17.11.2023 Author: Boris Kushhov

Take two – Macron is tilting at windmills of “Continental Asia”

The French President Emmanuel Macron’s tour of Central Asia, who visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, came to an end on November 2 in Tashkent.

The French president’s rhetoric this time was almost exactly the same as it had been during his summer visit to Mongolia. “This is the path for your country, which refuses to be a vassal of any powers and wants to maintain balanced relations with different countries in the interest of your people.” Such statements, with only minor variations, haunt the French president’s revolving entourage of interlocutors.

There is little doubt that Russia’s adversaries consider Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as potentially vital links in the Chinese-European routes that bypass Russia, as well as sources of gold, uranium, and now, due to Western countries’ renewed interest, rare earth metals. Additionally, they acknowledge Kazakhstan’s ability to replace Russia’s oil supply to Europe. In recent years, the Central Asian countries have drawn close extra-regional attention due to the wide range of aspirations and fantasies of Western politicians. Recall the highly publicized C5+1 summit between US President Biden and his counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Following Macron’s visit to Kazakhstan, numerous sectoral agreements were reached, including those for the construction of a wind power plant and maintaining of the country’s railroad network. Prospects for France’s participation in the construction of Kazakhstan’s first nuclear power plant, the prospect of supplying France with uranium and oil, and expanding the supply of individual French-made air defense systems were all actively debated.

However, the heads of France and Kazakhstan were unable to come to a mutually agreeable conclusion in their vision of the Ukrainian issue, Western news outlets, in particular, are taking note of this. To put it another way, Kazakhstan resisted France’s innuendos, which reminded us of a similar scheme that had been implemented during Macron’s visit to Mongolia. Compliance with anti-Russian sanctions proclaimed by Kazakhstan’s president, on the other hand, does not preclude the growth of the broadest range of Russian-Kazakh projects, as well as bilateral commerce and cooperation in bilateral and multilateral frameworks. Recall that in 2023, the value of trade between Kazakhstan and Russia rose by 7.5% and almost reached the 19 billion dollar threshold. The two nations have worked together on many different projects, including the sale of gas and oil; 143 bilateral projects in progress have a combined value of 33.5 billion dollars. On November 9, 2023, they were looking forward to the visit of the Russian President to Astana.

According to Macron and his Transatlantic allies, if one examines the situation in Central Asia from a point closer to the region—and with greater care and attention—rather than from Paris or Washington, these do not seem to be “anomalies” at all.

Kazakhstan has an extremely high potential of becoming a regional as well as continental transportation and infrastructure “hub” as a result of present continental trends. This state is unavoidably destined to play the most active role in the implementation and continued provision of the largest continental communications given the conditions of infrastructure development, which ensures the growing volumes of trade between China and the EU countries, the intensification of trade between the EAEU member states, and the current development of the prospective North–South Transport Corridor routes, which are supposed to stretch from Russia’s Siberia and Urals to India and Pakistan. Such a position is inextricably related to Kazakhstan’s economic expansion and the general well-being of its people.

In this context, Macron’s demands to “condemn Russia” and his remarks regarding “pressure on Kazakhstan” appear to be the most baseless assertions possible. The idea of classifying Kazakhstan’s possible partners into “encouraged” and “condemned” groups is completely incorrect and unethical, as the country’s current geopolitical and geo-economic circumstances make it immensely advantageous for Kazakhstan to pursue an open multi-vector policy. Regretfully, the French president remains merely capable of comprehending Western interests within the framework of the regional political and economic environment and does not possess any finer perception of local realities.

Kazakhstan’s geographic location, nearly entirely encircled by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)—a group of nations with close continental ties, including Russia and Iran, China and Pakistan, and Russia and China—means that the best course of action for this Central Asian republic’s foreign policy is to adhere to the logic of continental political and economic processes. No influence from outside the region will be able to overcome this.

Even while the republic has recently been successful in maintaining domestic political stability, it nevertheless depends on its close neighbors and allies, who are prepared to send Kazakhstan emergency international help if it finds it necessary and appropriate. The events of January 2022 illustrated this, when the Russian Federation supported the government of Kazakhstan without even thinking to take advantage of the temporary destabilization of its neighbor in its own interests. No extraregional power can provide Kazakhstan with such security guarantees, particularly one that is pushing it to distance itself from Russia.

Concurrently, the first visit to Uzbekistan by the French president since 1994 took place. In addition to establishing a legal framework for cooperation on modernizing Uzbekistan’s drinking water supply system, joint training of diplomatic personnel, and cooperation in the field of culture, the parties signed eight documents intended to increase opportunities for the French development agency to operate in Uzbekistan. President Emmanuel Macron has not made any hints about the relevance of the anti-Russian content in the communiqué of the leaders of the two countries. It is unclear if this was related to the awareness of the failure of this doubtful line or to the exhaustion of the stock of synonymous anti-Russian terms.

Therefore, the following enlightening conclusion can be drawn from Macron’s trips to Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan: No one will refuse a collaboration with a Western counterpart if the benefits outweigh the costs. On the other hand, no one will agree with this Western counterpart if it advises its Eastern counterpart to act contrary to objective political, economic, and geographical circumstances.


Boris Kushkhov, the Department for Korea and Mongolia at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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