Do Russia and China promote autocracy in Central Asia?


The purpose of our paper is to contribute to the literature on autocracy promotion by analyzing Central Asia as the most-likely case, considering both Russia and China as relevant external actors. We develop a concept for our analysis based on the different strategies of Russia and China towards the region and present the results of a qualitative study of the main dimensions of autocracy promotion (regional organizations, economic cooperation, and interference and threat). Based on this qualitative study, we define variables measuring the potential for autocracy promotion and test our hypotheses using panel data for 24 post-communist countries. The somewhat surprising result of our analysis is that, in contrast to Russia's dominance mode of operation, China's doing-business approach towards its neighbors in Central Asia may have—although unintentionally—even positive effects in terms of improving governance and undermining autocratic structures.

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  1. 1.

    Different to strong accession incentives (Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier 2005; Melnykovska and Schweickert 2011), this applies to the cooperation schemes which are relevant for the region (see e.g., Gawrich et al. 2010; Franke et al. 2010; Melnykovska and Schweickert 2009). See also Hoffmann (2010) and Boonstra and Denison (2011) on the case of EU cooperation and Bhatti and Bronson (2000) and Deyermond (2009) on the case of NATO cooperation.

  2. 2.

    Similarly, Tolstrup (2009) distinguishes three dimensions of Russia's foreign policy: economic, military, and political.

  3. 3.

    Apart from its activities in the SCO, Russia has also lent legitimacy to the authoritarian regimes in Central Asia with the help of CIS election observers, declaring elections in CIS member states free and fair, even when they have been clearly fixed in favour of the incumbent autocratic and anti-Western elites (Tolstrup 2009).

  4. 4.

    Generally, bilateral trade deficits do not necessarily lead to bilateral capital account deficits. It is, however, likely for the case of countries with limited access to the international capital market or the strategic use of complementary financial arrangements.

  5. 5.

    9.8% compared to 18.2% of GDP (unweighted figures for 2008). Neglecting the case of Kyrgyzstan total trade with Russia would have stagnated at about 15% of GDP.

  6. 6.

    The Tashkent Treaty (signed in 1992) was the first step towards a regional security organization. For details on military capabilities of the CSTO following reforms in 2002 and 2009, see e.g., Socor (2009a), and Bailes and Dunay (2007).

  7. 7.

    Belarus refuses to cooperate as well and boycotted the 2009 meetings on account of a conflict with Russia over energy imports.

  8. 8.

    Variable names are in parentheses written in capital, italic letters. EU_BASIC implies Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCA) and Stability and Association Agreements (SAAs) for the Balkan countries respectively.

  9. 9.

    For membership in regional organizations, we use time-varying dummies for the years of membership.

  10. 10.

    The time period for the estimation is restricted by data availability (WGI is available since 1996) and the fact that, unrelated to governance issues, trade data is distorted by the emergency of the world wide crisis starting already in 2008. Hence, the estimation period spans the time period between the initial transition crisis and the recent world wide crisis. Additional exogenous variables are 3-year averages. For the instrumentation of potentially endogenous variables, see Melnykovska and Schweickert (2011).


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Correspondence to Rainer Schweickert.

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Melnykovska, I., Plamper, H. & Schweickert, R. Do Russia and China promote autocracy in Central Asia?. Asia Eur J 10, 75–89 (2012).

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  • Regional Organization
  • Central Asian Country
  • Autocratic Regime
  • Shanghai Cooperation Organization
  • Central Asian State