Blinken eyes US inroads in Central Asia as Ukraine rattles nerves – World
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Central Asia hoping that larger US engagement will reassure former Soviet republics rattled by the Ukraine conflict, though Russia’s historic clout limits the extent of cooperation.
Days after the anniversary of the Ukraine invasion, the highest US diplomat will maintain talks on Tuesday in Kazakhstan after which Uzbekistan and meet collectively with overseas ministers of all 5 ex-Soviet Central Asian states in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.
Donald Lu, the highest US diplomat for South and Central Asia, stated the US was practical that the 5 nations weren’t going to finish their relationships with Russia or their different big neighbour, China, which has been boosting its personal presence.
However he stated Blinken would present that the US is a “dependable associate” and totally different from Moscow and Beijing.
“We’ve got one thing to supply by way of engagement economically, however we even have one thing to supply by way of the values that we deliver to the desk,” Lu informed reporters.
After a yr of travelling the world to rally help for Ukraine, Blinken’s mission could also be his most refined but.
Diplomats and consultants say that Central Asian leaders are strolling a tightrope resulting from formal safety agreements with Moscow and Russia’s overwhelming safety and financial affect, together with as a vacation spot for labourers.
All 5 abstained or didn’t vote because the UN Normal Meeting on Thursday demanded that Russian forces go away Ukraine.
For the US, “the sky is the restrict in Central Asia proper now”, stated Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, an professional on the area on the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace and the College of Pittsburgh.
“There’s a actual want among the many leaders of those nations to maneuver away from Russia. I feel they notice that Russia is a menace to them, however by geography, there’s little or no they will do about it, and their financial scenario doesn’t give them quite a lot of choices,” she stated.
“So I feel there’s an actual alternative for the US to be artistic, to have interaction with the leaders of those international locations and kind of meet them the place they’re.” –
Kazakhstan, with which Russia has its longest land border, has among the most complex relationships with Moscow. It has been mindful of the rights of its sizable ethnic Russian minority — even more so after President Vladimir Putin pointed to Ukraine’s treatment of Russian speakers in justifying his invasion.
Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who will meet Blinken, last year travelled to see Putin and reaffirmed their partnership with Russia.
But he recently spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and urged a negotiated end to the conflict based on international law, and Kazakhstan has welcomed tens of thousands of Russians fleeing conscription.
The month before the Ukraine invasion, Tokayev had called in Russian-led forces to help regain control after riots but he quickly asked them to leave following public opposition.
Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon made waves in October when a video went viral of him giving Putin a uncommon public scolding at a regional assembly, accusing Russia of ignoring the pursuits of the Central Asian international locations.
The US has seen glimmers of hope for human rights, a longstanding concern in a area traditionally run by authoritarians.
Lu pointed to the current conviction in Kazakhstan of cops accused of torture throughout final yr’s unrest, in addition to Uzbekistan’s speedy abolition of pressured and youngster labour in cotton harvests.
“It’s actually fairly exceptional. I don’t know that we have now seen that kind of speedy progress paralleled wherever else on the earth,” Lu stated.
Treated as ‘backwater’?
The Ukraine war is not the first time that an international crisis has thrown a greater spotlight on Central Asia.
Uzbekistan initially took a leading role in supporting the US military in its war in Afghanistan, which President Joe Biden ended in 2021.
The last secretary of state to visit, Mike Pompeo, in 2020 pushed Central Asians to curb ties with Beijing as he highlighted human rights concerns in Beijing’s adjacent Xinjiang region.
Murtazashvili said the United States had made the mistake of seeing Central Asia as a “backwater” linked to other policies and would do better with a strategy that values regional leaders’ autonomy.
“These countries are actually in a really interesting position to balance Russia and China off against one another, and many of them have done this pretty skillfully,” she said.