportunity to emerge as a key global interlocutor by venturing into diplomatic arenas it has been shy of in the past, taking advantage of the West’s recent inward orientation. This effort was exemplified by its attempt to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia together in the highly volatile Middle East. China’s attempt at emerging as a global peace-maker is about presenting a diplomatic challenge to the US on the global stage. Beijing may not have much of an impact on the eventual outcome of the Ukraine crisis, but it is signalling that it is no longer shy of showcasing its growing diplomatic heft.

Diplomacy
Currencies of US, China, Russia

Can Russia and China unseat the Dollar from its throne?

by Sauradeep Bag

​Although the dollar continues to be the dominant global currency, Russia and China could dent this dominance. In the aftermath of global financial exclusion, Russia has had to make some strategic adaptations. The West’s sanctions had crippling consequences, and the Kremlin scrambled to find alternatives. In light of these developments, China became an important ally, and the Yuan—its currency—has taken on a more prominent role. It is telling that in Russia, the yuan has surpassed the United States Dollar (USD) in trading volume, a feat achieved a year after the Ukraine conflict, which triggered a series of sanctions against Moscow. As Russia and China band together, one wonders what other shifts will take place and how they will shape the future. Change is afoot, and the Russian market bears witness. The month of February saw a watershed moment as the yuan surged past the dollar in monthly trading volume for the first time. The momentum continued into March as the gap between the two currencies widened, showcasing the growing sway of the yuan. It’s an impressive feat, considering that the yuan’s trading volume on the Russian market was once quite insignificant. The winds of change blew through Russia’s financial system as the year progressed. Additional sanctions had taken their toll on the few remaining banks that still held power to make cross-border transactions in the currencies of countries that had been deemed “unfriendly” by the Kremlin. One such bank was Raiffeisen Bank International AG, whose Russian branch played a significant role in facilitating international payments within the country. However, the lender found itself under the watchful eye of both European and US authorities, which only added to the pressure. These events spurred the Kremlin and Russian companies to shift their foreign-trade transactions to currencies of countries that had not imposed sanctions.Converging coalitionsThe bond between Russia and China is growing stronger, with both nations seeking to bolster their positions on the global stage. Their alliance has spread across various spheres: military, economic, and political. With relations between Russia and the West crumbling, China has emerged as a key partner for Russia, providing it with the necessary support to counter economic and political pressure. On the other hand, China is keen on expanding its global reach, especially in the Eurasian region, and sees Russia as an important ally in this regard. President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Moscow and his pledge to expand cooperation are likely to take this partnership to greater heights. Trade and investment ties are set to grow stronger, with both nations seeking to reduce their dependence on Western economies. Russia’s focus on infrastructure development and mega projects is also likely to benefit from China’s expertise in these areas. Energy is another significant area of collaboration, with Russia being a leading exporter of oil and gas and China being the world’s largest importer of these resources. Technology is also an essential domain, with both countries investing heavily in research and development to remain competitive in the global economy. While the alliance between Russia and China will likely have far-reaching geopolitical consequences, it is a complicated relationship with both nations pursuing their interests, even as they work towards common goals. As a result of Western sanctions, Russia has shifted its foreign trade transactions away from the dollar and euro to currencies of non-restricted countries. By doing so, the Kremlin and Russian companies hope to decrease their dependence on the Western financial system and explore new avenues for conducting their trade and economic activities. This shift in strategy reflects Russia’s determination to maintain its economic stability despite restrictions on its access to the global financial system. It also underlines the growing importance of alternative currencies in global trade as countries strive to minimise the impact of sanctions and safeguard their economic interests.Structural overhaulsThe Russian Finance Ministry was not immune to the winds of change either. Earlier this year, it made the switch from the dollar to the yuan for its market operations. It even went a step further by devising a new structure for the national wealth fund, earmarking 60 percent of its assets for the yuan. The Bank of Russia joined the chorus, urging its people and businesses to consider moving their assets to the rouble or other currencies considered “friendly.” This would help mitigate the risk of having their funds blocked or frozen. As the world undergoes a seismic geopolitical shift, it seems Russia is moving in tandem, searching for ways to secure its economic future. However, the dollar still reigns supreme in the Russian market. Even with all the changes taking place, it remains the most widely used currency, ceding its throne only occasionally to the yuan. This underscores the enduring dominance of the dollar, which has played a significant role in Russia’s financial landscape for years. However, as the world continues to evolve, one wonders how long it can hold on to its crown.

Diplomacy
Genghis Khan Statue Complex

Mongolia: squeezed between China and Russia fears ‘new cold war’

by Christoph Bluth

Mongolia’s prime minister, Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene, recently expressed his country’s fear that the world is heading towards a new cold war as the relations between Russia and China and the west – particularly Nato – have taken a turn for the worse. “It’s like a divorce,” he said. “When the parents divorce, the children are the ones who get hurt the most.” The country sits landlocked between Russia and China and is fearful of antagonising either. It gets much of its power from Russia, and China buys much of its exports – mainly agricultural goods and minerals such as copper. By pursuing a nimble foreign and trade policy since it transitioned to a multiparty democracy in the early 1990s, Mongolia has established a stable economy, receiving a thumbs up from the World Bank in its latest country report: With vast agricultural, livestock and mineral resources, and an educated population, Mongolia’s development prospects look promising in the long-term assuming the continuation of structural reforms. But the war in Ukraine has brought home to Mongolia just how carefully it must now navigate its foreign and trade policies to remain independent.Smooth transition to democracyFrom 1921 to 1990, Mongolia was effectively part of the Soviet bloc, although not part of the Soviet Union itself. The country’s centralised command economy was almost entirely dependent on Moscow for survival. The collapse of communism in the early 1990s resulted in what proved to be a smooth transition. The then leader, Jambyn Batmönkh, refused to even consider quelling pro-democracy demonstrations, instead saying: “Any force shall not be used. There is no need to utilise the police or involve the military … Actually, these demonstrators, participants, and protesters are our children.” His resignation in 1990 and the emergence of Ardchilsan Kholboo (Mongolian Democratic Union) paved the way for the development of a multiparty democracy. The June 1993 presidential election in Mongolia, which was ruled as free and fair by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, saw the incumbent president, Ochirbat Punsalmaa – who had been appointed after a ballot by members of the existing Presidium of the People’s Great Khural (the national assembly) – elected for a four-year term. A new constitution was adopted, with a three-part structure under the speaker of the parliament, the prime minister and the president and, while there have been instances of political corruption, Freedom House gives the country a high rating for both political rights and civil liberties. All of which cannot disguise that the fledgling democracy remained wedged between (at the time chaotic) Russia and an increasingly assertive and authoritarian China. The obvious policy for Mongolia to pursue was to attempt to balance the two great powers in the region. Initially, Mongolia’s foreign policy relied heavily on “omni-enmeshment”. This basically meant building relationships with as many partners as possible, both regionally and globally – including, significantly, the US. But since 2000, Mongolia has embraced the policy concept of “balance-of-power” to reduce the country’s reliance on any one nation. To this end, they have partnered with strategic states in Asia, such as Japan and India, and rekindled military ties with Russia by entering a “strategic partnership” and conducting joint military exercises, while still maintaining a strong relationship with China. Mongolia has also strengthened bilateral security relations with the US. Mongolia’s relationship with China is complicated by the fact that a significant part of what was traditionally Mongolia is now an “autonomous region” of China (Inner Mongolia), with a population of ethnic Mongolians larger than that of Mongolia itself. This, and the activities of secessionist groups in the province, is a persistent point of conflict between China and Mongolia.Third neighboursBut Mongolia sees its independence increasingly threatened as Russia and China grow closer. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Mongolia has adopted a strategy of maintaining strong ties with “third neighbours” – countries that embrace democratic values but also practice market economics, including the US (it was a term first articulated with connection to Mongolian foreign policy in August 1990 by then US secretary of state James Baker). The US and Mongolia formalised their relations as a Strategic Partnership in 2019 and in 2022 – clearly with one eye on Ukraine – the two countries announced they were deepening the partnership “in all areas of mutual interest”, including an “open skies” agreement which would guarantee scheduled nonstop passenger flights between the two countries. The US – with other third-neighbour allies – also takes part in the annual Khaan Quest military exercises.Dangerous timesThe war in Ukraine has brought the precarious geopolitical situation in Ukraine into sharp focus. The latest joint declaration from the US-Mongolia Strategic Partnership stressed that “disputes should be resolved by peaceful means and with respect for the United Nations Charter and international law, including the principles of sovereignty and respect for the independence and territorial integrity of states, and without the threat or use of force”. It added: “To this end, both nations expressed concern over the suffering of the Ukrainian people.” Mongolia has abstained from the UN votes condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while also refusing to criticise the sanctions imposed on Russia by the west, despite the fact that they have affected Mongolia – for example, sanctions against Russian banks have made it difficult to pay for its imports from Russia. And, for all its efforts to forge ties around the globe, Mongolia remains heavily dependent on both Russia and China. The prospect of a new cold war setting the west against the Beijing-Moscow axis is a major concern for Mongolia. As Elbegdorj Tsakhia, a former prime minister and president of Mongolia – now a member of The Elders group of global leaders – told Time magazine in April 2021: “I feel that we have just one neighbour. China, Russia, have become like one country, surrounding Mongolia … Every day, we face very tough challenges to keep our democracy alive. Mongolia is fighting for its survival.”

Diplomacy
Central Asian migrants in the airport

By Sending Migrants to Ukraine, the Kremlin is Damaging Ties With Central Asia

by Sher Khashimov

By continuing to rely on Russia’s ethnic minorities and foreign labor migrants to do its dirty work in Ukraine, the Kremlin is inadvertently damaging ties to its former colonies. A young Uzbek man named Fakhriddin has died in Ukraine after being recruited from a Russian prison, where he had been serving a five-year prison sentence, to work on a construction project in Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine. Fakhriddin, who died when a shell hit the site he was working on, is one of the latest casualties of Russia’s push to use Central Asian natives not only on Ukrainian battlefields, but also in the reconstruction of battle-torn occupied territories. Hundreds if not thousands of Central Asian migrants are being hired to work in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory, despite dangerous conditions and warnings from their governments not to go to Ukraine. Most of these migrants are used in the reconstruction of war-ravaged cities like Mariupol and Donetsk; others dig trenches and collect dead bodies on the frontlines. Female migrants from Central Asia are also offered jobs in military hospitals, canteens, and factories in occupied eastern Ukraine. Vacancies are posted on major employment websites like Headhunter and the classifieds site Avito, as well as some regional employment websites, and shared via social media and in migrant communities or advertised by construction companies directly. Employers promise to cover travel expenses to Ukraine, accommodation, meals, and uniforms. Salaries range from $2,000 to $3,300 a month: significantly more than laborers can earn in Russia. Yet despite the enticing promises, Central Asian migrants face the same issues in Russia-occupied Ukraine as they do in Russia itself: unsanitary conditions, unheated living quarters, and poor treatment by employers. Multiple reports indicate that migrants are either underpaid or not paid at all. Some disillusioned workers who have tried to leave Ukraine were not permitted by Russian border guards to re-enter Russia, forcing them to continue working in dangerous conditions on the frontlines while facing criminal prosecution from Kyiv and their home governments for participating in the invasion. These hostile conditions in eastern Ukraine put Central Asian labor migrants and their governments in a bind. Central Asia’s population continues to grow rapidly, with around half of the region’s population now under thirty years old. A lack of employment options and underdeveloped education systems combined with economies wrecked by nepotism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and capital flight mean many younger Central Asians are forced to move abroad to find work.  Central Asian governments, particularly those of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, have become accustomed to exporting excess labor capacity in order to generate much-needed revenue for households through remittances, relieve domestic pressure to create jobs, and provide public goods and services. Politically, migration serves as a pressure valve that prevents the buildup of unemployment-fueled social and political frustration and helps undemocratic regimes to stay in power. Russia remains the primary destination for these labor migrants. Familiarity with the Russian language and culture stemming from a shared Soviet past, geographic proximity, and Russia’s acute need for labor migrants continues to keep Central Asia in Moscow’s orbit. Streamlined processes for obtaining citizenship for highly qualified personnel from former Soviet republics, such as doctors and engineers, adds to Russia’s allure, particularly to those from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the most remittance-dependent countries in the region. After a pandemic-induced dip, the number of Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uzbeks registered to work in Russia is peaking again. According to Russian Interior Ministry data, as many as 978,216 Kyrgyz, 3,528,319 Tajiks, and 5,837,363 Uzbeks entered Russia intending to work in 2022. Some people are likely to have been counted twice in these figures, as they reflect the number of registered border crossings, but they are still at a five-year high. Now the economic downturn in Russia and pressure to work in Russia-occupied Ukraine might contribute to changes in regional labor migration patterns—both at the grassroots level and from the top—that started during the pandemic. While Uzbekistan has become a popular destination for migrants from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan has emerged as a popular alternative destination to Russia for a growing number of Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz (precise numbers are harder to find as many migrants take advantage of the lack of visa requirements to work illegally and avoid paying taxes).  Central Asian governments, facing domestic pressure to keep their nationals from dying in Ukraine, are also looking for ways to reduce their employment dependence on Russia by diversifying migration destinations and providing migrants with more resources. Uzbekistan has been working with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan on the bilateral improvement of migration flows. Last December, the Uzbek and British governments discussed collaboration on labor migration during another round of economic talks. USAID has just opened a second consultation center in Uzbekistan for labor migrants, in Samarkand. In early 2022, Kyrgyzstan’s Labor Ministry created a center for employment abroad; later that year, the governments of Kyrgyzstan and South Korea signed an agreement guaranteeing additional employment opportunities for Kyrgyz nationals in South Korea.  This search for labor migration alternatives is part of Central Asia’s slow realignment away from its all-encompassing dependence on Russia: a nuanced dance the regional governments must perform without directly antagonizing the former metropole.  Central Asian governments refused to side with Russia in condemning the UN resolution to end the war in Ukraine. Russia’s regional integration projects are unlikely to expand, as Uzbekistan continues to decline invitations to join the Eurasian Economic Union, and Russia’s defeats in Ukraine have weakened the reputation of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. Finally, Central Asian foreign ministers in February welcomed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the first ministerial-level engagement of the C5+1 Diplomatic Platform—which represents U.S. engagement with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—in the region since its 2015 founding. This realignment can also be seen on the cultural front: the popularity of the Russian language is declining, while local languages are seeing growing interest in them since the invasion of Ukraine. Local governments are cutting the number of Russian language lessons in schools and renaming streets. The issue of decolonization and anti-colonial solidarity is as salient as it has ever been since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  By continuing to rely on Russia’s ethnic minorities and foreign labor migrants to do its dirty work in Ukraine, the Kremlin is inadvertently damaging ties to its former colonies. The longer the conflict drags on, the more incentive Central Asian republics will have to manage their dependence on Russia in exporting their excess labor. It’s hard to see Central Asia quitting on Russia entirely, but the relationship is sure to grow more nuanced and less lopsided in the months to come.

Diplomacy
President Xi Jinping with Vladimir Putin

Putin-Xi Summit Reinforces Anti-U.S. Partnership

by Thomas Graham

The meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Moscow helped both give the impression of a united front, but underlying tensions were also discernible. What did the summit achieve for each side?With the pomp of a state visit, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping shined a spotlight on their ­growing strategic alignment, which is aimed at upending the U.S.-led, rules-based international order in favor of a multipolar world. Long on symbolism, short on concrete substance, the summit nevertheless served both leaders’ purposes. Putin welcomed the demonstration that Russia was not, and could not be, isolated on the world stage, as it deepened relations with one of the world’s two superpowers. By showcasing burgeoning commercial ties and unveiling plans to expand them, Putin conveyed confidence that Russia can remain resilient in the face of harsh Western sanctions.      Meanwhile, Xi’s decision to make Moscow his first foreign visit of his third term as president underscored his strong commitment to Russia and to Putin personally. He used the summit to underscore China’s determination to pursue its national interests in defiance of mounting U.S. economic and diplomatic pressure—making the point that China will not abandon its strategic partner in pushing back against U.S. pretensions to global leadership. That was a crucial message for his increasingly nationalistic domestic audience, as well as for the Global South, where the U.S.-led liberal order is under stress. At the same time, Xi subtly let it be known that China is the dominant partner. Putin had little choice but to accept Xi’s proposal that Russia use the yuan, not the ruble, in trade with the Global South to diminish the role of the U.S. dollar in world trade. Xi also gratuitously endorsed Putin for reelection in 2024, even though the Russian president has not declared his intention to run. And at the joint press availability at the end of the summit, Xi was much more restrained in his description of bilateral relations than was Putin, who was eager to lay out all the areas in which the two countries would enhance cooperation in the years ahead. That left the clear impression that Russia needed China much more than China needed Russia.What does the summit mean for the war in Ukraine?Nothing at the summit suggested that the underlying dynamic in the war was about to change. As expected, Beijing continued to provide Moscow with strong diplomatic support, echoing the latter’s narrative blaming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for the conflict. Despite Washington’s fears, however, Xi gave no indication that China was ready to provide lethal military aid that might radically improve Russia’s chances on the battlefield. Putin noted that China’s recently released 12-point peace plan could serve as a basis for negotiations, but neither he nor Xi suggested any practical steps that might give substance to what is largely a list of bromides about respecting sovereignty, avoiding escalation, and seeking a diplomatic solution. The reality is that China benefits from the military stalemate. Russia’s aggression distracts U.S. attention and resources from the Indo-Pacific region, while Western sanctions compel Russia to turn to China as an economic lifeline. China exploits Russia’s predicament to gain access to critical natural resources, especially oil and gas, at discounted prices.  In line with this calculus, Xi provided Putin with sufficient moral and material support so that he could continue the fight, but much less than needed to give Russia the advantage. At the same time, the Chinese continued to drive hard commercial bargains. Notably, no deal was announced to build a second Power of Siberia gas pipeline, which Putin has described as “the deal of the century.” Rather, it was simply noted that further details needed to be negotiated, as China explores alternatives.What does it reveal about the underlying tensions between China and Russia?Except for a brief period after the Communist takeover of China in 1949, China and Russia have been rivals, not partners. Until the end of the Cold War, Russia was by far the superior power.   The dynamic changed dramatically after 1991. Then, the two countries’ economies were roughly the same size. Now, China’s economy is ten times larger, and the gap continues to widen.  Moreover, China now casts a much larger shadow on the global stage: it has overtaken Russia in the development of advanced technology and its conventional military is comparable to Russia’s, even as it is moving toward nuclear parity with both Russia and the United States. What once could have been seen as a roughly equal partnership has evolved to the point where Russia is decidedly the junior partner. Despite the rhetoric of comprehensive partnership and avowals from Putin and Xi that relations have never been better, this asymmetry in power and ambition is in itself a source of friction, in addition to the civilizational clashes, racial prejudices, territorial grievances, and geopolitical competition that have strained relations in the past. But these sources of tension are currently far outweighed by the shared challenge from the United States. Washington’s current policy of dual containment only reinforces their strategic alignment and pushes the tensions further into the background.

Diplomacy
illustrative editorial Cartoon of Vladimir Putin President of Russia and Volodymyr Zelensky

Zelenskyy and Putin’s Distinct Understandings of National Identity Will Shape Support for Each Side in 2023

by Jessica Genauer

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin of Russia are two very different leaders. The way in which each defines a national identity shapes their leadership and sectors of support.      As we pass one year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, attention is fixed on how the war in Ukraine will unfold this year. What happens in 2023 will have implications not only for Ukraine and Russia but for the international order more broadly. One factor that has influenced the trajectory of war so far, and is likely to continue to do so in 2023, is the distinct leadership styles of President Zelenskyy and President Putin. Zelenskyy and Putin could not be more different as leaders. Putin leads a personalist autocracy, having risen through the ranks of the Russian security services to claim the presidency in 2000. Zelenskyy, a newcomer to both politics and government, was freely elected in competitive elections in 2019. Putin leads in the style of nationalist-populist leaders. He has slowly but consistently tightened his grip on power since his first electoral success in 2000, shaping Russia into an electoral autocracy. Putin is very much a man of his generation. At 70 years old, he grew up and established himself during the time of the Soviet Union and now surrounds himself with advisors of a similar or more advanced age. He is very far from media savvy, reportedly not even owning a smart phone. Zelenskyy, on the other hand, is a master of media communications, having operated as an actor and comedian before becoming president. Also a man of his generation at 45 years old, Zelenskyy forged a media career in the post-Soviet world of the emerging democracy of Ukraine. A self-made comedian and media personality, he is a part of Ukraine’s dynamic and entrepreneurial civil society.National identity: A glorious past or a bright future?A key factor that distinguishes Zelenskyy and Putin as leaders is the way in which they draw on national identity in their leadership. For Putin, Russia’s national identity is static and homogenous. There is one acceptable version of Russian identity; variations are considered deviant and a threat. For Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s national identity is dynamic and inclusive. The unifying elements of Putin’s vision of national identity are specific communal factors: shared language, history, religion, culture, or ethnicity. For Putin, such elements create a common bond and a common purpose among those who possess them. In 2021 Putin stated: “Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus… bound together by one language…, economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith… we are one people.” For Putin, this idea of an exceptional nation simultaneously evokes Russian entitlement based on past glory, as well as Russia’s victimhood and humiliation at the hands of foreign enemies. Putin’s popularity “is tied to the idea of reanimating Russia’s past to reinstate the country’s greatness.” In 2022, Putin praised the conquests of the historical Russian ruler Peter the Great as returning to Russia what was “rightfully” hers. At the same time, for Putin, Russia’s greatness is under threat from the West. By contrast, Zelenskyy himself brings together the fractured components of Ukrainian identity in his own person. He is a Russian-speaking Ukrainian born in the east of the country who embodies a strong Ukrainian identity that is distinct from a Russian one. In Zelenskyy’s words: “[Ukrainians] are all different. They fight wearing the cross, the crescent, the star of David. Lads from Western Ukraine and from the south-east. Russian speakers from Kharkiv and Kryvyi Rih and Ukrainaian speakers from Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk… All different. All Ukrainians.” The unifying element of Zelenskyy’s national identity is a focus on the human striving for freedom and dignity. This factor also constitutes a universal element – uniting Ukrainians with others who share these values. In contrast to Putin, for Zelenskyy, history is not used to illustrate a glorious and longed-for past, but rather to show that the human drive for freedom can triumph over oppression to create a brighter future. As Zelenskyy stated to the UK parliament in February 2023: “[Both of] our people went through crises and growth, inflation, and periods of social losses and social gains. It was tough but we always found strength and stamina to move ahead and achieve results… We know freedom will win… We proved together that the world truly helps those who are brave in defending freedom. And thus, paves the way for a new history.”Does national identity galvanise support?Ultimately, military outcomes will be decisive in determining whether and how the war might conclude this year. However, Putin and Zelenskyy’s distinct imaginings of national identity contribute to galvanising support with audiences domestically and across the world. Domestically, Putin’s static and homogenous national identity appeals to those for whom it provides certainty and belonging to a specific idea of what it means to be Russian. For this segment of the Russian population, the ongoing war only serves to reinforce Russia’s entitlement to territorial control beyond its borders, as well as the looming spectre of humiliation at the hands of the West. This constituency will not lose faith in Putin’s war in 2023. However, if Russia fails militarily, these supporters may grow dissatisfied with the outcome, if not the war itself. Globally, Putin’s emphasis on the West as Russia’s central opponent will further isolate Russia from Western countries. However, Putin’s assertion of a homogenous identity does appeal to groups who conceptualise their own identity in a similar way within their own context. Additionally, Putin’s narrative of Russian victimhood by the West resonates in countries that are uncomfortable with a US-led global order or have an enduring historical memory of Western colonialism. Nevertheless, given Putin’s emphasis on Russian particularism, this is more likely to create tacit acceptance of Russia’s actions than stir costly action in support of Russia’s war. Domestically, Zelenskyy’s dynamic and inclusive Ukrainian identity, with an emphasis on the striving for freedom, appeals to broad swaths of the Ukrainian population – and aligns with the sense of purpose felt by those fighting on the frontlines. This is unlikely to change in 2023. As Russia doubles down on asserting its self-proclaimed right to control Ukraine, the idea of freedom and agency become ever more galvanising. Beyond Ukraine, Zelenskyy’s emphasis on a common human striving for freedom as a basis for identity invites others who align with this notion to rally alongside Ukraine. This will continue to boost support for Ukraine in established democracies – but also beyond, in places where populations or leaders resonate with a smaller state fighting against a stronger one to determine its own political and social reality. In the coming months we are likely to see military escalation between Ukraine and Russia. A less-visible factor that will contribute to the trajectory of this conflict is whether Putin and Zelenskyy’s distinct articulations of national identity will maintain traction with their respective constituencies. Will Putin’s homogenous and static national identity, that harks back to a time of historical glory, continue to appeal – or will it fracture if Russian glory on the battlefield falls short? Will Zelenskyy continue to be able to unify the diverse aspects of Ukrainian society into a coherent whole – and will this unity hold past his leadership? The answer to these questions will shape the societal impacts of this war – in both Ukraine and Russia – long after the fighting has ceased.

Diplomacy
Flags of China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan in one frame

China and Central Asia: a new path to joint development

by Shiri Shiriev

Another important event on the international agenda was the Second Forum of Think Tanks "China + five countries of Central Asia", organized by: the Institute of Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia of the CASS, the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the National Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Kyrgyz Republic Republic, Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The connecting link for all forum participants was the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) with the support of the Institute of Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia of the CASS, the Secretariat of the Council of High-Level Think Tanks of the CASS and the All-China Association for the Study of Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The two-day program of the forum, which was held in a hybrid mode with a central communication platform in Beijing, included speeches of the heads of the above-mentioned structures, diplomatic missions, foreign ministers, the Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, who considered the most important issues on the “agenda” dedicated to the search for new ways and formats for joint development. The experts focused on various topical aspects, presenting their vision of how China's relations with each of the states of Central Asia and the region as a whole should develop at the present stage. As for our country, the rector of the Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, Djumamurad Gurbangeldiyev, spoke about the state and prospects of Turkmen-Chinese cooperation, in particular, noting that the peaceful foreign policy successfully pursued under the leadership of President Serdar Berdimuhamedov, gaining momentum, contributes to the achievement of new frontiers in the system of international relations by Turkmenistan. In the modern era, the whole world respects the legal status of Turkmenistan's neutrality with great respect. Among the priority areas of the peace-loving policy and diplomacy implemented under the leadership of the head of state, a special role is given to relations with the states of the Asia-Pacific region. The People's Republic of China is one of the friendly partner states of Turkmenistan. The Turkmen and Chinese people are connected by historical, spiritual and cultural ties that originate from the depths of centuries. These common historical roots, the bonds of friendship that go deep into history, form the basis of the Turkmen-Chinese interstate cooperation, in which a special place is given to interaction in the scientific and educational sphere. An important role in the formation of new approaches of the parties to topical issues of international relations and cooperation between the states of the region with China is played by the accumulated experience in this area and the First Forum of Experts of Analytical Centers "China + Five Central Asian Countries" held in November 2021. The broad horizons for the development of partnership that are currently opening in accordance with the realities of modernity form new areas of cooperation between Turkmenistan and China. This is clear evidence of the success of our country's foreign policy strategy. The head of the Higher School of Diplomacy of Turkmenistan also focused on the fact that Hero-Arkadag, in his speech at the China + Five Central Asian Countries Summit held in January 2022, emphasized that it is the heads of states of Central Asia who are widely promoting strategically important proposals and initiatives for issues of world politics. In this context, it was emphasized that Central Asia is a region that attracts the attention of the whole world due to its huge natural resources and advantageous geographical location. In the system of international relations, the importance of the Central Asian region is growing due to the presence of large reserves, especially energy resources, favorable geopolitical and geo-economic advantages. At the end of the 20th century, the number of states interested in including the countries of Central Asia in the orbit of cooperation increased. This is confirmed by the fact that in the last 20 years the phrase "Central Asia +" has become widely used in political terminology. And the People's Republic of China, one of the first states that showed interest in this format, has the largest economy in the world, a great influential force in world geopolitics. The head of the Turkmen university, noting the features of the main directions of China's policy, emphasized that the foreign policy of the Celestial Empire, aimed at becoming a developed state of the world and based on ancient Chinese principles, implies the interest of this country in increasing influence in the world through cooperation. In supporting the international initiatives of the Central Asian countries aimed at ensuring peace, security and sustainable development in the region, the political assistance of China, which is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is very necessary. The states of Central Asia are cooperating in the field of consolidating efforts in the field of security and countering terrorism with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, established at the initiative of China. The speech also noted that the partnership of the countries of Central Asia with the People's Republic of China in the effective implementation of the new philosophy of the Hero-Arkadag "Dialogue is a guarantee of peace" in international life, aimed at eliminating the mutual distrust that has spread today in international relations, was of particular importance. It is no coincidence that energy is the key vector of the partnership between China + the five countries of Central Asia. As you know, a powerful Chinese economy requires a significant part of its energy capacities to be imported from outside. China attaches particular importance to Central Asia in providing its rapidly developing economy with guaranteed energy sources. In this context, a great success of Turkmen and at the same time Chinese diplomacy is the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline project, built on the initiative of Hero-Arkadag in a very short time - just over two years - has become another clear evidence of Turkmenistan's commitment to the principle of using its energy resources for the benefit of all mankind. The development of the transport sector is also important. If China stands at the origins of the creation of the Great Silk Road, then Turkmenistan is its heart, the driving force. Within the framework of cooperation in the "China + five countries of Central Asia" format, given the new geopolitical, geo-economic reality of the III millennium, great importance is attached to the revival of the Great Silk Road. The project of the Hero-Arkadag "Revival of the Great Silk Road", designed to give a powerful impetus to the economic development of Eurasia, is closely interconnected in its philosophy and geo-economic content with the all-China project "One Belt - One Road". The already implemented and ongoing multilateral transport and transit projects coincide with the interests of the China + five countries of Central Asia interaction format. Continuing the topic related to the “China + five countries of Central Asia” format as a factor of strategic and regional stability, ensuring the sustainable development of friendly states in the new conditions, I would like to recall that at the beginning of the 2000s, many similar platforms for interaction appeared and took shape in the world. Nevertheless, in my opinion, as time and the realities of life have shown, today the China + Five Countries of Central Asia Project is one of the most famous, authoritative, multilateral formats with great prospects for development. And this is natural and logical, since the ties between the peoples of the Central Asian region and China have a long history. In the process of their long communication, a huge and unique experience of interaction, good neighborliness, exchange of knowledge and achievements in all areas of human life was accumulated. The Great Silk Road passed through the territory of Central Asia from China, which, by developing trade relations between countries, already then demonstrated the possibility of maintaining an atmosphere of calm and stability to the world, including in the territory of present-day Central Asia. And today we can say with full confidence that it was the reliance on this outstanding heritage, the continuity of historical destinies, that was embodied when the countries of the region, having gained independence, resumed active all-round relations with the People's Republic of China. Without a doubt, the current cooperation of all the countries of the region has a noticeable constructive impact on the provision of global peace and stability. It is based on the closeness and coincidence of approaches to fundamental issues on the global agenda. Together we stand for equality and justice in international affairs, respect for territorial integrity and non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states, for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, we support the measures taken by the world community to effectively counter international terrorism, extremism and other challenges. Not so long ago, the states of the region celebrated the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations with China. 30 years of mutual trust, friendship and close cooperation have shown that by adhering to the basic principles of mutual respect, good neighborliness, friendship, mutual assistance and mutual benefit, China and the countries of Central Asia have been able to build healthy and effective interstate relations of a new type. Today, the world is undergoing changes not seen in a century. The structure of international politics and economics is undergoing profound changes and needs to be adjusted. Geopolitical conflicts, disordered global governance create new challenges for development both globally and regionally. Under these conditions, the presence of objective mutual interests of the Central Asian countries and China in line with the China + Five Central Asian countries partnership format on a practical basis opens up additional opportunities for increasing the pace of effective cooperation. Using their huge potential, the countries of this alliance set a course for the modernization of the mechanism of mutual cooperation in the format "China + five countries of Central Asia". It from the moment of its appearance as a specific body for the comprehensive rapprochement of the Central Asian countries, has been and remains an important factor in the stable development of the region. Further cooperation within its framework will improve the well-being of the peoples and significantly raise the standard of living. I am sure that all the states of the region, using their authority and established cooperation mechanisms, will be able to make an important joint contribution to establishing a new agenda of peace and trust in international affairs, reducing tension, de-escalating conflicts, moving to dialogue and negotiation methods for resolving disputes and contradictions based on the UN Charter.