http://www.turan.az- The five-day (January 31-03February) visit of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to 4 post-Soviet countries in the 2 + 2 format: two European states – Ukraine and Belarus and two Asian states – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have common grounds for choosing a route that is so unusual at first glance.
Ukraine and Belarus, which cover the western flank of Russia, are in open conflict with Moscow, and in particular Ukraine, which the Kremlin has imposed on the hybrid war for its open pro-Western aspirations. Two other Asian, Turkic countries, although they do not display an open pro-Western vector and do not irritate Moscow, however, they are diligently strengthening their own sovereignty and independence.
So what united these countries into a single Pompeo route? If you familiarize yourself with the State Department announcements about the upcoming Pompeo tour, you will notice one factor uniting these countries – reform. It should be noted that Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were heavy republics within the former USSR – area, population, economic potential. Post-Soviet perestroika noticeably shook their power, but all of them, despite internal contradictions and differences, made decisions on democratization and reforms.
Perhaps this factor and the readiness of these countries for changes formed the basis for the decision on the visit of Pompeo. The post-Soviet space is an object of strategic importance for the United States in terms of expanding its influence and at the stage of new changes in this region of the world; Washington considered it necessary to emphasize its solidarity with the processes in four countries. As part of the Pompeo visit, the US Foreign Office regularly emphasized the operational recognition by the United States of the independence of post-Soviet countries in 1991 and its support for sovereignty.
On the 2 + 2 tour, Pompeo publicly sought not to annoy Moscow, which continues to consider its post-Soviet augmentation zone of national interests. In Belarus, the Secretary of State emphasized that he does not pose the country with a choice of geopolitical orientation and does not seek to act to the detriment of Moscow’s interests: “Belarus has a long history with Russia, but we are not talking about a choice between us and them.”
However, at the same time, in spite of the Russians, he offered American oil to Minsk in exchange for Siberian oil and Ukraine’s weapon in the war with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Pompeo’s initiative to consolidate the efforts of Central Asian countries to counteract the policy of suppressing Uyghurs in China can also be called a horse move. The United States is increasingly turning its eyes to the Uyghur issue as part of its rivalry with China, and in this sense, are trying to enlist the support of five Central Asian (CA) countries, four of which are Turkic and have their own communities in China. Two aspects of this policy make Central Asian countries allies of Washington: the growing expansion of China into the region after the collapse of the USSR and the infringement of the ethnic and religious feelings of these states, which in a hidden form show solidarity with the Uyghurs belonging to the Turkic-Islamic world.
Pompeo raised the Uyghur issue at meetings with the leadership of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as well as during the meeting of the Foreign Ministries of the 5th country in the format of the strategic partnership “Central Asia – USA” (“C5 + 1”) in Tashkent. Although at the official level, these countries have shown restraint in relation to the American initiative against Beijing, it would be naive not to take into account their feelings, which were impaired by Chinese policies against the Uyghurs.
In Central Asia, Pompeo expressed open satisfaction with the reforms in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as well as with the growing influence and interaction of C5 + 1 in the light of recent changes in the region. “It has been proven that this group is becoming an increasingly effective way of coordinating the efforts of Central Asian countries, including the fight against terrorism and the expansion of regional economic and energy ties,” the Secretary of State said.
As in Kiev and Minsk, Pompeo sent a message to the Central Asian countries on the US determination to revive significantly political and business cooperation with the CIS countries, to increase the flow of American investment and the creation of security structures.
Washington has already prepared a new “US Strategy for Central Asia,” and Pompeo discussed it in Nursultan and Tashkent with his counterparts.
Washington justifies the need for a new strategy by saying that “China and Russia are fighting for influence in a region rich in energy resources, and militants from Afghanistan threaten to destabilize.”
The United States wants these countries to be sovereign, independent and territorially integrated, the State Department emphasizes. At a special state briefing on US-Central Asian relations held on December 13, 2019 in the State Department, the official state department said “… US national security interests will be satisfied if these countries can develop as independent countries, as well as carry out reforms that in our opinion, they need to have access to Western investment and markets.”