EU intent may be there but achieving Central Asian goals in displacing China and Russia is likely to be elusive
The Federal President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and German Chancelor Olaf Schulz have met with the heads of the Central Asian countries in Berlin. Germany is the developer of the EU strategy for Central Asia (CA) and the new EU initiative Global Gateway. It has launched a dialogue platform for the countries of the region in a 5+1 (Central Asia and EU) format. Germany is interested in obtaining resources from Central Asia, where its interests do not otherwise overlap with the interests of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Japan in the region.
The EU is also trying to achieve the maximum possible reduction in political and economic cooperation between the Central Asian states and Russia, as well as attempt to reduce its interaction with China.
Steinmeier visited Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in June of this year, where he sought support for providing Germany with energy and other necessary raw materials, such as oil, rare earth metals and, in the future, hydrogen. At present however, Kazakhstan cannot fulfil all its obligations. Of the planned 1.2 million tonnes of oil, only 900,000 tonnes will be delivered to Germany by 2023 year end. However, the main point being made here is not the volumes, but the political demonstration that the EU excludes dealing with Russia under its sanctions, and energy rich countries are prepared to take its position in the energy markets. Germany and the EU are looking to encourage this.
According to Alexander Vorobyov, the head of the Centre for Public Diplomacy and World Policy Analysis, research fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the meeting complements the recent New York summit with US President Joe Biden and the heads of state of Central Asia on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
“It should be expected that Germany, like other Western partners, will adhere to the rhetoric of supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Central Asian states, while hinting that they should not get too close to China and Russia and, should not violate anti-Russian sanctions. In return, political support, investment in various sectors and technological partnerships will be promised. However, the problem for the West here is that it cannot compensate the Central Asian countries for lost income. Investments will be clearly modest compared to Chinese investments and the sheer volumes of Russian trade.”
While it is true that EU exports to Central Asia has also significantly increased, the dilemma for the European Union and Germany is that nearly all of these increases are actually due to goods being resold onto the Russian markets from Central Asian middle-men. Clamping down on this trade would
mean European manufacturers suffering and produce significant job losses at a time when their economies, and especially that of Germany, are already weak.
According to Vorobyov, the same can be said about transport and energy infrastructure projects. Germany and other Western countries cannot open their markets to most goods from Central Asian countries, with the exception of energy resources. Therefore, such meetings will not change the supply chain situation. Instead, they are a demonstration of intent, while the Central Asian states will negotiate bonuses from increased attention to themselves while essentially continuing to develop Russian and Chinese trade and investments.
Kyrgyz political scientist Denis Berdakov, a Director of the Trans-border Research Network of Central Eurasia, believes that the processes launched in the spring at the 5+1 summit Central Asia-China quite strongly affected the European Union. “The West has come to understand that it is necessary to launch a qualitatively new paradigm of communication with Central Asia.
First, if we look at the meeting of the leaders of the Central Asian countries with Biden in New York, demands concerning LGBTQ, human rights and ethnic minorities, and so on have disappeared.
Second, special attention was focused on green energy, the development of which is widely financed through grants and cheap loans for the countries of the region.
Third, German, Japanese, South Korean, Canadian, British, and American companies involved in rare earth metals mining will enter Central Asia as soon as possible. Along with this, small businesses will develop, for which efficient platforms will be created, with sites based on the European Union, South Korea, Japan and the United States.”
In his opinion, Central Asia is raising the stakes. The region is becoming much more interesting from the point of view of preserving its certain political autonomy and political unity within the framework of the “five”, creating operating structures that will be recognized on the world stage. Interestingly, at the New York summit there was no talk about anti-Russian sanctions; they faded into the background. Instead, a scramble for Central Asian minerals and rare earths is really behind the meetings.
Alexander Sobyanin, the head of the Asian Military-Cultural Centre and the Foundation for Promotion of Eurasian Integration, believes that the interests of Western countries in relation to Central Asia are different and there is no single agenda. “The United States is playing a game in the region against geopolitical competitors. These are France, Germany and Great Britain. The United States needs only one thing to oust these countries from its zone of influence: Central Asia, so that only three players remain in the region: America, Russia, and China. Therefore, America in Central Asia does not act as assertively and aggressively as it behaves in the South Caucasus or Ukraine. That is, each Western country has its own tasks, they are very different. But in Russia, we generalise them, calling them Anglo-Saxons. This is a big strategic mistake.
The interests of European countries in Central Asia are completely different. France needs uranium, Germany, in addition to resources, needs buyers for its goods. But they will not get what they want, since the Central Asian countries are entering a period of energy shortage. In the next few years, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan will face shortages of electricity, gas, coal, and
probably water. They will have no time for buying expensive German products and are more likely to remain with Russia as a supplier and China as a buyer.”
Source : Silk Road Breafing