The Islamic State Threat in Central Asia: Reality or Spin?

Over at Jamestown, I joined a pair of colleagues in assessing ISIS's threat to Central Asia:

Officials in both Russia and Central Asia sometimes describe the Islamic State’s potential impact in the region in a way that goes far beyond the current likely direct threat. Russian officials and the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) repeatedly have made alarmist comments about Islamist and Islamic State infiltration into Central Asia. For instance, CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha has said that there is an “attempt to create some sort of underground extremist state” in the region (Trend, September 22, 2014). Meanwhile, Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Russian Institute for Middle East Studies, has claimed that Central Asian states will only stanch the flow of thousands of fighters to Syria when the governments enact “absolute control of religious life” (Registan, October 6, 2014). Some in the United State have also played up fears of Islamic State influence in the region. For example, when donating 300 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to Uzbekistan—the largest single military donation the United States has ever bestowed on a state in the region—Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia Dan Rosenblum cited “counter-terrorism” efforts, while the CENTCOM-sponsored publication Central Asia Online claimed in February that 900 Uzbeks have already been killed while fighting for the Islamic State, a remarkably high number (New Republic, February 3; Central Asia Online, March 11).

With The Diplomat, I tried (unsuccessfully) to find a silver lining in Central Asia’s recent down-swing, and also took a look through the region’s reactions to Crimea, one year later.