Ready to Go? ISIS and Its Presumed Expansion into Central Asia

Kacper Rękawek
Content Type
Policy Brief
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Although Central Asian states are vulnerable to the activities of radical Islamic organisations due to the weaknesses of their political and social systems—marked by authoritarianism, corruption, nepotism, and ethnic and religious tension, as well as their poor economic circumstances—interest in ISIS among their citizens remains low. These states so far also have not become an area of interest for ISIS, although that may change. When some people in these countries do leave for Syria and Iraq, their decision is not rooted just in poverty but also in social exclusion and poor religious education. At the same time, citizens of far more affluent and often far less authoritarian European and Middle Eastern countries travel in higher numbers to Syria to join ISIS. Nonetheless, a potential increase in the popularity of radical Islamist factions will not only be a problem for the five countries of the region, where the authorities will try to use the phenomenon to strengthen their special services and raise funds for border protection, but also for Russia, especially since people from Central Asia are mainly recruited to ISIS on Russian territory and traverse it to reach the battlefields. Russia, therefore, will continue to support its neighbours in the fight against such organisations by helping to strengthen border control, support for local special services and by CSTO Rapid Reaction Forces. The European Union and the United States should offer not only intelligence support and assistance in protecting these borders against this threat but also economic programmes and development assistance that can be used to decrease the factors that may contribute to the radicalisation of those living in Central Asia.