- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

The New Russia and Asia: 1991–1995

Herbert J. Ellison and Bruce A. Acker

Dismantling the Soviet Union reduced the Russian domain in Asia by 18 percent and its population by a spectacular 59 percent, from 75 million to 31 million. Russia became one of six new Asian states, obliged to rethink and restructure its Asian role without its vast Central Asian empire and build a new structure of economic and political relations, both with the traditional regional powers and with five newly independent Central Asian states. The length of Russia’s border with China was cut by half, and it now borders only four Asian countries east of the Caspian Sea: Kazakstan, Mongolia, China, and North Korea.

Since early 1992 Russian policy in this new geopolitical setting has undergone major changes. For most of 1992 and early 1993, the leadership accepted the new Russian boundaries without question. It gave little attention to building ties with the new Central Asian states, despite the fact that they contained an ethnic Russian population of 9.5 million. The policy was partly the product of placing an overwhelming priority on partnership with the West, but also of the opposition of Central Asian leaders to Russian democrats during the Gorbachev era.

This policy has gradually been replaced by one that stresses growing involvement in Central Asia. It is motivated by established links with the peoples and cultures of the region, by special ties to Russian ethnic minorities, by economic and security interests, and by competition for influence in the Central Asian region with other states, especially Turkey and China. The result has been a steady expansion of Russian influence in the new states of Central Asia, and in one case (Tajikistan) military intervention. This trend will doubtless continue to raise important issues for Russia, for the new Central Asian states, and for the international community.