- China’s President Xi Jinping has made a power move timed with his visit to Russia.
- He set up a new meeting of Central Asian countries the week, muscling in on Russia’s backyard.
- The Kremlin has long seen ex-Soviet republics as part of its sphere of influence.
China’s President Xi Jinping has called a meeting of ex-Soviet Central Asian countries, in an audacious power play in Russia’s back yard the week of his summit with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Xi invited the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to the first China-Central Asia summit Wednesday, the AFP news agency reported.
(It remains unclear if the reclusive state of Turkmenistan has been invited.)
The states are all former members of the Soviet Union, and Moscow has long regarded them as being in its sphere of influence after the then Russian Empire conquered them in the 19th century.
The move came as Xi was visiting Putin in Moscow as part of a 3-day-summit which concluded Wednesday, in which the nations pledged to deepen and extend their cooperation, and Xi signaled continued Chinese backing for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.
Analysts say that China has secured significant leverage over Russia in return for its diplomatic and economic support, and that in calling the meeting of Central Asian nations it is seeking to exploit that advantage.
—Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) March 22, 2023
“I’m not sure this China initiate is greeted with enthusiasm in the Kremlin,” tweeted Carl Bildt, the co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“Agree. i’m also not sure the Kremlin has much they can do about it,” replied Ian Bremmer, a political scientist and founder of the Eurasia Group.
Russia in launching its invasion of Ukraine last year sought to regain its control over the former Soviet state, which in recent years sought closer ties with the West.
But the invasion has stalled, amid steep military losses for Russia, and a knock-on effect has been that the former Soviet states in Central Asia have become increasingly open in their defiance of the Kremlin.
In one striking example, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declined to recognise the legitimacy claims by pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine while sharing a stage with Putin at an economic forum in St Petersburg.
China in recent years has increased its economic and security ties with Central Asian nations, which have abundant mineral resources and lie on ancient trade routes between east and west.