Russia’s war against Ukraine is causing all the successor states of the Soviet Union to wonder whether they, too, might sometime face a challenge to their sovereignty. In Moscow’s view, belonging to the “Russian world” is not an offer of friendship, but – since 24 February if not before – a veiled threat. It is therefore all the more important for us Europeans to stand up for every country’s right to self-determination, for the principles of the UN Charter and of the OSCE, and for partnership amongst equals.
The countries of central Asia always hoped to be a bridge between Russia, China and Europe. Now they find themselves thoroughly caught in the middle and fear ending up as pawns. It is important to me that the future holds more for them than merely the choice between being straitjacketed in Russia’s front yard or being dependent on China. And so my main aim in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan is to listen to the hopes and expectations that people there are pinning on Europe in the current circumstances.
This trip, in the 30th anniversary year of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, also sends a signal: Germany is not turning away. On the contrary: we retain close bonds with central Asia – economic and cultural links, but also many personal ties. And we have no need to hide given the opportunities we offer for the future.
There is huge potential: Uzbekistan has a population of over 35 million and saw its economy grow by 7.4% in 2021. Kazakhstan holds enormous potential for the expansion of the hydrogen industry and has close economic ties with Germany going back decades. So close, that 85% of Germany’s trade with the countries of central Asia is with Kazakhstan.
In order to make use of the opportunities, we must at last push forward with networking central Asia with Europe more effectively, for example in the EU Global Gateway initiative. Germany and Europe offer honest and fair opportunities that are not intended to create new dependencies or rely on financial leverage. To my mind, a partnership between equals means making it clear over and over again that economic development and human rights are two sides of the same coin. Because reliable rules provide the best investment protection for companies and because there can only be lasting prosperity and security if people’s rights are guaranteed.