On the first stage of a tour to Central Asia, which has long been seen as Russia’s backyard but has received increased attention from the West since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron landed in Kazakhstan on Wednesday.
oil-filled Already, Kazakhstan has established itself as a major link in the new China-Europe trade route that circumvents Russia and as a substitute supplier of oil to European countries, cutting off Russian supply.
At a meeting with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Macron complimented Kazakhstan for refusing to side with Moscow on Ukraine and said the two countries signed business deals, including a declaration of intent for a partnership in the much-sought area of rare earths and rare metals.
Russia has voiced concern at the West’s growing diplomatic activity in former Soviet Central Asian nations. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week the West was trying to pull Russia’s “neighbours, friends and allies” away from it.
“I don’t underestimate by any means the geopolitical difficulties, the pressures … that some may be putting on you,” Macron told Tokayev.
“France values … the path you are following for your country, refusing to be a vassal of any power and seeking to build numerous and balanced relations with different countries in the interest of your people. Such a philosophy is close to France.”
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, where Macron goes next, have refused to recognise Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territories and have pledged to abide by Western sanctions against Moscow, while calling both Russia and Western nations such as France their strategic partners.
“We respect our friends, we are here when they need us and we respect their independence,” Macron said. “And in a world where major powers want to become hegemons, and where regional powers become unpredictable, it is good to have friends who share this philosophy.”
In addition to oil, Kazakhstan is a major exporter of uranium, and France’s Orano already operates a joint venture with its state nuclear firm Kazatomprom.
“We can call your visit historic, very important,” Tokayev told Macron.