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How Russia’s War on Ukraine Opened the Door to New Partnerships That may End its Only Remaining Leverage

Since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine Central Asian states and the EU have been forging ties to end their reliance on the sanctioned country

Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has led to countries around the world finding ways to end their reliance on the country. Photo: Alamy

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted countries around the world to expand and diversify their trade and energy relations to end their reliance on the Russian Federation and in the 27 months since, considerable progress has been made.

Since Vladimir Putin‘s attack on 24 February 2022, five Central Asian states have taken steps to build and further develop relationships with Western countries and organisations including the European Union, who were similarly reliant on Russia.

Before the war, nearly 10% of EU imports came from the Russian Federation and 40% of its gas, and in 2023, it purchased 35 million barrels of refined fuel from the now sanctioned country. Russia is estimated to have made over €1 billion from the sales. In 2021, imports from Russia made up 4% of gas used in the UK, 9% of oil and 27% of coal with a combined value of £4.5 billion. This fell to £2.2 billion in 2022 and £1.3 billion in the year to January 2023, Government figures show.

Over the past two years, meetings between EU and Central Asian dignitaries have become more frequent as they pursue greater trade relations to boost their economies, diversify their energy markets and diminish their reliance on Russia.

Last year dignitaries from the five Central Asian states met with their European counterparts in Luxembourg and the EU agreed to support Central Asia’s efforts to “modernise and facilitate trade within and beyond the region” and “diversify their transport routes,” which would bolster their trade relations. The group also discussed how the EU and Central Asia can establish a “more integrated regional market”.

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Then, earlier this year, the EU and Central Asian states held a forum, and announced the Prosperity Programme, which will move toward “trade facilitation along the Trans-Caspian Transport Corridor”.

The EU committed to helping Central Asian states develop better relations with the World Trade Organisation and the European Commission stated it would invest €10 billion in sustainable transport connectivity to Central Asia to strengthen trade relations. The aim is to make the Trans-Caspian Transport Corridor operational in 2024, making Central Asia less dependent on Russia.

Enhancing the EU-Central Asia energy market will strengthen energy security for all involved. Central Asia is a region rich in natural minerals and earth elements and gas from the area could “help the EU diversify its energy supply” and make it no longer a captive of Russia’s energy empire and reliant on a single entity.

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The EU has signed a Memoranda of Understanding with Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to further enhance their energy relationship. In a recent announcement, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan stated they aim to connect their energy systems and work together to further export green energy to the EU.

In return, the EU can help Central Asia achieve its own energy independence by sharing “know-how on renewable energy and energy efficiency,” which would help the region transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The countries in the region already have several earth minerals required for clean technology. It can also help Central Asia modernise and improve its energy sector.

In a relatively short period, EU-Central Asian relations appear to have strengthened with real developments underway, but only time will tell if they will achieve their aims.

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