Security in Central Asia: Russian policy and military posture


  • Jakob Hedenskog
  • Erika Holmquist
  • Johan Norberg

Publish date: 2019-06-05

Report number: FOI-R--4756--SE

Pages: 94

Written in: English


  • Central Asia
  • Russia
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan
  • China
  • the Caucasus
  • security
  • armed conflict
  • military conflict
  • sphere of interest


Russia's political leadership strives to create an exclusive sphere of interest throughout the former Soviet Union. This report provides analysis of Russia's approach - that is, of the interplay between policy and military posture - to potential conflicts in Central Asia since 2014. It also compares Russia's operationalizing of its perceived spheres of interest in Central Asia and the Caucasus, which was the subject of a previous report by the same authors. The authors find that Russia's military posture in Central Asia is primarily about crisis management, while in the Caucasus it clearly pertains to a much larger regional war. Another difference is that Russia has nuclear weapons-related support installations in Central Asia. On the political level, the Central Asian states tend to perceive Russia more as a partner than the South Caucasus states do, even though they also feel some apprehension, since Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. In Central Asia, Russia has fewer opportunities to engage in "frozen conflicts" than in the Caucasus. Geography is a double-edged sword for Russia. On the one hand, the huge distances from the Russian mainland protect Russia against major conventional ground-forces-centric operations, but on the other hand allow less capacity to intervene in potential military conflict in Central Asia than in the Caucasus. A final point of comparison is that Russia is no longer the most engaged global actor in Central Asia, where China's influence is increasing at Russia's expense.