As Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to provoke corner Through its relationships with its Central Asian partners, senior Western officials are forging their way through the region to forge closer alliances and build new trade routes.
On 17 and 18 November, it was the turn of the EU’s top diplomat, who traveled to Kazakhstan and then to Uzbekistan to meet the Foreign Ministers of Central Asia and attend a conference to promote new links between Europe and Central Asia.
Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, took the opportunity to outline the benefits of a rapprochement with Europe for Russia’s traditional allies.
“Having connections and options is good. But over-dependency and lack of choice can come at a cost,” he said. Told the EU-Central Asia conference on connectivity.
It was an obvious, if tacit, reference to Central Asia’s dependence on Russia, although as Borrell said, it also applies to the energy security of the EU. Europe.
“Just as we in Europe are focused on developing our strategic autonomy, we recognize the willingness of our partners to do the same,” he continued.
“We respect and endorse the natural desire of our Central Asian partners to reject dependence on a single international partner, regardless of history or geography. We support the right of our friends in Central Asia to be free to choose.
This is not a zero-sum game, since “we maintain that options are not, and should not be, exclusive”.
“When we talk about EU-Central Asia connectivity, it is not at the expense of other connections. Rather, it reinforces and complements these connections as part of a larger network. »
Russia doesn’t see it that way.
Moscow has already denounced closer cooperation between Central Asia and the West, particularly in Kazakhstan, which it sees as unfair for not supporting Russia in its war in Ukraine.
Moscow made its dissatisfaction felt again this month after US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu visited Central Asia and promised $25 million to strengthen trade routes and attract investment.
Washington maintained its “refrain” that “America is capable of becoming a ‘beneficial’ alternative to replace Moscow and Beijing”, drawn Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. But Washington’s real desire was “to turn independent countries into obedient satellites”, she complained.
Russia, on the other hand, treats Central Asian countries and people “with respect, for the sake of their development and economic prosperity”, Zakharova said.
His remarks underscored how shaken Russia is by its loss prestige in Central Asia.
The EU has proactively engaged in the gap. Last month, the President of the European Commission, Charles Michel, flew in for a summit-style meeting with the leaders of Central Asia.
The European Commission then sign an agreement to exploit Kazakhstan – which Michel describe as a “crucial partner” for the EU – for the supply of green hydrogen and rare earth metals.
Borrell was also enthusiastic about the partnership with Kazakhstan because he meet President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Astana en route to Samarkand.
Indirectly alluding to Astana’s policy towards Ukraine, he ostensibly thanked Kazakhstan “for its firm commitment to the defense of the Charter of the United Nations and in particular the territorial integrity of all countries”.
Uzbekistan is also eager to strengthen its ties with Europe.
“Complex and unpredictable geopolitical processes” underscore the need “to expand mutually beneficial partnerships,” President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said. Told the Connectivity Conference, which was convened to “enrich our cooperation with concrete programs and projects”.
Mirziyoyev will travel to France next week, his office announcement as Borrell arrived. (There may be headwinds to bonhomie, however, which Russia will be keen to exploit. Reuters, citing Spiegel, reported on November 18 that Tashkent and Berlin have held “crisis talks” in recent weeks over EU sanctions against Russian-Uzbek oligarch Alisher Usmanov and German searches of his properties. Tashkent has would have lobbied Brussels to drop sanctions related to the war in Ukraine.)
The EU and Central Asia are keen to develop a transport route dubbed the “middle corridorbypassing Russia and crossing the Caspian Sea, although removing the bottlenecks will take several years.
“Europeans and Central Asians are united in the challenges we face,” Borrell said.
The EU has allocated €300m in funding to the region over the next four years, and “our task today is to identify ways in which we can unlock the existing potential and build lasting connections”.
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