Central Asia states hold ‘first’ war games without Russia or China

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Central Asian countries on Tuesday held joint drills with land, naval and air forces, for the first time without regional powers Russia and China.

Kazakhstan is hosting four other ex-Soviet states for the drills, which a spokesman for Kazakhstan’s armed forces told AFP were “the first of their kind.”

“All the participants have arrived,” the spokesman said.

The exercises are named Birlestik-2024, meaning alliance in Kazakh.

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Taking place in the Caspian Sea, they will last until July 17 and involve around 4,000 troops with warships, aviation, artillery and tanks.

Taking part are four Central Asian republics -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, while Turkmenistan is absent.

The Caucasus country of Azerbaijan is also participating, while Russia, traditionally dominant in the area, is fighting in Ukraine.

Kyrgyzstan’s defense ministry said that during the drills, troops will “liberate an island captured by terrorists” and “carry out operations to ensure security at sea and to protect infrastructure”.

These countries regularly take part in drills with the two most influential major powers in this strategic region: with Russia as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and with China as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, most recently in 2023 involving 1,500 troops.

After decades of strife, Central Asian countries have recently stepped up cooperation, as major powers have also paid more attention to a region that is rich in raw materials and an important trade route.

All the countries are part of a transport route between China and Europe that bypasses Russia, known as the “Middle Corridor.”

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