Russia’s weakened influence is an opportunity to expand ties with Central Asia

European Council Charles Michel with Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, June 2023.

In a report adopted on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs urge the EU to promote a strategic partnership with the five Central Asian countries – Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – where Russia’s standing has been weakened by its aggression against Ukraine. This has encouraged Central Asia to pursue cooperation with other actors like China, MEPs say, stressing that the EU now has an opportunity to expand its ties with the region and play a more prominent role. Increasing economic relations and intensifying political ties would also play a part in minimising the circumvention of sanctions by Russia and Belarus.

Key region for connectivity between East and West

The report underlines the crucial role Central Asian states play in ensuring stability in Afghanistan through the provision of humanitarian aid, as well as the region being a crucial area for containing religious extremism, terrorism and drug trafficking networks.

With Central Asia a key region for connectivity between East and West, MEPs also emphasise the potential for mutually beneficial cooperation – on sustainable development, connectivity, energy, critical raw materials and security.

Regarding the potential for achieving long-term regional stability in Central Asia, MEPs say settling conflicts, in line with international law and good neighbourly relations, as well as respect of the human rights, is decisive for the EU’s relations with the region.

Resolving the fundamental democratic shortcomings with respect of the rule of law

Along with resolving the fundamental democratic shortcomings with respect to democratic governance, the rule of law, and human rights protection, MEPs say Central Asian governments need to ensure that election processes are more transparent and fair for all political actors. They also want greater transparency in media ownership and financing, and are concerned about rampant corruption and kleptocracy eroding trust in government, fuelling inequality, depriving citizens of public services, and inhibiting economic growth.

Pave the way the start of a visa liberalisation dialogue

Noting the willingness of Central Asian states to start a visa liberalisation dialogue with the EU, the report calls on the Commission to intensify work on comprehensive reform roadmaps for these governments to pave the way for visa facilitation and readmission agreements.

“It is time for the EU to strengthen relations with Central Asia. The region is geopolitically important, Central Asian countries are interested in engagement with Europe, and our cooperation will lead to benefits for both sides. The basis of our relations must be democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights,” rapporteur Karsten Lucke (S&D) said.

The report was adopted by 51 votes in favour, 3 against and 1 abstention.

The report will now be submitted to a vote in the European Parliament as a whole at one of the next plenary sessions.

Explore more