Cablegate: Russia Watches U.S. With a "Wary Eye" in Central Asia

DE RUEHMO #3391/01 3291350
R 241350Z NOV 08



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Senior Russian analysts recently told SCA DAS
Krol that while Moscow looked with suspicion upon U.S. activity in
Central Asia, it was more concerned about the challenge presented by
China, but was not sure how to counter a rival that had more
resources at its disposal for winning over regional governments.
The GOR could tolerate, or even cooperate with, U.S. efforts to
maintain regional security, although Russians thought the U.S. would
eventually leave Central Asia after it pulled out of Afghanistan.
The analysts encouraged the U.S. and Russia to jointly stabilize
Central Asia by addressing security needs, as well as the looming
water and economic crises that also threatened the region. They
argued that Central Asian governments failed to balance the needs of
water suppliers and consumers, and relied upon outdated technology
that wasted limited water resources. The global financial crisis
would worsen an already poor employment situation that left large
numbers of disaffected youth at risk of extremism. End summary.

China in Russia's Backyard

2. (SBU) Moscow Carnegie Center Director Dmitri Trenin and Deputy
Director of the Institute of World Economy and International
Relations (IMEMO) Gennadi Chufrin told DAS Krol that China's growing
presence in Central Asia worried Russia more than U.S. activity in
the region. Chufrin thought that many high-ranking GOR officials
already realized that Central Asia was no longer an exclusive
Russian region, whereas Trenin thought that Moscow had recently
become more protective of Central Asia. He said it was "naive and
facile" for Russians to believe that Central Asia, or other parts of
the CIS, was within their sphere of influence.

3. (SBU) Trenin stressed that Russia saw China as the long-term
threat in Central Asia, but was not sure how to counter Beijing's
growing influence. While Moscow invited Beijing into the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO), it did not want China involved in
Central Asian security or economic development because Russia could
not match Chinese resources.

U.S. Will Leave the Region

4. (SBU) Trenin argued that although Russia would not accept a U.S.
presence in areas it considered crucial, such as Ukraine, it could
tolerate a certain level of U.S. activity in Central Asia, where it
watched the U.S. with a "wary eye." Russia thought that the U.S.
would eventually leave the region, presumably after it pulled out of
Afghanistan. The GOR was not sure that the U.S. would succeed in
Afghanistan, which led Moscow to "maintain a certain distance" from
Washington under the assumption that Russia would have to deal with
whoever came after Karzai. Trenin added that while Afghanistan was
an area where the U.S. and Russia had common interests, Moscow had
received "signals" indicating that the U.S. did not really want
Russia involved in stabilizing the country.

Russia and U.S. Could Cooperate

5. (SBU) Chufrin told DAS Krol that if the U.S. and Russia wanted to
build a "cooperative model," Central Asia was the place to do so.
Although Russia remained suspicious of U.S. goals in the region, the
GOR leadership understood the potential Central Asia held for
cooperation. Both countries desired stability in the region, but
were "not entirely sure" how to achieve it. Chufrin warned against
the current, dual approach to securing Central Asia, which could
create separate Russian and U.S. security systems, neither of which
would be most effective.

Water Crucial to Regional Stability

6. (SBU) Chufrin argued that after security, the greatest threats to
Central Asia stemmed from the misuse of water resources and growing
unemployment. The GOR recognized the importance of these issues,
especially water, which had become more vital for Central Asia than
energy resources. The region failed to reach a compromise between
upstream suppliers and downstream consumers of water, and continued
to rely on outmoded technology that allowed excessive waste. The
answer was not in building new canals or diverting water from
Siberia, but in obtaining better technology for the region, a goal
the international community should embrace.

Economic and Social Instability

7. (SBU) Chufrin explained that the global financial crisis would
hit Central Asia through rising unemployment felt by the migrants
who worked in Russia and Kazakhstan. The Kazakh economy, which is
more dependent upon energy and raw materials than Russia, would
suffer from falling prices.

MOSCOW 00003391 002 OF 002

8. (SBU) Chufrin said that growing unemployment and accompanying
social unrest threatened all of Central Asia, including Kazakhstan,
where the "myth of the Kazak miracle is falling apart." Although
Kazakhstan remained stronger economically than the rest of the
region, the country already suffered a "loss of confidence" that
threatened social stability. The rest of Central Asia, particularly
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, faced increasing numbers of unemployed
youth who were most at risk of radicalization. Chufrin proposed
greater coordination of international efforts concentrated on
education, job training, and a system of rural financing and credit
assistance. He thought India could get involved considering its
experience in this field.

9. (U) DAS Krol has cleared this cable.

© Scoop Media

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