Ibrahim Mammadov (Azerbaijan), Research Fellow at the Caucasian Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (QAFSAM), notes in an article for CABAR.asia that the establishment of a regional platform for cooperation on energy related matters would ensure a more efficient allocation of the resources and increase the value of the internal regional trade in the Central Asian region. 

The article entitled “How to Change Regional Geopolitical Structure in Central Asia?”, in particular, says the continuous reliance of the Central Asian states on more powerful external actors has hindered the potential of the region to develop.  The recent energy shortages in this energy resource-rich region of the world and the low share of intraregional trade in the total trade turnover of each Central Asian country reportedly show the disadvantages of a lack of regional cooperation.

The idea of a more integrated Central Asia did not seem feasible for a long time.  However, the shift in policy direction in Kazakhstan beginning in 2019 and Uzbekistan beginning in 2016 toward greater regional cooperation has created an opportunity for a change in regional geopolitical structure toward a more integrated Central Asia.

The author notes that the Cholpon-Ata summit of the Central Asian leaders is of significant importance for Central Asian integration.  During the Fourth Consultative Summit of the Leaders of Central Asian States in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, on July 21, 2022, a number of proposals concerning cooperation in the spheres of security, economic relations, regional transportation, and environmental cooperation were discussed.

The achievements of the 4th Summit included a mutual declaration, the concept of Cooperation of the countries of the Central Asian region in multilateral formats, the “Green Agenda” for Central Asia, and the roadmap for the development of regional Cooperation from 2022 to 2024. However, one particular document, the Treaty on Friendship, Good-Neighborliness, and Cooperation for the Development of Central Asia in the 21st Century, has been signed only by the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. The leaders of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan took responsibility for signing the treaty upon completing domestic procedures in their countries.  

According to the author, the primary reason for Turkmenistan not signing the treaty is its stance in the international arena since its independence, which is the policy of “neutrality.”  Unlike other countries in the region, Turkmenistan is not a member of any regional organization or union, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), or Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Formally, Turkmenistan is not even a member of the CIS, as the Parliament of the country has not ratified the CIS Charter.  Thus, it was expected from Turkmenistan to refrain from signing any treaty that required a commitment to deeper integration.

The case of Tajikistan is reportedly different, as the reason for not signing the treaty is rooted in its conflicting situation with Kyrgyzstan.  While Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have agreed to resolve the issue in a bilateral format without any third party, the treaty encourages a regional platform for resolving local conflicts and abstention from using of force on each other.

While the summit did not result in a significant change in the regional geopolitical structure, it did demonstrate the region’s partial interest in deviating from the influence of external actors through partial adoption of the treaty and a semi-commitment to increase in regional economic cooperation, the author says.

He notes that having an aim of greater regional cooperation, the region’s countries need to discuss an increase in internal trade turnover within Central Asian region.  

According to him, energy security, which became even more apparent after the power blackout hit South Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, affecting over 5.1 million people, is another important sphere of concern in the region.  The major reason for the power outage was the malfunctioning of the old Central Asia Power Grid, built in the 1970s during the Soviet era.  The grid has lost its greater effectiveness since several countries left it.  Russia side was quick to fill the void left by the regional energy shortage by proposing a Trilateral Gas Union with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.  Despite the fact that winter was approaching, Central Asian countries did not accept the proposal in order to avoid increased Russian influence in the region.  To avoid such proposals, countries in the region should focus on the regional alternatives for cooperation in energy trade.