For 13 years, the shadows of NATO supply planes have flecked Central Asia. As the war in Afghanistan stretched on, troops, equipment, and fuel passed through or over Central Asian territories on a daily basis. The drawdown of NATO’s fighting capacity last January should have brightened the skies. But, as it turned out, there were worse storms brewing over the horizon.
As NATO, a guarantor of stability, retreats west, Central Asian states have become increasingly vulnerable to external and internal pressures. China and Russia see this as an opportunity to play chess in a sophisticated game to win influence in the region. The maneuvering between them will likely play itself out over oil and gas resources and export routes, particularly through the region’s largest hydrocarbon producer, Kazakhstan. Prolonged Western sanctions against Russia and sustained low oil prices will only serve to complicate matters.
Before oil prices started falling and
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