Aid for almost every country in the former Soviet Union will be falling in 2008, under the current foreign affairs budget released by the US State Department. Much of the planned US assistance will go toward helping independent-minded states in the region resist Russian efforts to reassert its dominance in the Caspian Basin and elsewhere. Even so, some Washington experts lament the drop-off in aid, and describe the dwindling budgets in recent years as "monuments to weak analysis, inter-agency pettiness, and trite bureaucratic formuli."
Overall, the budget for the Freedom Support Act, which provides aid to former Soviet states, is $346 million for fiscal year 2009, which actually starts on October 1, 2008. That is down from $396 million in fiscal 2008, and $452 million the year before that.
The aid is heavily weighted toward countries with a pro-Western orientation like Georgia and Ukraine, and it is designed "to promote economic and energy independence, help diversify export markets, and improve democratic governance in the face of increasing Russian economic and political pressure," according to documents that the State Department released to justify the budget.
Aid to Turkmenistan has been increased, though modestly. Freedom Support Act aid, to support education, economic reform, civil society reform and health care, went up from $5.4 million to $8 million. Turkmenistan would also get a small amount of military aid $150,000 for weapons and equipment after being denied such aid last year.
"A new focus for assistance is Turkmenistan, where the funding request is increased as the United States seeks to capitalize on new opportunities to promote economic, democratic, and social sector reform following the death of President Saparmurat Niyazov in December 2006," the State Department documents said. US officials are desperately trying to woo Ashgabat into participating in the Trans-Caspian Pipeline, an energy export route that could critically weaken the Kremlin's control of the oil & gas glow out of Central Asia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The budget for assistance to Armenia is $24 million, down from $58 million disbursed in fiscal year 2008. Aid to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is down, as well.
Washington analysts bemoaned the meager budgets devoted to the Caucasus and Central Asia. "Central Asia and the Caucasus present largely Muslim societies that look positively to the West, maintain secular governments, and are open to modern thinking. Any sensible appreciation of the United States' interests would lead to their being given generous support. Instead, Washington itself is forcibly weaning them from their US ties, using the budget as its tool," said S. Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central AsiaCaucasus Institute in Washington.
"Both the current and proposed budgets for Central Asia and the Caucasus are monuments to weak analysis, inter-agency pettiness, and trite bureaucratic formuli," Starr continued. "It is hard to imagine a wider gulf between the US's real interests and its budgetary actions."
Just a few years ago, the Bush administration cast itself as a champion of global democratization. But now such rhetoric has all but disappeared. "If Central Asia is among the
Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.