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Pragmatic Support for Central Asian Union

By News Briefing Central Asia
Viewed against the backdrop of Kyrgyzstan’s growing dependence on Kazakstan, frequent statements from Bishkek backing Astana’s initiative to create a Central Asia union look very much like an attempt to gain support from the Kazak political elite, say NBCentralAsia analysts.

Prime Minister Felix Kulov reiterated this position on August 15, stating that the Kyrgyz leadership was favourably disposed towards the creation of a Union of Central Asian States. According to Kulov, a regional union could be based on economic advantage, enabling the creation of a unified trade and economic zone.

Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev first voiced the idea of such a union in February 2005. At the time, the government of President Askar Akaev supported the idea, and the new regime of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, which came to power in the wake of popular unrest in March 2005, also expressed its approval.

Analysts say that the main reason that Kazakstan is proposing such a union is that it needs to cement its leadership of the region. But there are many obstacles, both political and economic, to the creation of such a body.

On the political side, analysts cite the reluctance of regional leaders to share their power, the continuing battle between Uzbekistan and Kazakstan for primacy in the region, and Russia’s insistence that it be included in any regional integration.

Economically, the countries in the region are extremely diverse, and those states with strictly controlled economies will be unwilling to open their markets to competition.

Analysts point out that Kulov’s statement coincided with the start of an informal summit of the Eurasian Economic Union in Sochi. It is quite possible that he was attempting to stake out his position as a proponent of post-Soviet integration.

On the other hand, the prime minister demonstrated Kyrgyzstan’s increasing dependence on Kazakstan. Analysts say that a number of Kyrgyz political figures are now advocating a closer union between the two countries, and that such statements from senior officials are driven both by the current political situation and by a desire to court the Kazak political elite.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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