The State Department’s proposed budget for the fiscal year starting in October 2009 includes significant increases in economic aid for Central Asian countries as well as a net reduction in the combined amount given to Azerbaijan and Armenia.  Questions about the aid’s effectiveness linger.


Concerns over Russia’s desire to maintain its “spheres of influence” in the post-Soviet space, spiked by Kyrgyzstan’s decision to close its NATO-supplying Manas airbase after Russian promises of aid, have left experts doubting whether even a near doubling of aid to several Central Asian states will be enough to secure reliable supply routes into Afghanistan, let alone foster long-term relationships that advance both Central Asian and U.S. interests.

The relevant figures, from Joshua Kucera at EurasiaNet:

COUNTRY 2009 Fiscal Year 2010 Fiscal Year
Kyrgyzstan $24.4 mn $41.5 mn
Tajikistan $25.2 mn $46.5 mn
Turkmenistan $7 mn

$13 mn

Armenia $48 mn $30 mn
Azerbaijan $18.5 mn $22.1 mn

The proposed budget runs the risk of linking aid too directly to NATO objectives in Afghanistan.  Analysts suggest that the U.S. must promote long-term development in Central Asia in addition to its short-term goals in order to avoid appearing exploitive.  EurasiaNet:

Experts who deal with the region in Washington suggested the aid package was still too small. Countries like Guyana, Kenya and South Africa receive far more money than Central Asian countries, while not being nearly as strategically significant, said S. Frederick Starr, the head of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, DC. “Even with the increases in aid to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the total aid package to Central Asia remains paltry,” he said.

So closely tying aid to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the mission in Afghanistan also risks making the United States look like a fair-weather friend, said Sean Roberts, a Central Asia expert at George Washington University. He noted that aid to the post-Soviet Central Asian states spiked immediately after the September 11 attacks, when Washington began its military involvement in Afghanistan, but then declined in subsequent years.

Furthermore, if the U.S. takes seriously Russian claims to privileged spheres of influence or the growing prominence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, then some sort of civil society component should probably be incorporated into the aid packages:

The increase in aid to Kyrgyzstan will focus on helping the government deal with security, drug trafficking and other transnational threats, as well as aim to stimulate civil society development. “US programs will also focus on areas where progress has stalled, in particular, supporting programs to strengthen democratic institutions and combat corruption,” according to the State Department.

The language of the aid request appeared to take a direct shot at Russia, which has offered spirited resistance to the US presence in the Caucasus and Central Asia. “The United States rejects the notion that any country has special privileges or a ’sphere of influence’ in this region; instead the United States is open to cooperating with all countries in the region and where appropriate providing assistance that helps develop democratic and market institutions and practices.”

Although an emphasis on Central Asia over the Caucasus has emerged in these latest aid packages, the Caucasus is of course critical to an alternate to the Russia land supply route into Afghanistan.  As such, success in securing an airbase capable of replacing Manas’ capabilities will have a significant effect on assessments of the regional value of the proposed economic assistance.

Peter Cassata is associate editor of the Atlantic Council.