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Regional Cooperation-2022 Drill and Its Reflections on the Region

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Tajikistan hosted the “Regional Cooperation-2022 Drill” led by the United States of America (US). The drill, which was sent by military personnel from two countries as well as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, and Pakistan, took place between 10-20 August. In a statement regarding the drill, the US Embassy in Tajikistan used the following statements:[1]

“Military maneuvers in the drill are aimed at strengthening regional security and stability and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and drug trafficking, as well as helping to improve regional security in international peacekeeping operations and information exchange.”

During the opening of the drill, US Ambassador to Tajikistan John Mark Pommersheim made a speech. In this context, Pommersheim said that, “Regional Cooperation-2022, the largest US drill in which Central and South Asian countries have participated, offers a unique opportunity to strengthen our relations with our partners in the region.”[2] At this point, it should be noted that; the US Embassy stated the Regional Cooperation drills have been held since 2004 and that this routine has been disrupted due to the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.[3] The drills are planned and implemented by the US Armed Forces Command in Doha, Qatar. Because the task area of ​​this command is Central and South Asia.

The drill indicates that the Washington administration is reviewing its Central and South Asian policy. Because the US thinks that its influence in the region has decreased after its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Moreover, the balances in the Eurasian geopolitics have changed due to the Russia-Ukraine War. That’s why the US is looking for ways to return to the region. As a matter of fact, although Russia was thought to be an actor that could fill the power vacuum in the region before the war in Ukraine, it is not possible to talk about such a balance at the present stage.

Moreover, all regional countries, including Russia’s official allies, seek to balance Moscow’s influence. The US is already aware of this. For this reason, it seeks to increase its influence in Central and South Asia, which it sees as the backyard of both Russia and China.

As it is known, since May 2022, there has been an increase in the numbers of the visits of the US diplomats to Central Asian countries. For example, in June of the same year, the US Central Commander Michael Kurilla visited the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe. During this visit, Kurilla discussed joint efforts to strengthen border security, eliminate regional threats and support Tajikistan Armed Forces with President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahman and Tajikistan Defense Minister Sharali Mirzo. In this context, it has been announced that Tajikistan will receive more than 60 million dollars from the US in two years “to help the security sector”.

In addition to all these, it is seen that the Dushanbe administration has received equipment and vehicles worth 3.7 million dollars from the US since October 2021 “to be used in the field of strengthening the borders.”[4] When the developments are considered together with the drill, a situation arises that worries Russia and China.

How Did the Russian Media React to the Drills?

The drills held in Tajikistan have been one of the most discussed issues in the Russian media. Many experts and political scientists have expressed their concerns about the interest of the US, Russia’s main rival, in the region. For example, political scientist Andrey Kortunov said that the countries which are participating in the Regional Cooperation-2022 Drill follow their own interests and that Moscow should therefore be prepared for possible scenarios. In his statements on the subject, Kortunov used the following statements:[5]

“The interest of the US in organizing military drills in Central Asia cannot be ignored. A year ago, they withdrew American troops from Afghanistan. This seriously affected their position in the region. Now they are trying to rehabilitate themselves… As for the post-Soviet states, each of them is trying to follow a multi-vector foreign policy. Therefore, they are also interested in developing cooperation with Washington. But we must never forget that the United States is our competitor and therefore not a potential partner.”

One of the experts at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations under the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Alexander Knyazev commented on the drill; he claimed that the Dushanbe administration did not adequately perceive what was happening in the world. According to Knyazev, Uzbekistan can afford to pursue a multi-vector policy. The geographical location, resources and economy of the country have a suitable potential for this. However, Tajikistan is one of the countries that could get into a deadlock if it tries to maneuver between global power centers.[6] According to Knyazev, Tajikistan has taken a step that will disturb Moscow and Beijing by hosting such a military drill. Moreover, Knyazev claimed that even military-technical contacts with the United States were disturbing.[7]

On the other hand, Director of the Ethno-National Strategies Agency, Dr. Alexander Kobrinski stated that he found the drills held without the participation of Russia astonishing and emphasized that the most important ally of Tajikistan against external threats is Russia. In this direction, Kobrinski pointed out that Russia should develop its cooperation in Central Asia, stating that he believed that the events were cause with negative developments for the Moscow administration in the medium and long term.[8]

On the other hand, much more aggressive statements took place in the Russian media. For example, Russian political scientist and historian Semyon Bagdasarov used the following words in an interview in which he answered this question:[9]

“All the countries that are currently exercising there are those that immediately withdrawn during the civil war in Tajikistan. We fought in Tajikistan! If something happens now, will anyone other than us fight there? We are drawn into a serious conflict. This is happening in front of our eyes.”

Similarly, on his Telegram channel military commissar Dmitri Steshin also expressed his astonishment at what was happening. Steshin referred to Tajikistan’s close ties with Russia and stated that he found the US-led drill strange. For this reason, Steshin asked that “Excuse me, but what are millions of citizens of this state doing in our country?”[10]

Central Asia Expert Andrey Serenko, in an interview with NEWS.ru, claimed that the US never saw Tajikistan as an important regional partner in the post-Soviet period, and in this sense, it focused on developing relations with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.[11] According to Sarenko, this is exactly why Dushanbe is trying to establish closer relations with Washington. At the same time, Sarenko described Tajikistan’s military drills with the US as an effort to attract the attention of Russia and China and claimed that Dushanbe’s aim was to provide better security guarantees than Moscow and Beijing.[12]

China’s Response

China has refrained from entering the discussion on the drills in Tajikistan. Because of the attention of the country is in question to the Taiwan Crisis. In addition, Tajikistan is not the only country where joint drills with the US have been held recently. Because Indonesia is hosting a drill on the island of Sumatra, in which more than 5,000 soldiers from the US and other countries participate.[13]

Afghanistan Factor

The drills also created a negative reaction in Kabul. Because the focus of Tajikistan’s external threat perception is Afghanistan-centered developments.[14] For example, Knyazev linked the drills with the Taliban and pointed out that Tajikistan felt the need to deliver a message. On the other hand, Kobrinsky described Tajikistan’s goal as preventing Russia and China from carrying out constructive work with Kabul.[15] Kortunov, who argued that the Moscow administration should review its current policies in the context of the Afghan Problem, said:[16]

“Russia has a serious advantage over the US. This is our relationship with the Taliban. Moscow manages to negotiate with them on many issues. This should be used. After all, it will be exactly one year since the Taliban came to power in Kabul. Therefore, not only for international terrorism; there is probably a reason to review our relations so that we can also resist geopolitical opponents like the United States.”

Based on all this information, it can be said that the US wants to introduce itself as the guarantor of regional security. For this reason, Washington is trying to establish its presence in Central and South Asia through drills.

It should be noted that there is a problematic situation both in the Washington-Moscow line and in Washington-Beijing relations. Russia accuses the United States of taking actions that undermine regional stability and international security. Beijing, on the other hand, has some problems in its relations with Washington due to the Taiwan visit of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. Therefore, the realization of the drills will cause concern in Moscow and Beijing and will probably cause a reconsideration of relations with Central and South Asian countries participating in the drills in Tajikistan.

As a result, there is the US on the one side and Russia-China on the other, and there is a serious geopolitical rivalry between the parties. Although China did not seem to be interested in the Regional Cooperation-2022 Drill in this environment, the reactions from Russia reveal the approach of the Moscow-Beijing duo to the issue. Therefore, in parallel with the increase in regional competition, it will be difficult for the Central Asian states to establish a balance between the great powers.

[1] “Regional Cooperation 2022 Military Exercise Begins in Dushanbe”, U. S. Embassy in Tajikstan, https://tj.usembassy.gov/regional-cooperation-22/, (Date of Accession: 12.08.2022).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Военные учения РЕГИОНАЛЬНОЕ СОТРУДНИЧЕСТВО 2022 начались в Душанбе”, US Embassy in Tajikistan, https://tj.usembassy.gov/ru/в-таджикистане-стартовали-ежегодные/, (Date of Accession: 13.08.2022).

[4] “США собрали военных Центральной Азии на учениях в Таджикистане”, News Asia, https://www.news-asia.ru/view/tj/topical/15597, (Date of Accession: 13.08.2022).

[5] “У Москвы есть несколько вариантов, как отреагировать на командно-штабные военные учения в Таджикистане”, Russian Council, https://russiancouncil.ru/analytics-and-comments/comments/u-moskvy-est-neskolko-variantov-kak-otreagirovat-na-komandno-shtabnye-voennye-ucheniya-v-tadzhikista/, (Date of Accession: 13.08.2022).

[6] “Таджикистан стал полигоном для военных из США, но не из РФ”, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, https://www.ng.ru/cis/2022-08-11/1_8511_tajikistan.html, (Date of Accession: 13.08.2022).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Багдасаров оценил военные учения с участием США в Таджикистане”, Moskovskiy Komsomolets, https://www.mk.ru/politics/2022/08/12/bagdasarov-ocenil-voennye-ucheniya-s-uchastiem-ssha-v-tadzhikistane.html, (Date of Accession: 13.08.2022).

[10] “таджикистан последовал плану США. Военкор из России задал логичный вопрос”, Tsargrad, https://tsargrad.tv/news/tadzhikistan-posledoval-planu-ssha-voenkor-iz-rossii-zadal-logichnyj-vopros_603050, (Date of Accession: 13.08.2022).

[11] “Таджикские манёвры: США приезжают и уезжают, а Россия остаётся”, News.ru, https://news.ru/cis/tadzhikskie-manyovry-ssha-priezzhayut-i-uezzhayut-a-rossiya-ostayotsya/, (Date of Accession: 13.08.2022).

[12] “Таджикские манёвры: США приезжают и уезжают, а Россия остаётся”, News.ru, https://news.ru/cis/tadzhikskie-manyovry-ssha-priezzhayut-i-uezzhayut-a-rossiya-ostayotsya/, (Date of Accession: 13.08.2022).

[13] “US, Indonesia hold joint military drills amid China’s concerns”, Aljazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/8/3/us-indonesia-hold-joint-military-drills-amid-china-concerns, (Date of Accession: 13.08.2022).

[14] “Таджикистан стал…”, ibid.

[15] Ibid.  

[16] “У Москвы есть несколько вариантов, как отреагировать на командно-штабные военные учения в Таджикистане”, Russian Council, https://russiancouncil.ru/analytics-and-comments/comments/u-moskvy-est-neskolko-variantov-kak-otreagirovat-na-komandno-shtabnye-voennye-ucheniya-v-tadzhikista/, (Date of Accession: 13.08.2022).

Perizat RISBEKKIZI
İlköğretim ve lise eğitimini Kırgızistan'da tamamlayan Perizat RISBEKKIZI, 2019 yılında Kırgızistan-Türkiye Manas Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nden mezun olmuştur. 2020 yılından itibaren yüksek lisans eğitimini Yurtdışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar Başkanlığı (YTB) burslusu olarak Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı'nda sürdürmektedir. Lisans döneminde İstanbul Ticaret Odası, Kırgızistan Din İşleri Devlet Komitesi'nde staj yapmıştır. İyi derecede Rusça ve İngilizce bilmektedir.