Samarkand talks: EU tries to maintain close ties with Central Asia

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia have attempted to reach a balance between their economic dependence on Russia and their ardent defense of territorial integrity.

“The EU has a lot to offer to help you diversify your foreign policy options” and “support its regional integration efforts,” the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell told his Central Asian counterparts on November 17 during talks in Uzbekistan’s southeastern city of Samarkand, Euractive reported.

Issues of connection between the EU and Central Asia

The discussions came after a flurry of high-level visits by EU officials to the area and were intended to serve as a “signal of mutual interest to get rid of dependence.”

“Having connections and options is good. But excessive dependencies and the absence of choice can come at a cost,” he told the EU-Central Asia Connectivity Conference the following on November 18.

In a sign of concern over the effects Russia’s war in Ukraine has had on the area, the EU and five Central Asian presidents reiterated their aim to expand general collaboration during their most recent visit in October.

Economic dependence of Central Asia on Russia

The fact that the Central Asian countries decided to abstain or not to vote in support of UN resolutions condemning Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine worried the Europeans because, at the same time, they wanted to move away from Moscow’s influence.

They are looking for alternate choices for their foreign policy and trade due to concerns about Western sanctions and their possible impact on the Central Asian economy.

“We face a much more dangerous world, whether it is because of the Russian war in Ukraine or global challenges such as climate change, illegal trafficking, and organized crime, “Borrell said.

“The only solution against this danger is more cooperation – we need to cooperate more and better,” he added, listing security, trade, and investment.

“We are committed to further developing a strong, diversified, and promising partnership based on shared values and mutual interest,” Norov told reporters in his notable remarks, not mentioning Russia or Ukraine.

As Russia looks to its markets and tradelines to get over Western sanctions, Central Asian nations are taking a firmer stance on Moscow as they become more aware of their newfound power.

Some countries clearly show their attitude to Russia

Borrell made his first official visit to the largest of the Central Asian nations earlier this week, going from Astana to Samarkand.

In June, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev publicly rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s territorial claims in Ukraine, hurting relations between the former Soviet republic and Moscow.

As relations between the two countries cooled, Tokayev convened a conference of the presidents of Central Asia but did not hold bilateral negotiations with Putin.

“They seek closer cooperation and Connectivity with Europe to strengthen their independence and economic sovereignty, and they don’t want to depend on only Russia or China,” an EU official said.

Decided to follow the path to freedom

With a wave of new agreements, China has recently been enlarging its position in Central Asia.

On November 18, a connectivity summit between foreign ministers from the EU and Central Asia will be held in Samarkand as part of the EU’s Global Gateway framework.

Brussels launched the €300 billion project as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road (BRI) program, which seeks to encourage infrastructure investment in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

They were initially intended to support and finance high-quality digital, energy, transportation, and energy infrastructure, including fiber-optic cables, roads, and trains, as well as renewable power, especially in developing countries.

The EU and Central Asia are interested in building the “Middle Corridor,” a transportation route traversing Russia and the Caspian Sea.

EU is the largest investor in Central Asia

“The EU is the biggest investor in Central Asia: almost half of the accumulated investment in the region – more than 40% – has been done by the EU firms,” Borrell told reporters in Samarkand.

“We are the best, the first trade partner – above China, above Russia – we are the first investor in the region. We should also be a good reliable partner,” he added.

Therefore, gradually and through joint efforts, the countries of Central Asia are keeping pace with all conscious countries and, soon, will try to move away from Russia’s sphere of influence. At least the governments of the European states are already thinking about how to do it.

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