China is eroding Russia’s influence over old allies as the alliance it leads crumbles over Ukraine, expert says – DIGIWIZ CENTRAL

China is eroding Russia’s influence over old allies as the alliance it leads crumbles over Ukraine, expert says

Chinese leader Xi Jinping (right) and Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev shake hands during a signing ceremony, ahead of the China-Central Asia Summit in Xian, China in May 2023.

REUTERS/Florence Lo/Pool

China’s is expanding its influence in Central Asia, and pushing out Russia, an expert said.
Russian influence is waning despite formal alliances and the old ties of the Soviet Union.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine worsened relations with its near allies, boosting China’s efforts.

Russian influence over its closest allies is waning as China and Turkey step up their efforts, supplanting a Russia distracted by its invasion of Ukraine.

Thomas Graham, cofounder of Yale University’s Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies program, told Insider that in Central Asia and the South Caucasus “dynamics are changing.”

It’s there that the countries with the closest historical, cultural, and financial ties to Russia are located, including lands once dominated by Moscow as parts of the Soviet Union.

It is also home to most members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO): Russian President Vladimir Putin’s equivalent of NATO.

The CSTO is made up of Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Cracks in their friendship have been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, experts previously told Insider.

Russia’s influence on them is also being weakened by more countries competing for their attention, Graham said. Meanwhile Russia is focused on its invasion of Ukraine, which is exposing both weaknesses in its military, and its capacity for brutality towards a neighbor.

“If you’re sitting in Moscow you have to be concerned about growing Chinese influence.”

China and Turkey have stepped in

“Chinese influence is growing in all the central Asian states, and that has to be of some concern to Moscow because to some extent it comes at Moscow’s expense,” Graham told Insider.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a reception in Moscow

REUTERS

He said China has been building its commercial links with Russia for years, noted how last year overtook Russia as Central Asia’s main trading partner.

China has made its intentions clear too.

Graham pointed to Chinese President Xi Jinping choosing Kazakhstan in 2013 as the first place to announce his Belt and Road project — a sweeping geopolitical initiative to connect the world through transport and telecoms links built by China.

He noted that some of the transport links go through Central Asia but circumvent Russia, sweeping towards Europe through the likes of Iran and Turkey.

China was also constructing gas pipelines that don’t rely on Russia, Graham said, threatening the fossil-fuel exports that are the core of the Russian economy.

Graham noted that China has continued financially supporting Russia and has not tried to isolate it diplomatically — suggesting it has no desire to anger or confront Russia.

But its efforts in the region undermine Russian dominance, and give China a relatively free run as Western countries are largely uninterested.

General Secretary of the CSTO Stanislav Zas, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon pose for a picture during the CSTO summit at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia in May 2022.

Sputnik/Anton Novoderezhkin/Pool via REUTERS

“They try to ease Russia’s concerns about this, but the facts are the facts: that Chinese influence is growing and it’s not growing in Central Asia at America’s expense, it’s growing at Russia’s expense,” Graham said.

He said Turkey is doing the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale: “Turkish influence has grown in that part of the world. Again, at Russia’s expense, it is building up its commercial ties with Central Asia.”

China and Turkey’s efforts “have negative consequences for Russia’s global standing. At least that’s the way they would think about this in the Kremlin,” Graham said.

Russia’s woes in Ukraine deepen the problem 

Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, resulting in its political isolation from much of the rest of the world.

Its military — the bedrock of Russia’s pre-eminence in the CSTO — has also been a source of embarrassment as it failed to overrun a smaller and weaker enemy.

This humbling spectacle weakened CSTO members’ reliance on Russia, experts previously told Insider.

It has also given China and Turkey less opposition there, Graham said.

Destroyed buildings in the city of Bakhmut on February 27, 2023.

AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images

One example is the disillusioned reaction of CSTO member Armenia, which Russia declined to support with troops in its long-running border dispute with Azerbaijan.

Graham said it was “not accidental” that Azerbaijan made the move when Russia was focused on Ukraine, sensing an opening.

He said that “Russia’s operation in Ukraine is undermining, eroding its ability to maintain its influence across the former Soviet space.”

And while these countries are still deeply reliant on Russia and unlikely to formally break any ties, things are changing.

“Counties of this region, given what’s happening in Moscow, have incentives to look elsewhere,” Graham said.

“You’re seeing the slow erosion of Russian influence.”

Read the original article on Business Insider
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