KEY PARTNER: EU DECIDED TO ACTIVELY MOVE CLOSER TO CENTRAL ASIA

Source: EC – Audiovisual Service

By Shyryn Kussaiynova

The European Parliament overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on Central Asia. It calls on countries in the region to respect international human rights obligations and cooperate closely with the EU.

The document is officially called “Report on the EU Strategy on Central Asia”. The vote on the resolution took place at the plenary session of the European Parliament on January 17. 543 deputies were in favor of adopting the document, 42 were against it, and 44 abstained.

The main speaker from the Foreign Affairs Committee was German MEP Karsten Lucke, a member of the Social Democratic faction. After the vote in the European Parliament, Lucke wrote on social networks: “Finding new paths to a new partnership is more than important in our changed geopolitical environment.”

While working on the document, he visited Kazakhstan several times and met with senior members of the government. The purpose of his report is to “examine the opportunities and challenges for closer cooperation between the EU and Central Asia in the context of global and regional geopolitical shifts.”

 

Rethinking strategy in the context of Russia’s isolation

Since the adoption of the European Union Strategy for Central Asia in 2019, the region has been affected by significant external factors, including Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine, the Taliban occupation of Afghanistan, China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, and internal instability.

Russia’s isolation due to its aggressive war against Ukraine, the strengthening of trade routes through Central Asia bypassing Russia, the planned EU expansion eastward, and China’s growing influence require a complete rethink of the EU’s strategy for Central Asia and more active involvement of a democratic EU as an alternative to autocratic players.

Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine and its aftermath have created challenges but also opportunities for Central Asian countries that have traditionally maintained close relations with Moscow.

As noted above, none of the Central Asian countries has officially supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or recognized the annexed Ukrainian territories as Russian.

The resolution states that Russian aggression against Ukraine and increased nationalist narratives have weakened Russia’s position in the region and encouraged Central Asia to cooperate more with other players, who have intensified their cooperation with Central Asia

It is emphasized that the EU now has the opportunity to expand its ties with Central Asia and play a more prominent role in the region. China’s participation in the region is also “noted”.

MEPs note the potential for mutually beneficial cooperation in the fields of sustainable development, communications, energy, and raw materials, while pointing out Central Asia as a key region connecting East and West. In this context, we are reminded of the significant geopolitical consequences of the crisis in Ukraine, which has reactivated the Middle Corridor “as an alternative and sustainable route between Asia and Europe that avoids crossing Russian territory.”

 

Sanctions regime

Central Asian countries are said to be making efforts to ensure their territories are not used to circumvent sanctions. In particular, Kazakh authorities promise administrative measures if suspicious trading transactions are identified.

At the same time, the resolution emphasizes the need to expand economic relations and intensify political ties with the countries of Central Asia, “partly in order to minimize the possibility of circumventing sanctions imposed against Russia and Belarus.”

The authors of the new resolution propose that the EU use a differentiated approach in its strategy for Central Asia, which would allow assessing the level of cooperation with the EU on sanctions policy towards Russia. The role of EU countries in ensuring export controls is also noted, considering goods can enter Russia through Central Asian countries.

The resolution calls on Central Asian authorities, particularly Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, to work closely with the EU, in particular its sanctions envoy, to step up their efforts to prevent sanctions circumvention. 

Central Asia is strategically important for the EU in terms of security, connectivity, energy, and resource diversification, and the EU has a significant interest in creating trade and energy corridors bypassing Russia.

In June 2019, the EU adopted a new EU Strategy for Central Asia, replacing the 2007 Strategy.

 

Large-scale initiatives

On January 29-30, the Global Gateway investment transport forum was held in Brussels, which was attended by representatives of the EU, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The parties took a decisive step towards creating a Trans-Caspian transport corridor, bypassing Russia. And in April, it is planned to hold the first formal summit of the EU and five Central Asian states in Uzbekistan.

The European Commission reported that Brussels intends to attract up to €10 billion in investment. It was noted that so far the EU is ready to allocate only €2.97 billion for these purposes in the form of two credit lines from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Deputy Chairman of the European Commission, European Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis, subsequently clarified that the European Commission and the European Investment Bank intend to invest €1.5 billion in strategic transport infrastructure facilities in Central Asia. He emphasized the desire to establish faster and more reliable transport links between Europe and Central Asia.

At the forum, it was agreed that the “Regional Prosperity Program ” will be launched in the coming months to use trans-Caspian transport networks and will be implemented by the International Trade Center, a UN agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

At the same time, senior resident advisers will be introduced into the Ministries of Transport of the five countries, and a common coordination platform will be created to monitor progress and ensure the development of the Trans-Caspian Transport Corridor as planned.

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