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Checked in the West, Russia and Gazprom Look East

Russia’s plans to use its energy reserves and the financial assets of Gazprom to establish greater control of the energy distribution in the EU have largely been checked, but that doesn’t mean an end to Russian ambitions. The buy-up of the state-owned gas monopoly in Kyrgyzstan is a significant step forward in Russia’s attempts to re-establish its authority in Central Asia.

At the peak of the Afghan War, the US was asserting a strong interest in countries like Kyrgyzstan which provided important logistical support for the war. But if and as the US presence in Afghanistan winds down, American interest in Central Asia is likely to subside. This part of the world is very remote from us, and neither its energy resources nor its geography make it vital to our interests once the Afghan War is concluded. We share many interests with both Russia and China in this part of the world: we’d like to see an orderly and successful development of its energy wealth and the establishment of capable governments and prosperous societies as a way to block radicalism.

The big question is whether Russia and China see eye to eye in the region, and if so for how long. Russia’s attempt to increase its influence to the west has been checked, increasing the allure of the old Soviet zone. And China’s attempts to establish its hegemony in the South China Sea seem to have backfired. Both countries have historical claims to influence in this part of the world, and both have strong incentives to network its energy resources into their own systems. The emergence of new political patterns in Central Asia is one of the things to watch in the next stage of the Game of Thrones. Will China and Russia manage to reach an accommodation in this region, or will their competition set them at odds on other questions? It is much to soon to tell, but the gas deal in Kyrgyzstan looks like a point scored for the Kremlin.

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