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US Policy in Central Asia under the Joseph Biden Administration

Political scientist Ainura Akmatalieva mentions “in the US Central Asian policy, the desire to strengthen relations with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will prevail over regional dialogue” – in an article, written specifically for CABAR.asia.

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Joseph Biden is one of the most experienced politicians from the Democratic Party, he became the 16th Democrat President and the 46th President of the United States, according to the established tradition since 1933 he took office on January 20, 2021.

The political portrait of Joseph Biden is characterized by adherence to the values ​​of the Democratic Party and liberal ideology, consistency in actions, the ability to constructively negotiate with any partner and opponent, friendliness and sincerity, humility, and diplomacy.

National and global agenda

Joseph Biden’s perennial experience will undoubtedly come in handy for solving acute domestic policy issues such as the fight against coronavirus, unemployment, and racial tensions. In this context, it is known that he is a supporter of the need to introduce a federal mask regime, social distancing, and the development of a plan to combat the coronavirus. Joseph Biden was known to have received his first coronavirus vaccine on December 22. He actively advocates tax returns for the rich to create jobs and overcome social inequality. There are well-known calls from Joseph Biden for a “railroad revolution” to facilitate travel for low-income citizens and for a cleaner environment. Climate protection as a return to the Paris Agreement, as well as a plan for the transition to renewable energy sources by 2050, are urgent challenges in this context. He sees one of his key goals in the unification of the United States, torn by racism, as well as the return of stability.

It is known that in foreign policy, Joseph Biden will strive to achieve worthy of respect for the leadership of the United States on the world stage, in many respects this will relate to the issues of rehabilitating the state’s image. Of course, this concerns issues of strengthening the traditional trusting and partnering transatlantic relations, which have deteriorated sharply under the Trump administration. Maintaining a military presence in Germany and strengthening NATO’s position as an important global security actor in this context will be priorities.

The US war in Afghanistan and Iraq, which claimed the lives of more than 2 thousand US military and demanded more than 1.5 trillion US dollars will remain one of the most critical and pressing issues for the Biden administration, which will affect cooperation with the Central Asian states. NATO’s importance could be redefined in Afghanistan under the new US administration. It is known that according to the Treaty between the United States and the Taliban dated February 29, 2020, by January 2021, troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced to 2,500 US troops, and by May 1, 2021, the troops will be completely withdrawn.[1] However, the decision was made by the Trump administration, which, in the opinion of some NATO representatives, is a mistake, given the continuing instability in the region. In this context, Joseph Biden will have to face, on the one hand, the given promises to the electorate to completely withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and the obligations under the Treaty of February 29, 2020, and on the other hand, the position before the allies in the Alliance.

The general rhetoric characteristic of democrats as strengthening democracy, protecting human rights, and fighting authoritarianism will be used in building relations with states, as an opportunity to exert diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions. Joseph Biden takes a rather tough stance on the annexation of Crimea to Russia, considering the fact that under Barack Obama he was closely involved in American-Ukrainian relations. On the whole, a reset in relations with Russia can hardly be expected in the near future. In this context, the preservation of sanctions against Russia, as well as criticism of the PRC (including problems with the observance of human rights in the XUAR and the “re-education camp”) will remain relevant. Maintaining “American leadership” means holding back the positions of so-called revisionist states (powers) like Russia and China in many regions of the world, including the Central Asian region.

Central Asia and the USA: expectations and prospects

Joseph Biden has never been in the Central Asian region during his many years of political career, like the rest of the US presidents. At the same time, during the election campaign, the region of Central Asia or its individual republics did not act as a topic for discussion or heated debate. A significant change in US policy in Central Asia is not expected in the near future, on the one hand, despite the pre-election rhetoric of the American presidents, there is a preservation of consistency in foreign policy, and on the other hand, only at the beginning of 2020, the New US Strategy for Central Asia was initiated. In this context, it will be more likely that ᴏ the implementation of the announced US Strategy for the 2019-2025 region will be discussed.

The New US Strategy for Central Asia 2019-2025: Promoting Sovereignty and Economic Prosperity states that “a stable and secure Central Asia contributes directly to the US efforts to combat terrorism, support regional stability, ensure energy security, and enhance economic prosperity in the region and beyond”.[2]

The Strategy has 6 key objectives:

  • support and strengthening of the sovereignty and independence of the Central Asian states, individually and within the entire region.
  • reduction of terrorist threats in Central Asia.
  • expanding and continuing support for stability in Afghanistan.
  • promoting the development of ties between Central Asia and Afghanistan.
  • promoting the reform of the rule of law and respect for human rights.
  • US assistance to investment and development in Central Asia.

Revision of this U.S. Strategy for Central Asia 2019-2025 cannot be expected, but rather the opposite, the main focus of cooperation will be determined by the key objectives laid down in this document. The desire to strengthen relations with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will prevail over regional dialogue. This is evidenced by practical steps – on January 7, the creation of a Central Asian Investment Partnership between the United States, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was announced, with the intention of attracting up to 1 billion USD for private projects within five years.[3] Kazakhstan, while remaining the largest trade partner in the region (about 2 billion USD a year), will retain its positions under the new Biden administration. In addition, the role of Uzbekistan will increase due to the security issues in Afghanistan, and as a regional leader.

The C5 + 1 cooperation format will preserve the existing dialogue between the Central Asian states and the United States, while it will be a diplomatic platform for negotiations and discussion of mutual expectations. It is important to note that the decline in US interest in the other three republics is explained by the pragmatic approach of the White House, as an assessment of its own capabilities and limitations in the region, in comparison with the positions of Russia and China, highlighting the key areas of cooperation where Washington has competitive advantages. F. Starr, the ideologist of the Greater Central Asia concept, believes that the United States should realize the leading role of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and in every possible way promote equal relations between them. It is also necessary to avoid any discussion of regional issues behind the backs of the other Central Asian states.[4]

In the Central Asian direction, the United States will actively cooperate with Uzbekistan in the Afghan direction and support the regional leadership of Tashkent, including through the possibility of joining the WTO. It is already known that military cooperation between the United States and Uzbekistan after Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016 reaches an unprecedented scale and depth due to Washington’s willingness to provide high-quality military education for the citizens of Uzbekistan, which is the central focus of military reform in the republic.[5]

During Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to Washington in 2018, the first-ever 5-year plan of military cooperation between states was signed, followed by mutual visits of the members of the military. In 1994, Uzbekistan, becoming a part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, actively developed cooperation with Western states and the United States (US Foreign Military Financing FMF, International Military education and Training IMET). An active period of cooperation has been observed since 2002 (70 million USD) – this is the foundation of the Karshi Khanabad military base as part of the US anti-terrorist activities in Afghanistan. Moreover, after the Andijan events of 2005 and Tashkent’s turn towards Moscow, as joining the CSTO is a period of rapid cooling in relations between the two states. However, since 2012, military cooperation between Washington and Tashkent has reached a second peak in 2013 at about 50 million USD. Uzbekistan receives NATO assistance under the Defense Education Enhancement Program (DEEP) for the development of content and training personnel for the military. The Military Academy of Uzbekistan has become the main lever and ideologist of military reform in the republic.

The rehabilitation of transatlantic relations will affect the joint efforts of the US and EU states to support not only democracy and human rights in the Central Asian region, but also containment of geopolitical competitors like Russia and China. At the same time, NATO can also strengthen interaction with the Central Asian republics and, above all, with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The potential for cooperation exists due to the revitalization of the activities of the NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, introduced in 2004, as well as the return of the NATO Liaison Office for Central Asia, which existed in the region from 2013-2017.[6] The EU Strategy for Central Asia was adopted in 2019, which sets out goals to deepen cooperation with the region. The issues of strengthening security in the region, diversification of the economies of the Central Asian states, as well as the exchange of experience on strengthening state institutions of power aimed at transparent activities and efficiency can become a common platform for cooperation between the states.

Kyrgyz American relations

Against the background of intensified military-political cooperation with Uzbekistan, relations with the once-favorite US “island of democracy” Kyrgyzstan are becoming ambiguous. This was due to both the withdrawal of the American airbase “Gansi” in Kyrgyzstan, and the entry of the republic into the EAEU. The activation of Russia’s position in Kyrgyzstan was regarded by the American side as a threat to the processes of “liberalization”. P. Spratlen – US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan (2011-2015), believes that it is precisely Russia’s influence that negatively affects the achievements of democracy in Kyrgyzstan and its prospects in the context of the republic’s accession to the Customs Union and the EAEU. However, at the same time, she believes that Kyrgyzstan still remains a “beacon of hope” in the region for Western states.[7]

In 2015, there was a unilateral denunciation of the 1993 Aid Facilitation Agreement by Kyrgyzstan. The agreement gave the United States an opportunity for duty-free, tariff-free import and export of goods, supplies and property under the assistance program, and also exempted US public and private organizations and their personnel from all types of taxes in Kyrgyzstan. The agreement was terminated in response to the awarding of the Human Rights Defender Prize to life imprisoned (now deceased) A. Askarov by the US State Department in 2015. A. Askarov was sentenced to life in prison for organizing mass riots and participating in the murder of a police officer in 2010 in Kyrgyzstan. Since then, Kyrgyz American relations have been restrained.

In January 2020, Kyrgyzstan, along with Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Myanmar, became a state for whose citizens visa restrictions on immigration and green cards were introduced. The official reason was the US concern about “the reputation of Kyrgyz passports and the process of issuing them.” At the same time, categories of citizens such as tourists, businessmen and students retained the right to obtain visas. Taking office, one of J. Biden’s first decrees on January 20, 2021,[8] canceled the restrictions on immigration visa and green cards for citizens from Kyrgyzstan.

On December 7, 2020, the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan D. Lu, in his speech during the presentation of the Internews ‘Aspiration-2020’ award to journalists, stated about the existence of a “criminal empire” and an organized criminal group in the republic. His speech was perceived by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan with apprehension as signs of interference in the internal affairs of the republic and pressure on the investigation by the American diplomat.

As early as December 9, 2020, on International Anti-Corruption Day, the US Treasury Department included Raimbek Matraimov on the Magnitsky Global List, which includes corrupt officials and their networks around the world. R. Matraimov is accused of laundering at least 700 million USD and was “included in Magnitsky’s list as a foreign person who is a current or former government official responsible for or complicit in corruption, including misappropriation of state assets, expropriation of private assets for personal benefits, corruption associated with government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery”- said in a statement from the US Embassy in Kyrgyzstan.[9]

Thawing of relations between the states should be expected in the context of the readiness of the new authorities of Kyrgyzstan and the United States for constructive dialogue and restoration of trust relations. As J. Biden stated on February 4, 2021, diplomacy, as a key instrument of American foreign policy, must be returned.[10] On the one hand, this is the statement of S. Japarov on a commitment to a multi-vector policy, and on the other hand, J. Biden’s first steps to abolish visa restrictions for citizens of the republic.


In the context of open confrontation between global powers such as the United States, China, and Russia, as well as regional issues such as the situation in Afghanistan, the Central Asian direction will be considered within the framework of the implementation of the goals of the published US Strategy 2019-2025 under the administration of Joseph Biden. At the same time, the American-Kyrgyz relations will depend not only on the strategic interests of the United States and the priorities of the new administration of Joseph Biden, but also on the foreign policy orientations of the new president of Kyrgyzstan, who has declared commitment to the principles of multi-vector foreign policy.

The rehabilitation of transatlantic relations will affect the joint efforts of the US and EU states to expand cooperation between the states of Central Asia and Afghanistan and diversify the economies of the region. The readiness of the EU states to contribute to the development of democratic values, the protection of human rights, the rule of law, and the independence of judges are being actualized since the European states have always remained a reference model for the countries of our region in matters of effective public administration and integration processes. On the other hand, Washington and Brussels will help curb the initiatives of geopolitical competitors like Russia and China by strengthening their presence in the region. The United States will continue active cooperation mainly with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but at the same time, it will maintain the format of relations with the rest of the republics within the framework of the C5 + 1 dialogue.

This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or the donor.

[1] Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Agreement-For-Bringing-Peace-to-Afghanistan-02.29.20.pdf

[2] United States Strategy for Central Asia 2019-2025 Advancing Sovereignty and Economic Prosperity // URL:https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/FINAL-CEN-Strategy-Glossy-2-10-2020-508.pdf (date of access: 15.02.2020)

[3] Joint Statement on the Announcement of the Central Asia Investment Partnership https://uz.usembassy.gov/joint-statement-on-the-announcement-of-the-central-asia-investment-partnership/#:~:text=The%20Central%20Asia%20Investment%20Partnership%20is%20an%20important%20step%20in,and%20prosperity%20for%20Central%20Asia.&text=The%20Central%20Asia%20Investment%20Partnership%20is%20based%20on%20a%20respect,of%20the%20Central%20Asian%20countries

[4]  Star F. The New Central Asia Nexus. American Interest. July-August 2017. Vol. 12. Issue 6. Pp. 62-69.

[5] Omelicheva M. The Unites States and Uzbekistan. PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No.604. July 2019.

[6] Offce of NATO https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_107902.htm

[7] Spartlen, P. Democracy in Central Asia. Supporting Kyrgyzstan’s “Island of Democracy”. The Ambassadors REVIEW. Fall 2014. Pp.10-13.

[8] Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to The United Staes https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/20/proclamation-ending-discriminatory-bans-on-entry-to-the-united-states/

[9] The US Treasury Department imposes sanctions on Raimbek Matraimov // /


[10] 10.      Remars by President Biden on America’s Place in the World https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/02/04/remarks-by-president-biden-on-americas-place-in-the-world/

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