Blinken in Central Asia as tensions rise over the war in Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting Kazakhstan, where he will meet with leading diplomats from Central Asian countries.

ByThe Associated Press

February 28, 2023, 1:59 am

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kazakhstan on Tuesday, where he met with top diplomats from Central Asian countries, as tensions rise over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Blinken sat down to negotiate with Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi and then with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. A meeting of the C5+1 group, made up of the United States and the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, is expected to follow.

At the meeting, Blinken will emphasize the United States’ commitment to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Central Asian countries, the State Department said in a statement that echoes the language it used to support Ukraine in its war against Russia.

Blinken’s visit to Astana and then to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan at the end of the week, is his first trip to Central Asia as foreign minister. Just a few days after the anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which shook the region.

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None of the five former Soviet Central Asian republics, traditionally part of the Kremlin’s sphere of influence, publicly supported the attack.

Last fall, Kazakhstan hosted tens of thousands of Russians fleeing military conscription. Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has spoken by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi three times since Russian troops entered Ukraine last February, calling for a diplomatic solution to the conflict “in accordance with the UN Charter and generally accepted norms of international law.” ”

However, all five Central Asian republics, as well as India, which Blinken will visit next, abstained from voting to condemn the invasion at the UN General Assembly last week on the war’s first anniversary.

U.S. officials hope Blinken can convince Central Asian nations that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine poses a threat to them.

For decades, the United States has been trying, without much success, to wean the former Soviet nations of the region from Moscow’s influence. Some, notably Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, provided logistical support to the United States during the 20-year conflict in Afghanistan.

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