China's leader, Xi Jinping, has made a power move timed with his visit to Russia.
He set up a new meeting of Central Asian countries this week, muscling in on Russia's backyard.
The Kremlin has long seen former-Soviet republics as part of its sphere of influence.
China's leader, Xi Jinping, has called a meeting of former-Soviet Central Asian countries, in an audacious power play in Russia's backyard the week of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Xi invited the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to the first China-Central Asia summit on Wednesday, the AFP news agency reported. It remains unclear whether Turkmenistan has been invited.
The states are all former members of the Soviet Union, and Moscow has long regarded them as being in its sphere of influence after the Russian Empire conquered them in the 19th century.
The move came as Xi was visiting Putin in Moscow as part of a three-day-summit that concluded Wednesday, in which the nations pledged to deepen and extend their cooperation — and Xi signaled that Russia would have continued Chinese backing in its invasion of Ukraine.
Analysts say that China has secured significant leverage over Russia in return for its diplomatic and economic support, and that in calling the meeting of Central Asian nations it is seeking to exploit that advantage.
—Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) March 22, 2023
"I'm not sure this China initiate is greeted with enthusiasm in the Kremlin," tweeted Carl Bildt, the cochair of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
"Agree. i'm also not sure the Kremlin has much they can do about it," replied Ian Bremmer, a political scientist and the founder of the Eurasia Group.
Russia, in launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, sought to regain its control over the former Soviet state, which in recent years sought closer ties with the West.
But the invasion has stalled, amid steep military losses for Russia, and a knock-on effect has been that the former Soviet states in Central Asia have become increasingly open in their defiance of the Kremlin.
In one striking example, Kazakhstan's president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, declined to recognize the legitimacy claims by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine while sharing a stage with Putin at an economic forum in St. Petersburg.
China in recent years has increased its economic and security ties with Central Asian nations, which have abundant mineral resources and lie on ancient trade routes between east and west.
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