This second volume of essays on Central Asia and the Caucasus post-Covid-19 is published only a few months after the first volume saw the light in June 2020. But the atmosphere across the region is now decidedly different. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has resumed with full force, and Kyrgyzstan has experienced its third revolution in fifteen years. None of these events is a direct result of Covid19; but neither would they likely have happened in the absence of the pandemic. The linkage is most apparent in Kyrgyzstan, where economic downturn and frustrations over lockdowns provided the added spark that weaponized widespread anger over electoral shenanigans. In the case of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the same logic may have operated in modified format. In Armenia, the pandemic undermined an already embattled government, which has adopted an increasingly belligerent approach to the conflict; in Azerbaijan, the scale of popular frustration with the status quo was clear following a spat of violence in July, when large demonstrations demanded a harder government line in the conflict.
There is little doubt that the Covid pandemic has made the world more unstable. This is clear in western democracies; it is patently obvious in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Closer analysis of the short- and long-term implications is therefore imperative, and the authors of the essays included in this collection make a substantial contribution in this regard.
Caucasus & Central Asia Post COVID-19 Two contributions to this collection focus on the region’s internal dynamics. Rahim and Mahdi discuss the situation in Afghanistan, which has sought to rebuild a functioning state while mired in almost constant warfare for four decades. In contrast
to the South Caucasus or Kyrgyzstan, the authors detail how the pandemic had a positive effect on Afghanistan’s quest for peace. It helped force the two contenders for the country’s presidency to a compromise agreement, while also playing a role in facilitating the release of prisoners that in turn allowed a fragile dialogue between the government and the Taliban to begin. While this process could help end Afghanistan’s conflict, it will require much greater assistance and support from the
country’s neighbors, including Central Asian states.
Vakulchuk and Irnazarov provide a detailed study of how external powers have related to Central Asian states during the pandemic. They find that both foreign powers and international organizations have contributed humanitarian assistance to Central Asian states; but that there appears to be no sign of an effort by regional powers to politicize this assistance. They find that only the EU, though in relatively limited scope, is looking beyond the present crisis to assistance for reconstruction.
Importantly, they show how both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are stepping up as regional donors to support their neighboring states, including Afghanistan. Finally, Gulshan Sachdeva provides a contribution on India’s evolving global role, against the background of a response to the pandemic that made the country more inward-looking. India’s economy declined more precipitously than any G-20 country, something that is hampering its efforts to keep pace with China, which now has an
economy several times larger than India’s. The heightening of strategic competition in Eurasia also poses challenges for India, not least because it tries to maintain positive relations with America, Russia and Iran at the same time. Meanwhile, China’sdecision to double down on its partnership with Pakistan continues to complicate Indian access to Central Asia. That said, India now has Strategic Partnerships withfour of five Central Asian states, and in the long term is set to be an important force in the region.
Caucasus & Central Asia Post COVID-19
These contributions help readers understand the shifting situation in Central Asia and
the Caucasus, and will undoubtedly be followed by updated analysis in the future.
The Pandemic has changed the geopolitics of Eurasia, but is has not brought them to an end: quite to the contrary, the past few months have seen an acceleration of processes that were in place for some time.
Chief among these is the growing uncertainty of the geopolitical situation in Central Asia and the Caucasus, as relations among the surrounding great powers remain undetermined – witness only the ups and downs of Turkish-Russian relations. This, however, has led regional states themselves to step up to take charge, as we have seen in the way Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have reacted to the recent crisis. It is increasingly clear that the problems of the region will not be resolved by outsiders: they can only be solved by regional leadership, requiring greater regional cooperation. The pandemic is both a challenge to this cooperation and a powerful reminder of its importance.
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