GIS Dossier: A new Great Game in Central Asia

Map of Central Asia showing Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
Central Asia is vast, stretching from the Caspian Sea, slightly below sea level, to the Pamir Mountains, some as high as 7,500 meters (source: macpixxel for GIS)
  • Central Asia has been relatively stable and prosperous in recent decades, due in part to their authoritarian regimes
  • That stability now seems to be faltering, as Russian conflict with the West intensifies and the region’s regimes encounter internal problems
  • China, Russia, the United States and the European Union all perceive the energy-rich region as vital to their economic and strategic interests

Over the course of the 19th century, the Russian and British empires’ posturing over Central Asia became known as the Great Game. The region is where overland trade routes crisscrossed from China in the east, Europe in the west and Russia in the north. During most of the 20th century, Central Asia formed an integral part of the Soviet Union and was rarely heard of. Over the past couple of decades, though, it has been making headlines again.

The game board has been altered, with the post-Soviet transformation of the region into five internationally recognized states – the ‘stans’: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Next door, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan, technically not parts of Central Asia, also play big roles in the region. Today, all these states and the greatest powers of the East and West are maneuvering for control over the region’s stunning energy resources.

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