US refocuses on Central Asia after Russia’s show of Eurasian solidarity

Led by Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, the US contingent began its tour of Central Asian states from the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on Monday and held meetings in Uzbekistan on Tuesday.

The group also comprises of National Security Council’s Senior Director for Russia and Central Asia Eric Green, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia Rebecca Zimmerman, US Agency for International Development Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Asia Anjali Kaur, and the US International Development Finance Corporation’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Naz El-Khatib.

The US Department of State said the aim of the delegation’s visit is to strengthen US relations with the region and “advance collaborative efforts” to create a more connected, prosperous and secure Central Asia.

In his first meeting of the tour, Donald Lu discussed current issues of the Kyrgyz-American relations as well as regional and global agenda, with the country’s Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubaev.

As Moscow and Beijing continue to show massive interest in the region, Washington stressed on the importance of building practical cooperation that can have a positive impact on Kyrgyzstan’s socio-economic development and also considered the possibility of increasing investment cooperation.

“The parties considered the issues of minimising the negative impact of international sanctions on the economy of Kyrgyzstan and the necessity to intensify assistance in strengthening border security. Separately, they noted the importance of interaction between the countries in the framework of the ‘C5+1’ platform,” said the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry.

In Tashkent on Tuesday, the American delegation met with Uzbekistan Foreign Affairs Minister Vladimir Norov as both sides discussed the current state and prospects of Uzbek-US relations in various fields.

“The American side praised the changes taking place in Uzbekistan under the leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, as well as the practical and open foreign policy of our country. It was noted that the US government is ready to actively support the reform process in Uzbekistan,” said the Uzbek Foreign Ministry in a statement on Tuesday.

While discussing the preparation for their next Strategic Partnership Dialogue in Washington, both countries said they are interested in continuing cooperation in the form of ‘C5+1’ in order to achieve concrete results in the fields of infrastructure, energy, transport, environmental protection and climate change.

“Uzbekistan’s efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, to promote long-term peace in the country and promote projects aimed at its economic recovery were praised,” the statement added.

The US Assistant Secretary and the accompanying delegation will now travel to Tajikistan to meet with senior officials and participate in US-Tajikistan Annual Bilateral Consultations to promote economic ties and strengthen security cooperation.

They will conclude their visit after holding discussions with senior Kazakhstani officials and civil society leaders in Nur-Sultan.

The Biden administration’s renewed focus on the region comes immediately after Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation vowed to raise cooperation to a “qualitatively new level of allied relations” to counter “a wide range of modern challenges and threats”.

On May 16, even as Moscow’s ‘special military operation’ continued in the neighbouring Ukraine, the leaders of the CSTO member states, including Presidents of Belarus (Alexander Lukashenko), Kazakhstan (Kassym-Jomart Tokayev), Kyrgyzstan (Sadyr Japarov), Tajikistan (Emomali Rahmon) and the Armenian Prime Minister (Nikol Pashinyan), had converged at the Kremlin to intensify their partnership.

Interestingly, Mirziyoyev had a telephone conversation with the Russian President Vladimir Putin while the US delegation was holding discussions in Tashkent on Tuesday.

Uzbekistan said the telephone conversation between the Presidents of the two countries was held in the “spirit of openness, trust and friendship as always” as the sides discussed issues of further development of Uzbek-Russian strategic partnership and allied relations, expansion of multifaceted cooperation between the two countries.

“The leaders of Uzbekistan and Russia stressed the importance of deepening cooperation between the business community and the effective use of the great potential of interregional ties,” the top Uzbek leadership highlighted while noting that the trade turnover between the two countries has increased by 40 per cent.

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