The Russian invasion of Ukraine has left the five republics of Central Asia in a bind, but none more so than Tajikistan, a fragile country that depends on Russian troops and remittances for stability. As former Soviet republics, Central Asian states all enjoy special relations with Moscow and are considered traditional allies of the Russian Federation. The invasion of Ukraine — another former Soviet republic — raises urgent questions for Tajikistan about how to meet Russian expectations of support from Dushanbe in the face of global outrage and condemnation.
While accepting Russia’s big footprint in their security and economic lives, Central Asian countries have tried to conduct “multi-vector” foreign policies. These countries know that having good (or at least balanced) relations with Russia, China and the United States is important in the long term — and that Central Asian leaders who’ve tried to play the big powers against each other often wind up the loser.
Kazakhstan’s violent upheaval this month underscores that governments and international organizations need to more effectively help Central Asia’s 76 million people build responsive, effective governance across their five nations. Mass protests or communal violence also have struck Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in recent years. As the United States, allied governments and international institutions seek ways to promote nonviolent transitions toward more stable, democratic rule, new research suggests that they explore for partners in an often-ignored sector—Central Asia’s active and disparate Muslim civil society.