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US Aims for Stronger Cooperation with Central Asia amid Russia-Ukraine War

By Vusala Abbasova March 1, 2023

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubaev in Astana, Kazakhstan, on February 28, 2023. / VOA News

The US Secretary of State Department, Antony Blinken, made his first visit to Central Asia as the top US diplomat when he arrived in Kazakhstan on Tuesday to meet officials from all five former Soviet republics.

A meeting of the so-called C5+1 group, a diplomatic platform launched in 2015 with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, was held in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana. The multilateral dialogue platform is focused on improving US-Central Asian relations and addressing joint projects that require interregional cooperation.

During the meetings with Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi and then with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Blinken voiced Washington’s commitment “to the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity” of Central Asian countries, which maintain strong political, economic, and socio-cultural ties with Russia.

“Ever since being the first nation to recognize Kazakhstan in December of 1991, the United States has been firmly committed to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of Kazakhstan – and countries across the region,” Blinken said at a joint press conference with the Kazakh foreign minister. 

“In our discussions today, I reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Kazakhstan, like all nations, to freely determine its future, especially as we mark one year since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in a failed attempt to deny its people that very freedom,” he added.

Tileuberdi expressed gratitude to Blinken for the US commitment to Kazakhstan's freedom, but also conveyed that his country is not inclined to take a pro-Russian or pro-Western stance. He stated in his speech that Kazakhstan will persist in pursuing its own national interest, taking into account the intricate international circumstances.

“Our country continues a balanced multilateral foreign policy, in accordance with its diplomatic priorities and Central Asia,” Tileuberdi said.

Blinken is scheduled to conduct a series of meetings with top Central Asian diplomats. These bilateral consultations with the governments of each of the Central Asian republics will enable Washington to convey specific political messages to each country in the region.

Blinken’s trip to Astana took place a few days after the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and then he traveled to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Furthermore, Blinken is anticipated to attend the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in New Delhi, where he will meet with Indian government officials and civil society to reaffirm a robust bilateral partnership.

The Washington administration’s increasing interest in Central Asia is primarily due to the region’s geostrategic significance in terms of containing Russia and China. Simultaneously, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which is taking shape through infrastructure projects in the region, has been the subject of heated debates in the US as Beijing is viewed as an economic competitor.

The White House is hopeful that Blinken can persuade the Central Asian nations that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine poses a threat to them. The US has been attempting for decades to reduce the former Soviet nations’ reliance on Moscow’s influence in the region.

Although having strategic partnerships with the Kremlin, no Central Asian government has endorsed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or acknowledged Luhansk and Donetsk as independent entities. Nonetheless, all five Central Asian republics abstained from a vote to condemn the invasion at the recent United Nations General Assembly, which marked the war’s first anniversary.