COVID-19 in Central Asia: (De-)Securitization of a Health Crisis?

Mariya Y. Omelicheva, Lawrence P. Markowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Many countries have securitized their policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by framing it as an existential threat demanding extraordinary security responses. The politics of securitization are particularly advantageous to nondemocratic regimes. Yet, contrary to the expectation that the Central Asian governments would resort to their tried-and-tested method of framing a new policy issue as a national security threat, these governments have used a deliberately constrained representation of the pandemic with some even diminishing the significance of a threat posed by COVID-19. What explains these unexpected patterns of securitization in response to the pandemic? This study argues that autocratic regimes’ concerns with legitimacy and their specific legitimization practices shape their choices about securitization of a policy issue. In Kazakhstan, the government’s response to the crisis became part of a political struggle between competing claims to presidential legitimacy. In Kyrgyzstan, weak government legitimacy rooted in poor economic performance coupled with the fear of unrest preempted any coherent effort to securitize the crisis. In Uzbekistan, the government’s new technocratic self-image limited securitization within its COVID-19 response. In Tajikistan, a strategy of denial and delay emerged, since securitization of COVID-19 promised little additional security aid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalProblems of Post-Communism
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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