LONDON (TCA) — Does the average citizen of a former Soviet republic of Central Asia have to worry about his country’s future prospect in relation to the election of a new President of the United States? One thing looks certain: Donald Trump’s arrival may deepen the gap between intervention-minded and isolationist groups within the America’s higher political and administrative echelons. Which side will gain the upper hand – Trump or no Trump – is an issue just one election does not determine, but it is crucial regarding the expectations of Central Asia and the world powers surrounding it.
The overall reaction, sung all but in chorus by heads of state and government from Dublin to Dushanbe, is: We have heard what he said; we shall see what he does.
Former Soviet republics are pinning their hopes on a more pragmatic approach by the Trump administration — go back to business with the USA rather than being kept at gunpoint by Washington. But it should be reminded that promises pretty similar to Trump’s were made by Obama before and shortly after his first election – and swiftly forgotten afterwards.
Central Asia leaders’ opinion
Leaders in the wider region of Central Asia clearly think that it is better to give Trump the benefit of the doubt for a while. President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan “wished Donald Trump success and invited him to visit Kazakhstan,” as posted on the head of state’s official website.
Tajikistan reacted in a similar tone. “President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon today sent a congratulatory message to President-elect of the U.S. Donald Trump,” a press release from the presidential administration read. “The President [of Tajikistan] noted that the development of multifaceted cooperation and partnership with the U.S. is one of the most important directions for the foreign policy of Tajikistan,” it said.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev wrote to his new American peer: “I am very pleased to congratulate you in the year of the 25th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. I am confident that the Kyrgyz Republic and the United States will continue to strengthen the friendly relations and mutually beneficial cooperation in the interests of our peoples.”
The reactions by the Central-Asian heads of state seem to be in line with the mood in Russia, where fears over an eventual escalation of the Clinton-conducted feud over Ukraine may now ease. “Putin has expressed confidence that ‘building a constructive dialogue between Moscow and Washington, based on principles of equality, mutual respect and each other’s positions, meets the interests of the peoples of our countries and of the entire international community’,” Russia Today reported.
Afghanistan: no simple way out
What is more worrying, finally, for Central Asia is Trump’s enigmatic stand on Afghanistan so far. Some interpret his often contradicting statements as “out of that snake pit” while others signal the eventuality of an extension of the battle zone into Pakistan, from where terrorist movements such as the Taliban, Haqqani, Al-Qaeda and Daesh are operating virtually unhindered. The outcome of such an intervention is unpredictable – not in the least for Central Asia where the situation in Afghanistan is seen as a black hole: a mess with no simple way out.
Trump’s connection with Russia and Central Asia
On the western side of the former Iron Curtain, the mood is quite different, and president or not, Trump remains the target of alleged “mixed interests” where it comes to relations with the former USSR. “Trump’s election will again spotlight the many connections between his businesses and Russia, a long-standing antagonist of the United States. Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and voiced hopes he could develop new real-estate businesses there,” The Independent (UK) wrote in a comment. This is what he did later, with the help, it is thought, of the Renova Group controlled by two “tamed oligarchs” named Mikhail Friedman and Pyotr Aven, to which also Russia’s largest private-owned banking corporation Alfa Bank belongs. No one knows the capital value of Trump’s property within Russia’s jurisdiction, but it is generally thought to run up to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Not all Trump’s “friends” from the former USSR are loyalists, though. Lately the Financial Times revealed how one of his new properties, the uppity Trump SoHo plaza in Manhattan, has been a tool for two Kazakh white-collar criminals, former banker Mukhtar Ablyazov and fraudster and ex-mayor of Almaty Viktor Khrapunov, to whitewash embezzled funds. As the receiver of such funds, in exchange for property, the FT named a company called Bayrock/Sapir Organization LLC, US-based but controlled by Georgian tycoon named Tamir Sapir and Tevfik Arif, a property magnate from Kazakhstan working in various parts of the USA.
In practice, scandal-hunting’s effects on geopolitics will be limited. Trump never made it a secret that he admires the way Russia and China are building up their economies not just for economy’s sake but to take and preserve a prominent position in world politics. This is the way to do it, he tends to explain, adding that this is what he plans to do once he moves into the White House. Trump’s slogan “America first, the rest of the world can wait” allows a way out of the confrontation threat – at least that is what most American voters seem to have thought.