Putin Loses His Grip on Central Asia as China Moves In – Businessweek

As President Vladimir Putin strains to keep Ukraine within Russia’s grasp, he may be losing his grip on another part of his would-be empire: the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which are increasingly turning toward China for investment and trade.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon meet on the sidelines of an informal summit of the regional security group in 2013

In the latest sign of its growing economic ties with the region, China is planning a $16.3 billion fund to finance railways, roads, and pipelines across Central Asia, reviving the centuries-old Silk Road trade route between China and Europe. President Xi Jinping first proposed the idea last year during a visit to Kazakhstan, the region’s wealthiest country.

Beijing has plenty of reasons to spend big in Central Asia. Improved infrastructure would help link China to European markets and give China increased access to the region’s rich natural resources. Kazakhstan is a major oil producer, while neighboring Kyrgyzstan has large mineral deposits and Turkmenistan produces natural gas.

At the same time, the planned construction would give an economic boost to adjoining areas of western China where Beijing is trying to quell a separatist insurgency, says Sarah Lain, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in London. As it has in Africa, China is likely to bring Chinese workers into Central Asia to do much of the construction.

During much of the 19th century, the Russian and British empires vied for control of Central Asia, a rivalry dubbed the “Great Game.” But the predominantly Muslim region, which also includes the countries of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, was annexed by the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik revolution and has remained close to Moscow in the post-Soviet era.

Putin has sought to maintain those ties—for example, by inviting Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to join a customs union with Moscow. But with the Russian economy in a deep slump, he can’t match the big money that China is offering. Indeed, Russia’s economic malaise is clobbering some Central Asian economies, spurring them to seek help from China.

via Putin Loses His Grip on Central Asia as China Moves In – Businessweek.

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