This article, published shortly after the the hostilities in Georgia, provides an interesting overview of the US policies in Central Asia which led indirectly to the fiasco in Georgia and also helped lay the groundwork for the huge buildup of tension in Central Europe vis-à-vis the talk of opposing missile systems being installed in Poland (by the US) and Kaliningrad (by Russia). By completely over extending US power into the middle of the Eurasian landmass, we have stirred a hornet's nests of conflicts in areas where we cannot possibly win.
After cynically hoisting the phony flag of democracy in Central Asia for some years---America has all but abandoned this pretense. As we continue to goad Russia in their own backyard, it is interesting to note recent Russian overtures to Cuba. The more aggressive Russian responses only develop after years of aggressive prodding by the United States in the Central Asian region.
It is this [Russian] power projection that Washington is trying to undermine. US interests in Central Asia are as much aimed at securing access to energy as they are strategic in nature. Democratisation of the region is only a cover. The US is working overtime to ensure access to American firms seeking energy exploration, refining and marketing. As Stephen Blank, Professor of National Security Studies at the US Army War College, says, "the leitmotif of US energy policy has been focused on fostering the development of multiple pipelines and links to foreign consumers and producers of energy".
The US has at least 11 military bases in the region, including Turkey and Iraq, far more than anyone else. In Central Asia itself, the US has one base–Manas Air Base, near Bishkek in Kyrghyzstan, while the NATO maintains at least three others in the region. Ostensibly, the objective of these bases is to support the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But pipeline protection is the real aim. Russia under President Putin was able to largely reclaim its energy and political dominance throughout the Central Asian region. Energy resources are reshaping the geopolitical map in Central Asia. It has now come to a virtual pipeline war. Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are landlocked countries. They depend on their immediate neighbours for access to the Western markets. The essence of the new geopolitical game in Central Asia is two-fold—control of production of the oil and gas and control of the pipelines to transfer the hydrocarbon to the Western markets.
The existing pipelines pass through Russia. Moscow wants Kazakhstan to expand its existing pipelines to link them to the Russian network and Azerbaijan to build a pipeline from Baku to Novorossiysk. The US, on the other hand, favours pipelines that bypass Russia. Even though the costs incurred will be enormous, the US favours construction of pipelines from Baku to the port of Ceyhan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. The US is not only trying to extricate the Central Asian states from the Russian sphere of influence, but to hit Russia where it hurts.
While the great game is getting intense, Central Asian states are themselves getting into the game, using the contradictions between the various powers competing for influence. The race for control of energy resources is accompanied by power projections of a military kind as well. One could see gleaming rows of US Air Force KC-135 midair refueling tankers line the airstrip at Manas airport. Russia, of course, flies Sukhoi-27 fighters from its base at nearby Kant. China is also reportedly negotiating its military presence in Kyrghyzstan. Indian engineers are quietly reconstructing a former Soviet airfield near Dushanbe. French Air Force planes could also be seen sitting on the tarmac at Dushanbe airport.