More Western interest helps ‘strengthen the agency of Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan in dealing with all other partners in the world,’ official says.
Growing ties with the West are helping Central Asian countries assert their independence in a region historically dominated by Russia and China, Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister said.
“The fact the EU, the U.S. and the West generally have now recognized the importance of Kazakhstan and other countries in Central Asia [and] have now engaged in much more robust relationship building … help strengthen the agency of Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan in dealing with all other partners in the world,” Roman Vassilenko told POLITICO in an interview.
At the same time, he added, “we will continue to be where we are geographically, we will continue to develop relations with Russia, with China, as an independent nation.”
Kazakhstan is a member of the Moscow-led CSTO military alliance, but has carved out an independent foreign policy since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, offering to sell oil to the EU to replace lost Russian supplies. Vassilenko has previously called on the Kremlin to negotiate an end to the fighting.
Earlier this month, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev sent Russian diplomats scrambling for their earpieces as he unexpectedly delivered a speech alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin in his native tongue, rather than Russian — which has traditionally been the language of diplomacy throughout Moscow’s former empire. The Russian leader, meanwhile, repeatedly got his counterpart’s name wrong, confused by the fact it doesn’t conform to Russian naming conventions.
On Tuesday, the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee backed a report calling on the bloc to step up engagement with Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, given Russia’s waning influence in Central Asia.
“The EU now has an opportunity to expand its ties with the region and play a more prominent role,” the committee said in a statement, arguing the plan will also help “play a part in minimizing the circumvention of sanctions by Russia and Belarus” using these countries as intermediaries.
Brussels’ sanctions envoy, David O’Sullivan, is in Kazakhstan this week as part of efforts to ensure banned goods which could support Russia’s war efforts aren’t finding their way across the border.