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Blinken eyes US invaders in Central Asia while Ukraine grates on nerves

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken is traveling to Central Asia in hopes that greater U.S. engagement will calm war-torn former Soviet republics in Ukraine, though Russia’s historical influence limits the extent of cooperation.

Days after the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, the senior US diplomat will hold talks in Kazakhstan and then Uzbekistan on Tuesday, meeting with the foreign ministers of all five Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.

Donald Lu, the top US diplomat for South and Central Asia, said the United States is realistic that the five nations would not end ties with Russia or their other giant neighbor China, which has increased its own presence.

But he said blinking would show the United States was a “reliable partner” and different from Moscow and Beijing.

“We have something to offer economically, but we also have something to offer in terms of the values ​​we bring to the table,” Lu told reporters.

After spending a year traveling the world rallying support for Ukraine, Blinken’s mission could be his subtlest yet.

Diplomats and experts say Central Asian leaders are walking a tightrope over formal security deals with Moscow and Russia’s overwhelming security and economic clout, including as a target for workers.

All five abstained or did not vote when the UN General Assembly on Thursday demanded that Russian forces leave Ukraine.

For the United States, “the sky is the limit in Central Asia right now,” said Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, senior researcher on the region at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the University of Pittsburgh.

“There is a real desire among the leaders of these nations to move away from Russia. I think they realize that Russia is a threat to them, but geographically there is very little they can do about it and their economic situation doesn’t give them many options,” she said.

“So I think there’s a real opportunity for the United States to be creative, to engage with the leaders of these countries, to sort of meet them where they are.”

– Complex Posture –

Kazakhstan, with which Russia shares its longest land border, has one of the most complex relationships with Moscow. She was respectful of the rights of her sizable ethnic Russian minority — even more so after President Vladimir Putin pointed to Ukraine’s treatment of Russian speakers to justify his invasion.

Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who will meet Blinken, traveled to Putin last year and reaffirmed the partnership with Russia.

But he recently spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, urging a negotiated end to the conflict on the basis of international law, and Kazakhstan has taken in tens of thousands of Russians fleeing conscription.

A month before the invasion of Ukraine, Tokayev had summoned Russian-led forces to help regain control after the unrest, but he was quick to urge them to publicly Resistance to go.

Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon caused a stir in October when a video went viral in which he publicly berated Putin at a regional meeting and accused Russia of ignoring the interests of Central Asian countries.

The United States has seen glimmers of hope over human rights, a longstanding concern in a region historically ruled by authoritarians.

Lu cited the recent sentencing of police officers in Kazakhstan accused of torture during last year’s unrest, as well as Uzbekistan’s swift elimination of forced and child labor in cotton harvesting.

“It’s really quite remarkable. I don’t know if we’ve seen this kind of rapid progress anywhere else in the world,” Lu said.

– Treated as ‘backlog’? –

The Ukraine war is not the first time that an international crisis has brought Central Asia more into focus.

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 in 2020, Mike Pompeo, urged 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 a mistake in viewing Central Asia as a “backwater” linked to other policies and would do better with a strategy that values ​​the autonomy of regional leaders.

“These countries are actually in a really interesting position to balance Russia and China against each other, and a lot of them have done that quite cleverly,” she said.

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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