Briefly: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up his short visit to Central Asia on Wednesday (1 March) after meeting officials from all five Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan).
Blinken’s trip was aimed at further isolating Russia from its traditional partners in the region, who have pursued a careful neutrality in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Of particular note were the repeated references (by both Blinken and his hosts) to US support for the region’s “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity”.
By invading Ukraine, Russia has made plain its determination to rebuild influence in its region, and to do so using ‘defending fellow Russians’ as an excuse. Central Asia is home to plenty of ethnic Russians, and Russian nationalists have long called for their incorporation into the motherland, so one can understand the region’s caution.
Intrigue’s take: Central Asia rarely makes the global headlines, but we’ll be hearing more from this part of the world. In addition to the growing competition there between Russia, China and the US, the region is rich in key minerals needed for the green energy transition.
All in all, probably time to brush up on which ‘stan is which.
Also worth noting:
- While Moscow remains the traditional partner for Central Asian countries, China is also lifting its game in the region.
- All five Central Asian countries are designated as ‘not free’ by democracy NGO Freedom House.