EU chief negotiates Moscow’s allies in Central Asia

EU chief negotiates Moscow’s allies in Central Asia


EU chief Charles Michel on Thursday called for closer ties with Central Asia during his first official visit to Kazakhstan, the main economic engine in a region where Russia’s influence has been questioned.

At a first summit between the European Union and Central Asia, Michel met the leaders of the five countries in the region – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

He described the meeting as “much more than just a political dialogue between two regions”.

“This is a strong symbol of our enhanced cooperation and a strong signal of the EU’s commitment to this region,” he said.

Michel’s visit to the Kazakh capital of Astana comes eight months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has unnerved Moscow’s former Soviet neighbors and deepened the Kremlin’s clash with the West.

In a joint statement, Michel and Central Asian leaders said they agreed to “continue to build a strong, diversified and forward-looking partnership based on shared values ??and mutual interests.”

Michel’s visit comes two weeks after Astana hosted several summits attended by Russia — as well as China and Turkey, which are also trying to increase their influence in the region.

“Central Asia and Europe are getting closer and connecting more and more,” Michel said at a press conference with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Astana.

The head of the EU Council said Kazakhstan is a “crucial partner” and the EU hopes to “develop our cooperation”.

He highlighted Kazakhstan as a key EU trading partner and called for investment in the country’s transport infrastructure, which is trying to reduce its dependence on Moscow since the latter sent troops to Ukraine.

– “Geopolitical Balance” –

Since the start of the Moscow invasion in February and subsequent Western sanctions against Russia, “Central Asian countries have been trying to establish a geopolitical balance,” Kazakh political analyst Dosym Satpayev told AFP.

Moscow’s traditional allies have walked a fine line in the Kremlin’s attack on Ukraine, neither condemning nor openly supporting it.

Tokayev even clashed publicly with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June, refusing to recognize the self-proclaimed separatist republics controlled by pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has since claimed to have annexed the regions.

“The European Union has a very good opportunity to strengthen its position in Central Asia,” Satpayev said.

He said this was particularly true for Kazakhstan – the only country in the region to have signed an enhanced partnership and cooperation agreement with the EU – and neighboring Uzbekistan, where Michel is expected on Friday.

Meanwhile, Astana is looking for new routes for oil exports, about three quarters of which pass through Russia.

In early July, Tokayev pledged to step up energy cooperation with the EU.

In a joint statement on Thursday, Tokayev and Michel said they had discussed how to avoid “unintended negative impacts” on Kazakhstan’s economy from EU sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

They also discussed relocating “European manufacturing companies” to Kazakhstan, whose products are not subject to sanctions.

Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Russia has twice halted Kazakh oil exports, citing technical and security reasons.

Rich in hydrocarbons and minerals, Kazakhstan lies at the heart of China’s vast new Silk Road project.

Like Beijing, Turkey is increasing its interest in the region, emphasizing ethnolinguistic and religious ties to Central Asia.

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