Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Leaders from Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran Embark on Diplomatic Mission to Central Asia

Putin Makes Official Visit to Kazakhstan; Raisi, Erdogan, and Kakar Set to Attend Regional Economic Summit in Uzbekistan

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The recent flurry of diplomatic visits to Central Asia by leaders from Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan highlights the shifting dynamics in the region, which was traditionally dominated by Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, for discussions with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, indicating the growing importance of Central Asia in global geopolitics. This visit is part of a broader trend where major global powers are vying for influence in the region, marking a departure from the historical dominance of Russia in Central Asian affairs.

Indeed, the recent visits by world leaders to Central Asia underscore the region’s growing significance on the global stage. Just a week before Putin’s visit, French President Emmanuel Macron made a trip to the area, emphasizing the desire to “accelerate” economic cooperation. Simultaneously, leaders from Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan are convening in Uzbekistan for a regional economic summit, highlighting the region’s appeal as a hub for international collaboration.

This surge in diplomatic activity highlights a notable shift in the former Soviet countries’ approach, as they actively seek new partnerships and collaborations, signaling a decline in Russia’s historical influence in the region. Central Asian nations are increasingly opening up to diverse alliances, reflecting a changing geopolitical landscape in the heart of Eurasia.

Despite the changing geopolitical landscape, Russian President Putin and Kazakh President Tokayev expressed admiration for their countries’ relationship ahead of their meeting in Astana. Putin emphasized the forward-looking nature of their strategic partnership, while Tokayev described it as an alliance with a rich past and a bright future.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron take part in a welcome ceremony before their talks in Astana, Kazakhstan November 1 [Press service of the Kazakh President via Reuters]

However, in the context of more than three decades since the Soviet Union’s collapse and Russia’s involvement in a protracted 20-month war with Ukraine, Central Asian nations, including Kazakhstan, are actively exploring alliances with other global powers. This shift in focus indicates the region’s evolving political dynamics as it seeks diverse partnerships beyond historical affiliations.

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Jockeying for influence

In the global arena, there is intense competition for influence in Central Asia. China has emerged as a significant player due to its expansive Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure project spanning 150 countries. Alongside China, the European Union, the United States, Iran, and Turkey are all vying for control in this strategically important region.

Leaders from Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran Embark on Diplomatic Mission to Central Asia
Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Abdulla Oripov (L) greeting Pakistan’s Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar as he arrives at the Economic Cooperation Organization summit in Dushande. (Foreign Ministry of Uzbekistan via AFP)

A key event on the horizon is the regional Economic Cooperation Organisation summit in Tashkent, where leaders from Iran and Turkey, along with Pakistan’s prime minister and Central Asian leaders, will convene. Notably, the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, which has lasted for a month, is not on the summit’s agenda, according to Uzbekistan’s statement.

The conflict in Gaza escalated on October 7 when Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, resulting in the tragic loss of more than 1,400 lives, predominantly civilians, as reported by Israeli authorities. These geopolitical developments underscore the complex dynamics and power struggles shaping the Central Asian region.

In response to the escalating conflict with Hamas, Israel launched a relentless bombardment and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, resulting in the tragic loss of more than 10,500 lives, with over a third of them being children, as reported by Gaza’s health officials.

While Tehran, a supporter of Hamas, expressed its willingness to discuss the conflict, Turkish President Erdogan, a vocal critic of Israel who recently recalled his ambassador from Israel, is likely to raise the topic as well. The situation remains highly complex and contentious, with various stakeholders involved in the ongoing discussions and negotiations.

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Strengthening trade

At the upcoming summit, discussions are anticipated to center around crucial topics such as trade, humanitarian cooperation, and transportation. Central Asian nations, being landlocked, are actively seeking pathways to gain access to the sea, with Pakistan emerging as a key route for their trade endeavors.

Amidst these developments, Russia continues to play a significant role in the region, despite facing pressure. Moscow has responded by renewing investments in the energy sectors, especially after being excluded from most of the European market due to sanctions triggered by its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia has embarked on ambitious energy projects, such as supplying gas to Uzbekistan through Kazakhstan. Additionally, there are ongoing discussions about the construction of nuclear power plants and hydroelectric projects in several countries, indicating Moscow’s commitment to bolstering its partnerships and influence in Central Asia.

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