“The Pandemic as a Litmus Test for (Dis)Engagement of External Powers in Central Asia”, Roman Vakulchuk & Farrukh Irnazarov (NUPI, Norway)

This study provides an empirical overview of pandemic-related external assistance to the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan by partner countries and international organisations between March and September 2020. This state-of-the-art review of Central Asia official development assistance extends to pledged funds beyond this period. The systemic comparison of donors suggests that there is no single actor that stands out as a champion of economic recovery; these are mostly small, token contributions. By contrast, targeted medical assistance has been far more significant, albeit focused on short-term crisis management of the pandemic. There has been only a handful of assistance projects that reflect a long-term stake in Central Asia’s economic recovery and the pandemic showed little evidence of the Great Game competition for regional geopolitical influence. Thus, the relations between big powers and Central Asia need to be reconsidered and given a new meaning that would better reflect the interests and interaction between the two parties. The pandemic showed that these relations were mainly pragmatic during the global health crisis with no external partner showing interest in projecting and expanding strategic influence on the region. The region needs to build its internal resilience against new crises and avoid excessive reliance on external assistance in the long term.

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