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Borrell Won’t Be Able to Tempt Central Asia Away From Russia

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Borrell Won’t Be Able to Tempt Central Asia Away From Russia

Friday, November 25, 2022

Ahmed Adel, Cairo-based geopolitics and political economy researcher

Josep Borrell’s plan to construct new transportation corridors between the European Union and Central Asia, which will bypass Russia, will be difficult to achieve due to issues of geography. The EU is already economically suffering because of their refusal to deal with Russia and it can be expected that any corridors bypassing the Eurasian Giant will also face the same issues.

The only other feasible route for an EU-Central Asia corridor is from Greece and Turkey or the Black Sea to the Caucasus and then the Caspian Sea. However, given the immense tensions between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, and the actual conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, this is a region of instability. This also does not take into account other conflicts on the periphery, such as Syria and Iraq, and the decades-long Kurdish struggle for independence. Such destabilization creates logistical issues. 

Borrell visited the Uzbek city of Samarkand on November 17 and 18 to participate in the “EU-Central Asia Connectivity Conference: Global Gateway”. There, he discussed regional partnerships and cooperation between the EU and Central Asia.

The main interest the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has in Central Asia, specifically Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, are natural resources. Along with the resources, European companies also want access to new markets. Just as importantly though, Borrell hopes that these countries will move away from their traditional relations with Russia and bring them closer to the EU.

Although these countries will certainly be enthusiastic to engage more with the EU, it will not and cannot come at the expense of relations with Moscow, just as it will be impossible to completely exclude Russia from the effective and efficient delivery of goods between the European Union and Central Asia.

The attempt to completely break from Moscow will cost Europe even more dearly than the current sanctions as attempting to bypass Russia as part of transport logistics will lead to higher prices of goods.

Borrell admitted that the EU’s plan includes exploiting Central Asia’s enormous potential, which is reflected in the supply of energy, the supply of critical raw materials and new transport corridors that are independent of Russia. At the same time, the European head of diplomacy specified that Russia and China still play an important role in Central Asia, however, according to him, the countries of this region want to diversify trade and economic relations and therefore consider the EU as a suitable partner.

At the moment, certain shipments of raw materials, rare earth metals and fertilizers arrive in Europe from Central Asia, but not in the quantities that is needed. Notably, a lot of these products arrive in Europe having been transported via Russia. It is for this reason that the exclusion of Russia from this supply chain, and particularly from a geographical point of view, is very hard to do.

The most feasible route that does not include Russia is from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, Georgia, and eventually to Turkey and Greece or directly across the Black Sea to Romania and Bulgaria. However, a lot of time and resources are needed to realize that plan, something certainly not feasible in the short to medium term.

It is recalled that the EU previously tried to create a trans-Eurasian land bridge across Turkey and the South Caucasus to China, but this project proved to be economically ineffective as all transport corridor projects bypassing Russia are full of significant geographical and logistical barriers.

Nevertheless, Brussels will not give up active attempts to implement the transport corridor project to Central Asia which bypasses Russia, especially considering the current geopolitical situation and their blind support for Ukraine. The EU has already demonstrated that it will not backtrack from self-destructive anti-Moscow sanctions and will instead deepen their economic woes by imposing further sanctions.

Therefore, it cannot be considered surprising if the EU does go ahead in building corridors that will ramp up product prices because the delivery bypassed Russia.

It is beyond doubt that Central Asian countries may be interested in diversifying their economic partners and may consider alternatives, but they will not give up their cooperation with Russia. In fact, it is more likely that Central Asia will draw away from the EU if there are insistences that certain policies and values must be implemented, including the lessening of cooperation and relations with Russia.

Source: InfoBrics

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