French President Emmanuel Macron embarked on a visit to Kazakhstan, marking the initial leg of his Central Asia tour. This region, traditionally considered Russia's sphere of influence, has gained renewed Western attention in light of the Ukraine conflict.
Kazakhstan, an oil-rich nation, has assumed a crucial role as a substitute crude oil supplier for European countries seeking alternatives to Russian sources. It also plays a pivotal role in the China-Europe trade route that circumvents Russia. Additionally, Kazakhstan is a significant exporter of uranium, and France's Orano collaborates with Kazatomprom, the country's state nuclear firm.
During his meeting with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Macron commended Kazakhstan for maintaining an independent stance in the Ukraine crisis, refraining from aligning with Moscow. The leaders signed various business agreements, including a declaration of intent to cooperate in the realm of rare earths and rare metals, highly sought-after resources.
Macron conveyed his appreciation for Kazakhstan's commitment to pursuing balanced relations with various nations while resisting external pressures. He stated, "France values... the path you are following for your country, refusing to be a vassal of any power and seeking to build numerous and balanced relations with different countries."
Russia has expressed concerns over increased Western diplomatic engagement in former Soviet Central Asian states. While acknowledging Kazakhstan's sovereignty, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that the country was free to develop ties with any nations. However, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently commented on Western efforts to draw Russia's "neighbors, friends, and allies" away from Moscow.
Kazakhstan and the subsequent destination on Macron's tour, Uzbekistan, have declined to recognize Russia's annexation of Ukrainian territories and have committed to abiding by Western sanctions against Russia. They have emphasized both Russia and Western nations like France as their strategic partners.
Macron emphasized the importance of having friends who share a philosophy of independence and non-alignment amid global power dynamics. He underscored the significance of respecting Kazakhstan's sovereignty.
Regarding Macron's visit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov highlighted Russia's high regard for its relations with Kazakhstan, emphasizing historical ties and a strategic partnership. He noted that both countries' interests converged in many international forums.
This visit underscores the evolving geopolitical landscape in Central Asia and the growing engagement of Western nations in the region, particularly in the context of energy resources and strategic partnerships.