Blinken ends Central Asia visit without changing his mind on Russia, Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded a two-day visit to Central Asia after meeting with the leaders of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

He also met with his counterparts from the C5+1 group of countries consisting of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and the United States.

Blinken’s visit was widely seen as an attempt to push Central Asian leaders away from Moscow.

During his visit, Blinken reiterated Washington’s commitment to the “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity” of the five Central Asian states.

On February 28, he met with Kazakhstan’s President Kassim Jomart Tokayev in Astana.

During the meeting, Prime Minister Brinken emphasized Kazakhstan’s “unwavering commitment to its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” according to a statement issued by the State Department.

He also expressed Washington’s “full support for the objectives of President Tokayev’s reform agenda” and the United States’ commitment to “working with governments, civil society and other Kazakhstan partners to advance our shared values.” emphasized commitment.

The next day, Brinken met with Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in Tashkent and reiterated US support for Uzbekistan’s “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”

He also praised Uzbekistan’s “regional leadership, particularly through its engagement in the C5+1 diplomatic format,” according to the State Department.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Blinken distinguished US foreign policy from Moscow’s, claiming that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “caused deep concern throughout the region”.

“If a powerful country tries to force the borders of its sovereign neighbor to disappear, how can we stop other countries from doing the same?” he said.

Kazakhstan United States Central Asia
From left: Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Minister Djembek Kurbayev, Tajikistan’s Foreign Minister Siroziddin Muhriddin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tilverdi, Turkmenistan’s Foreign Minister Rashit Meredou, and Uzbekistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Bakhtiyor Saidov in Astana. Taking pictures before the meeting. , Kazakhstan, 28 February 2023. (AP Photo)

Commitment to Neutrality

The Central Asian region has historically been considered the “backyard” of Russia. Like Ukraine, her five countries in Central Asia were all Soviet republics until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Countries in Central Asia maintain close ties with post-Soviet Russia, but all have publicly supported Russia’s years of “special military operations” in Ukraine. not

But they don’t condemn it.

In last week’s UN General Assembly vote, all five Central Asian countries abstained from a resolution condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s aggression.

At a joint press conference with Brinken on February 28, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileberdi thanked the United States for supporting his country’s right to self-determination.

However, he added that Kazakhstan was keen to pursue a “balanced multilateral foreign policy” and would continue to act in its national interest given the “complicated international situation”.

Tireuberdi stressed his country’s long-standing ties with both Russia and Ukraine, and said Astana would not allow its territory to be used for Russian aggression or to evade Western-led sanctions.

Nevertheless, he added, Kazakhstan does not perceive the threat from its formidable northern neighbor with which it shares a 4,750-mile border.

Earlier last year, Russia sent troops to Kazakhstan to quell violent protests in Almaty, Kazakhstan, ostensibly triggered by rising fuel prices.

The deployment took place within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-led military alliance that includes Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Russian officials say last year’s violent protests in Kazakhstan were an attempt by the West to foment a “color revolution” aimed at destabilizing the Tokayev regime.

Kazakh protest
On January 13, 2022, at an airport outside Almaty, Kazakhstan, Russian peacekeepers from the Collective Security Treaty Organization boarded Russian military aircraft and began the withdrawal of troops. (Russian Ministry of Defense press service via AP)

Solidarity in Eurasia

Asked if Brinken’s remarks could affect relations between Moscow and Astana, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded negatively.

“We value our relationship and are united by participating in joint projects,” Peskov told Russia’s TASS news agency on March 1.

He went on to say that “there are positive dynamics in the further development of these relationships.”

Asked a similar question the day before, Peskov said Moscow had a “unique platform of cooperation” with Central Asian countries.

“We are participating in an integration process within the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) that we guide, care about and see as a key foreign policy priority,” he said. Added.

Founded in 2014, the EEU is an economic union of several former Soviet states in Eurasia. In addition to Russia, current members include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Belarus.

The Central Asian countries, with the exception of Turkmenistan, are also members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a formidable bloc of Eurasian countries.

SCO was first launched in 2001 by Moscow and Beijing to counter Western influence in the region.

After leaving Tashkent, Brinken flew to New Delhi to attend the scheduled G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.