Putin visits Kazakhstan, part of his efforts to cement ties with ex-Soviet neighbors

Last Updated on November 10, 2023 12:26 pm

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Kazakhstan on Thursday, part of his efforts to cement ties with the ex-Soviet neighbor and major economic partner in the midst of tensions with the West over Ukraine.

Putin’s talks in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana follow his trip last month to Kyrgyzstan for a summit of ex-Soviet nations and a visit to China.

Speaking at the start of his talks with Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Putin hailed “multi-faceted” ties between the countries and said they would determine new areas of “strategic” cooperation.

Oil-rich Kazakhstan and other Central Asian nations have maintained a delicate balancing act, preserving strong economic ties with Moscow but refusing to recognize its annexation of Ukrainian regions.

Speaking after the talks, Tokayev noted that Russia has been Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching a record $27 billion last year. “We have large opportunities for further expansion of the trade volume,” he said.

Russian and Kazakh officials signed several agreements on energy, customs and labor issues.

Putin said the two countries set “really ambitious tasks for further strengthening of the comprehensive strategic partnership.”

The Russian leader has made few foreign trips since he sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022. The International Criminal Court’s move to indict Putin in March for alleged war crimes connected to the deportation of children from Ukraine has affected his travel as any country that is party to the court is obliged to arrest him on its soil. Kazakstan isn’t part of the agreement that created the tribunal.

Putin’s trip to Kazakhstan comes days after French President Emmanuel Macron visited Astana and hailed Tokayev for withstanding geopolitical “pressures,” in a hint at Moscow’s efforts to keep the neighbor in its orbit.

Relations with Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics in Central Asia have become increasingly important for Russia as it has sought new import routes to bypass bruising Western sanctions over its actions in Ukraine.

The U.S. and its allies have closely monitored Kazakhstan and other Central Asian nations to make sure they don’t serve as conduits for Russia to import Western high-tech products, bypassing the restrictions. Officials in Kazakstan and other countries in the region have repeatedly pledged to comply with the sanctions.

Russian officials, meanwhile, have voiced concern about what they describe as Western efforts to pull Moscow’s allies away from its orbit.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted last month that the West was aggressively courting Central Asian nations, offering them trade and economic benefits in order to discourage them from maintaining strong ties with Moscow.

He added that while countries of the region are free to choose their partners, Russia will try to protect Central Asian nations from “unscrupulous” overtures by the West.

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