Following the visits by EU Council President Charles Michel to Astana and Tashkent last week, Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is pursuing a similar path with similar goals this week.
In a statement prior to the visit, Baerbock did not hide the overarching geopolitical intent of her visit.
“Russia’s war on Ukraine has all of the successor states of the Soviet Union wondering if their sovereignty might eventually be challenged,” began a statement attributed to Baerbock and released Oct. 30. The statement concludes: “In order to take advantage of the opportunities, we must finally do more to connect Central Asia with Europe.” “Germany and Europe offer honest and fair opportunities that are not intended to create new dependencies or to have financial leverage to bet,” Baerbock explained in a stitch that was probably intended for Moscow. Finally, the Federal Minister emphasized that “[t]For me, a partnership on an equal footing means making it clear again and again that economic development and human rights are two sides of the same coin.”
In the preview of the trip to Central Asia, the Federal Foreign Office highlighted Uzbekistan’s large population and Kazakhstan’s large energy reserves, in addition to the fact that 85 percent of all German trade with Central Asian countries is with Kazakhstan.
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Baerbock first stopped in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, on October 31, where she met with senior Kazakh officials, including Kazakh Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov and Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi.
The Federal Foreign Office summarized Baerbock’s press conference with her Kazakh counterpart in three main points: A recognition of Kazakhstan’s ties with Russia and praise for the fact that “advocated international law“; of the country green hydrogen potentialI; and a statement that “[s]Sustainable growth only takes place where human rights are guaranteed.”
During the visit, Baerbock announced that Germany would open a “hydrogen diplomacy” office in Astana, with the aim of becoming “a hub for the exchange of experts and leaders from both countries in the future” to reduce emissions. Also in the green energy space is a recently announced $50 billion deal in which Dresden, Germany-based Svevind Energy Group will work with Kazakhstan to build a 20-gigawatt green hydrogen plant powered by powered by wind and sun. According to Bloomberg, “The Electrolysers [at the plant] be able to produce up to 2 million tons of green hydrogen per year from 2032, which is about a fifth of the EU target for imported green hydrogen in 2030.”
More than Michel during his visits to the region, Baerbock emphasized the link between respect for human rights and sustainable development.
On November 1, Baerbock met with her Uzbek counterpart Vladimir Norov in Tashkent. According to a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “Baerbock said Germany wanted a partnership of equals, without credit tricky and with transparency.” This could be read as a latch aimed at both Russia and China. She again formulated economic success as a product of stability and improvements in human rights.
On her trip to Central Asia, Baerbock will be accompanied by a German business delegation, who are described in some media as energy and infrastructure specialists. Her visit to Uzbekistan will conclude with a trip to Samarkand, where an irrigation project built with Berlin support and a mining operation can be seen.
Energy and business considerations lie at the core of Europe’s ties to Central Asia, and Russian aggression in Ukraine is the immediate motivation to seek deeper ties at this very moment. Baerbock tried harder than Michel to connect German – and European – human rights concerns with broader economic and political ambitions. It is an attempt to persuade both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that, if they are to see the success of their respective reform programs, they must not ignore human rights obligations, while at the same time offering support in these efforts when the region’s other partners – Russia and China – may be involved elsewhere.