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Dr. Aijan Sharshenova

Research Fellow

Dr. Aijan Sharshenova is a Bishkek-based political analyst and the Executive Director at Crossroads Central Asia think tank. She holds two Masters in the EU and Central Asian Studies and in International Studies, and a PhD in Politics from the University of Leeds. Aijan’s research interests include foreign policy and soft power, as well as democracy promotion and autocracy diffusion. Her regional expertise covers Central Asia, the EU, and Russia. Aijan authored a book on the EU democracy promotion in Central Asia and co-edited a recent book on navigating positionality in research. In addition to her academic career, Aijan has worked on promoting sustainable development goals in the international development area, including within the UN system in the Middle East.

Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 7340 [post_author] => 79 [post_date] => 2024-02-22 10:41:55 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-02-22 09:41:55 [post_content] => Two years into the full-scale Russian invasion in Ukraine, Central Asia finds itself under slightly less pressure to take sides. It seems that both Russia and the West have finally accepted Central Asian republics’ reluctance to unequivocally support one side over another and have left them to be ‘neutral’ on the matter. Nevertheless, it is possible to trace some direct and indirect impacts of the war on Central Asian society, politics and economics. In the external political domain, international politics is still a dynamic balancing act for Central Asia. The republics’ leaders have to continue cooperating with Russia without alienating the rest of the world.[1] Secondary sanctions remain a very real threat, but the extent to which this threat provides strong leverage is questionable given the limited trade the region has with the European Union (EU) and the USA, the key driving forces behind anti-Russian sanctions.[2] In terms of economic development, there has certainly been a reinvigoration of Russian-Central Asian economic relations, but there also exists a continuous danger that Russia’s war economy might result in an economic crisis domestically, which might have a ripple effect impacting on Central Asia too. In the regional political domain, the war in Ukraine has become a part of everyday news. As each country in the region grapples with their own internal political struggles, energy and food security issues, the war is not something that stays at the top of the agenda. However, those in the region face another issue connected to the ongoing conflict, that is - the growing level of disinformation and misinformation. As a region where Russian is either the second or third most-frequently used language, any Russian-language information about the war finds its way into the Central Asian information spaces. And, this is not necessarily limited to the war in Ukraine only – Russian conspiracy theories of any kind spread freely via social media platforms. Central Asian governments have adapted their narratives and policies to make the most of the current geopolitical situation, seeking benefits from all parties involved and avoiding any negative repercussions through a declared neutrality. To what extent this neutrality is genuine is difficult to assess due to the closed nature of the states. What the majority of the region’s population thinks about the war is even more obscure as reliable public opinion polls are still lacking two years into Russia’s full-scale invasion into Ukraine. Dr Aijan Sharshenova is a FPC Research Fellow. [1] Aijan Sharshenova, Understanding Russia’s Central Asia policy, Crossroads Central Asia, September 2023,[2] Filippo Costa Buranelli, Central Asia and Secondary Sanctions: The Tight Rope of Compliance, ISPI, November 2023, Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre. [post_title] => Two years on: Business as usual in a new geopolitical reality? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => two-years-on-business-as-usual-in-a-new-geopolitical-reality [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-02-22 12:02:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-02-22 11:02:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6980 [post_author] => 79 [post_date] => 2023-08-03 09:07:53 [post_date_gmt] => 2023-08-03 08:07:53 [post_content] => The Russian invasion has wreaked havoc upon Ukraine and caused considerable disturbances to both global and regional politics. Debates on the future of multilateralism, multipolarity, the relevance of international organisations, the validity of international law, and the fairness of the current international political system have gained a new level of urgency. While Western governments and societies seem to demonstrate various degrees of support to Ukraine, the rest of the world is split into many factions. The Foreign Policy Centre and the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies (CREES) at the University of Birmingham, in cooperation with the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions recently organised an expert webinar to examine one of the under-appreciated aspects of the Russian war against Ukraine – its impact on the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) individually and as an organisation. Chaired by Stewart McDonald, SNP MP for Glasgow South and Vice-Chair of the Ukraine APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group), the webinar featured a line-up of international experts: Dr Aijan Sharshenova, Research Fellow at the FPC and Bishkek-based Political Analyst; Dr Wang Yi, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham; Dr Anuradha Chenoy, Adjunct Professor, Jindal School of Global Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University, New Delhi; and Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, Chief Executive of the South African Institute of International Affairs. The panel explored how the BRICS countries have been impacted, to differing degrees, by the disruption in global supply chains after Russia’s invasion and the inflation of food and energy prices. They discussed how the war is seen in BRICS’ states and societies, and which narratives seem to dominate domestic discourse on the war. The majority of, if not all, the BRICS have abstained from taking definite sides in the conflict and repeatedly called for a resolution of the war through peaceful means. All have long insisted on the need for actual multipolarity in the world – something that has been voiced by Russian President Putin too. While they are not openly supporting Russia, there are some subtle and occasionally not-so-subtle indications that some of the BRICS might sympathise with Ukraine but also do not share Western narratives that blame only Russia for the war. Based on this very engaging and insightful conversation, six takeaway points can be identified: 
  • Russia’s war in Ukraine has put the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in a complicated geopolitical position. Whilst they might commiserate with the fate of Ukraine, they still have to align with or, at least, avoid an open confrontation with Moscow. In addition, the war has rekindled domestic debates on the future of the Russian language, on national self-identification, and the shared past with Russia in some of the CIS countries.
  • The war in Ukraine has further complicated China’s already tense relations with the West. At the same time, mainland China’s potential aggression towards Taiwan has come under the spotlight too, prompting further militarisation and increased military spending in a variety of countries in East and Southeast Asia. Domestically, Chinese public opinion seems to align with the Russian discourses of denazification of Ukraine. However, there is a growing number of people in China who sympathise with Ukraine.
  • India is committed to the principles of multilateral cooperation and multipolarity based on sovereignty of independent states and rules-based order. India tries to uphold neutrality on the matters of the war, but does not share widespread Western narratives. Instead, India believes in Russia’s legitimate security interests in the region against the background of its long-standing opposition to NATO’s expansion prospects. In addition, India has benefitted from a significant increase in trade with Russia, which mostly includes petroleum products.
  • South Africa is committed to multilateralism too. The current debates in the South African domain often portray the war in Ukraine as a proxy war, where Russia is seen to be protecting its legitimate security interests. However, South Africa also prefers to stay at least formally non-aligned even though such a position is complicated by the country’s recent actions and declarations. As a participant of the International Criminal Court (ICC), South Africa has the obligation to execute the arrest warrants issued by the ICC with regards to Russian President Putin. At the same time, South Africa participated in the joint maritime military exercise with China and Russia in February 2023, and the country’s minister of defence paid a visit to Moscow to participate in an international security conference.[1]
  • Brazil, as the geographically most removed BRICS country from Russia, has continued with its regular non-alignment foreign policy. However, Brazil also seems to question the current unipolar political system led by the USA.
  • All BRICS countries, with the exception of Russia, have at least formally called for peaceful resolution of the conflict.
 More information on this event - The impact of war in Ukraine on the BRICS - co-organised by the FPC and CREES, can be found here[1] BBC News, Why is South Africa's navy joining exercises with Russia and China?, February 2023,; Vicky Stark, South Africa’s Defense Minister in Russia for Security Conference, VOA News, August 2022, [post_title] => The impact of the war in Ukraine on the BRICS: Six takeaways from an expert discussion [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-impact-of-the-war-in-ukraine-on-the-brics-six-takeaways-from-an-expert-discussion [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-08-03 09:07:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-08-03 08:07:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6735 [post_author] => 79 [post_date] => 2023-02-24 11:52:30 [post_date_gmt] => 2023-02-24 10:52:30 [post_content] => Since February 2022, the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine has rippled across the foreign policies of many countries. Central Asian countries have had to quickly adjust their foreign policy narratives and strategies, on various bilateral and multilateral cooperation platforms, to navigate between their long-term strategic partners - Russia and their Western counterparts. Kyrgyz foreign policy found itself in a particularly uncomfortable situation as it had to take into account the large population of Kyrgyz labour migrants in Russia alongside their reliance on development aid, a large part of which comes from North American and European countries. Russia’s influence on Kyrgyzstan can hardly be underestimated. It is deeply rooted in the shared past and current economic and political ties. Russia trains a significant number of Kyrgyz security service professionals at the FSB Academy. Meanwhile the majority of Kyrgyz labour migrants find employment in Russia, as it is cheaper and easier to travel there. These, and many more factors, certainly shape public and policy-makers' opinions.  However, it would be wrong to say that Russia has Kyrgyzstan’s full support in its war against Ukraine. Kyrgyzstan is one of the most free and dynamic countries in Central Asia. As such, the society is diverse and has so far shown different opinions on the war. Some support Russia, others Ukraine, but the majority are likely busy facing the immediate day-to-day struggles against the backdrop of the post-pandemic and war-time global order.  [post_title] => One year on: Kyrgyzstan’s balancing act between Russia and the West [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => one-year-on-kyrgyzstans-balancing-act-between-russia-and-the-west [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-02-24 12:42:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-02-24 11:42:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ))

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