This paper is a must read for scholars, practitioners interested in regional integration in Central Asia. It makes a useful distinction between economic and security regionalism and between virtual and real integration. It makes a link between poor success of regional integration and patrimonialism. It explains that even though economic integration would bring more than security regionalism to local populations, economic regionalism involves economic liberalisation that adversely affects the current leaders in the region, therefore, at best ‘virtual’ economic regionalism is sought. On the contrary, in the case of security regionalism, some regional organisations progress because they bolster patrimonial regimes, with negative consequences for democracy. For practitioners of regional integration in this region, several sentences resonate and conceptualise what is possibly happening on the ground: “The Presidents have opposed economic regionalism that would threaten either their personal and family fortunes or their clients’ economic interests. Jeopardising the latter would mean undermining the system on which their regime rests [. . .]. Committing to regionalism ― without actually implementing the fundamental measures needed to make it effective ― is one way to co-opt the private sector and garner at least temporary popular legitimacy without sacrificing significant control [. . .]. Key actors in patrimonial authoritarian regimes (presidents and informal vested interests) are the primary factors in opposing or undermining economic regionalism.” Finally, the author rightly points out that Central Asia is not an anomaly in this regard. This paper should then be studied beyond Central Asian studies.
Gaël Raballand, Observatory of Post-Soviet States, Paris