There has been a steady stream of U.S. officials traveling through Central Asia over the past year.Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Lou Donald stops in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in aprilthat same month, the Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crime Elizabeth Rosenberg assistant secretary for export enforcement from the departments of treasury and commerce Matthew S. Axelrod. this week, Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, chairman of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, visited Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
During Peters’ visit to Kazakhstan, some news came out: Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said that a Kazakh conference reading“Thanks to President Joe Biden for his personal invitation to the inaugural C5+1 Leaders Summit to be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.”
A Brief History of C5+1
For nearly a decade, the C5+1 has brought together the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan with their US counterparts. November 2015Then-Secretary of State John Kerry became the first secretary of state to visit all five countries in Central Asia at once, on a jaunt that first bypassed Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent (and the country’s troubled president, Mr. Karimov), meeting with the central government. Asian Foreign Minister in the ancient city of Samarkand.The new format was previewed on September of that year, when Kerry met the region’s foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.exist 2016C5+1 met in Washington in early August.
A change of government ensued, and while the C5+1 platform went well, its effectiveness was tempered in part by the repeated absence of senior US diplomats.
Central Asian foreign ministers meet with Donald Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson September 2017 during the UN General Assembly. earlier this yearA C5+1-branded security working group meets in Dushanbe, but at a lower level than ministerial.
exist July 2018Afterwards, the C5+1 met again in Uzbekistan — this time in Tashkent under the new leadership — but without the US secretary of state. Tillerson had been replaced by Mike Pompeo earlier this year, but the U.S. delegation was led by Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia Henry Earnschel. The group gathered in Kazakhstan’s capital — during its brief days in Nur-Sultan — August 2019, the US Secretary of State was absent from the so-called “C5+1 high-level security discussions” again. During the UN General Assembly that year, Pompeo finally hosted his first C5+1 meeting.
Then came 2020. Before the year was derailed by COVID-19, Pompeo made the trek to Central Asia and met with counterparts from the region in Tashkent in 2020. February 3.
In 2021, the new US administration will take over C5+1. The group met virtually with incoming Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. April 2021.On-site meeting on July That same year, the U.S. delegation was led by Deputy National Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.
exist 2022The Ukrainian war changed America’s interest in Central Asia. C5+1 reconvenes during UN General Assembly and convenes in November U.S. announces a new $25 million economic plan focused on the region.
The concept of C5+1 was not invented by the United States (this honor seems to belong to Japan(The “Central Asia + Japan” dialogue was launched in 2004), but Washington does use it as a platform for replication. The reason is not hard to understand: external powers find it easiest to deal with this region of Central Asia.
But America’s two biggest rivals, China and Russia, quickly stifled the U.S. effort by elevating the format to the presidential level.exist 2020China held its first (virtual) C5+1 foreign ministers meeting, but next year— January 2022 — Beijing took the meeting up a notch and held it as chairman, albeit still virtually.exist May 2023However, five Central Asian presidents—Kasim-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan, Sadr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan, Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan Presidents of Stein, Serdar Berdymukhamedov and Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev – traveled to Xi’an, where Chinese leader Xi Jinping rolled out the red carpet. (Both literally and figuratively: there is a Red carpetalthough I doubt that Xi Jinping himself launched it).
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin saw Central Asian leaders on the sidelines of several other common forums — some under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and others in Shanghai Under the auspices of the Collaborative Organization (SCO) — October 2022 Moscow announced that it will host the “First Russia-Central Asia Summit” in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
Earlier this summer, in Bishkek, an OSCE Academy student asked me whether it would be possible for an American president to meet all five Central Asian presidents, as Xi Jinping and Putin have done. I have my own answer: it’s unlikely to go beyond the UN General Assembly, as no sitting US president has visited the region, except in Afghanistan, and there are complex political dynamics to such a meeting. Still, I asked Leslie Viguerie, the U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan same question. He deftly sidestepped the point, saying: “There’s always an opportunity. But it’s really a White House decision.”
If the Kazakh president’s remarks are anything to go by, the White House appears to have made a decision: it’s time for the US president to sit down with the Central Asian counterpart.
To be clear, the Biden administration has yet to announce such a plan. That said, it seems unlikely that Astana would state such a thing so publicly if it wasn’t in the works.
The logistics and politics are tricky. Presidents of Central Asian countries do not visit the United States very often. It’s been a long trip, and the political distance is even greater. For example, no Central Asian president has been invited to make a state visit, and the manner in which such visits are conducted will be subject to intense scrutiny.the president of kazakhstan has Most Visited to the U.S.But most of these visits were “working visits” or for other specific purposes, such as the NATO 50th anniversary summit in 1999 or the nuclear security summit in 2010. When Central Asian presidents travel to the United States in person, they almost always attend the U.N. General Assembly — and those five meetings don’t happen every year.
As Washington continues to seek ways to support Ukraine, nothing is more important than rallying the international community to support Kiev against Moscow. As we have already detailed, the Central Asian countries are undoubtedly in a difficult position, trapped geographically and politically between Russia and other countries. But as Central Asian governments try to walk a tightrope of neutrality over the war, the rope has gotten thinner and the wind has picked up.Central Asian people drastically Divided into The war in Ukraine has put Russia in a bind, and governments argue that Russia is too precarious to commit economic suicide.
In a way, the West has figured it out. Last summer, the United States imposed secondary sanctions on a country. Uzbek company Participated in circumventing sanctions on Russia; same this summer Kyrgyzstan Companies for the same reasons (a Kazakh companies are also sanctioned, but related to the defunct Russia-North Korea arms deal. )
Then there is China. If Russia’s war in Ukraine is damaging its relations with Central Asia, China stands ready to be a strong, stable partner. Given the synergy between Russia and China in the ideology of the international order, Beijing’s gain is not necessarily Moscow’s loss. But it could be a missed opportunity for the United States and Europe if they do not seize the opportunity to deepen engagement with Central Asia at a time when Central Asia faces a host of difficulties, many of them economic.
So if Biden does meet the Central Asian presidents in New York, he will have both Russia and China in mind. However, it would be a mistake for Washington to describe U.S. engagement with Central Asia in such starkly geopolitical terms, ignoring regional interests and concerns. Nuance matters, and no country wants to be seen as merely a tool to solve a larger problem.