The main tool of influence While at present Russia remains the de facto leader of the region, in the same time many scholars emphasized that, similarly to the EU, Russia’s efforts have not been successful in the whole region. While some countries have been bandwagoning with Russia, others have followed individual paths and rejected closer ties. Even in the most Russophile CA states, the attitude towards Russia is sometimes referred to “forced interdependence” or “let the sleeping dog where it is”. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, Moscow’s idea and use of soft power portray CA as a fundamental part of the ‘Russian world’. And while most of CA states welcome cooperation with Moscow, as noted by Valenza and Boers (2018), their elites have been able “to play cats and mouse” and to make balancing exercises, as in the case of Kyrgyzstan, which willingly accepts financial help from both Russia and the EU. Thus, Central Asian region, which are considered as the most influenced region in terms of soft power, nevertheless, also have their own particular approaches toward Russia.
As it was indicated in previous paragraphs, Russia’s basic and most important goal in the CA region is to maintain its influence (in the best case to expand its influence) and limit the influence of other actors so that Russia has a decisive say on the most important issues in the region, and this privilege is not questioned by any major players. For these purposes, Moscow realizes that the challenges posed by the turbulent regional (and international) environment require Russia to adopt a multi-pronged approach to realize its interests. This means using various forms of "soft" power and more traditional means of political and military influence, turning to multilateral mechanisms to supplement bilateral relations, and striving for geopolitical balance on a regional and global scale. Therefore, this paper states that the main tool used by the Kremlin is the promotion of inter-elite ties, especially between President Putin and the heads of Central Asian states. These ties are mainly characterized by weak institutions and highly personalized decision-making methods.
Ultimately, this tendency leads to the fact that almost all integration and disintegration processes of Russia and the Central Asian countries depend not only on the objective political institutions and economic conditions, but also on the subjective factors of the ruling elites, who directly possess state power. The driving force of integration is the reflection of the ruling elites in the political will and corresponding actions of the conscious part of society in each country – its political elites interests (Ki, 2005).
Integration is done by the elite, i.e. those circles that somehow take part in the development of political decisions at the state level. The change in their system depends on the ability of the elite within the system to concentrate, control and use the means of power. Russia's policy towards the CIS states, as well as the policy with Central Asian countries is turned out to be depended on the subjective views of the head of state himself and his inner circle. For example, the Russian scientist V. Razmerov claimed that the foreign policy of the USSR was not done in the Foreign Ministry, but in the Old Square, where the Central Committee of the CPSU was located. The address of the development of Russian foreign policy is the same, since now- the administration of the President of the Russian Federation is located there. A small group of people close to the President is trying to carry out the functions performed in other countries by numerous and diverse state institutions.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the centrifugal forces within the CIS were also determined by purely subjective factors, which are mainly related to the nature of the national ruling elites, the alignment of political forces, parties and movements. Presidential administrations in these countries, and sometimes the closest relatives (families) of top officials standing behind them, needed financial resources to maintain power, and in such amounts that the state budgets could not provide. In this regard, the analysis of the ruling elites of Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan is an important factor in the integration and disintegration of these countries.
The main point here that since from the soviet period, nothing changed significantly. It is becoming more evident that today, private ties between leaders of the CIS countries may still facilitate integration within the CIS. We cannot deny the fact that the close personal contacts between President Boris Yeltsin and President Nazarbayev played an important role in the integration of Russia and Kazakhstan. The connection between Nazarbayev and Kyrgyzstan’s President Askar Akayev was equally important for promoting Kyrgyzstan’s participation in the “Four Nations Alliance”. It should be clearly emphasized that so far, most issues between the member states of the Central Asian region and the Russia itself have been decided at the level of national leaders. For most of the time since independence, the Central Asian countries have been ruled by the presidents of former communist leaders. It should be pointed out, that the current leaders were born and raised between the 1950s and 1970s, were educated in Russian, and had close ties with Russia (economics, culture, interpersonal relations, etc.), which affected their political preferences (Lukyanov, 2009). This is Russia's most important tool.