US-Central Asia relations are set to grow

What’s happened?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has opened a window of opportunity for greater US engagement in Central Asia. In September Joe Biden, the US president, hosted an inaugural summit between the US and the presidents of the five Central Asian states—Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan—which signalled increased US interest in building closer ties with the region. However, the material impact of this co-operation will be limited over the medium term.

Why does it matter?

Central Asia’s geopolitical and geostrategic importance to the US has increased since Russia invaded Ukraine, owing to several factors:

  • The Biden administration, along with other Western governments, views Central Asia as crucial to unlocking global trade routes bypassing Russia.
  • The US government is actively encouraging Central Asian governments to clamp down on sanctions evasion via their countries.
  • The US wishes to provide the leaders of the Central Asian countries, which have traditionally been Russian allies, with incentives to maintain their geopolitical distance from Russia and not to provide diplomatic cover for its war.
  • The US government sees Central Asia as a source of valuable resources, including oil and critical raw minerals such as uranium and other metals.

For their part, Central Asia’s leaders are working to diversify foreign-policy partnerships to reduce their political, economic and security dependence on Russia. At the same time, they wish to maintain cordial relations with Russia in order to maintain still-close trade and investment ties and avoid repercussions.

According to a White House statement, the US and Central Asian presidents discussed the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations. This was an oblique but significant signal of support in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Security, trade and investment, human rights, reforms to improve governance and the rule of law, and regional connectivity were also on the agenda of the summit, convened under the existing US-Central Asia dialogue “C5+1” format. Mr Biden proposed launching a critical minerals dialogue to develop the region’s mineral wealth and advance critical minerals security. This would fall under US efforts to support the development of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (informally called the Middle Corridor), a route linking China to Europe via Central Asia, the Caucasus and Turkey, bypassing Russia.

What next?

We believe that the recent high-level US-Central Asia summit signals an era of closer co-operation between the US and Central Asia, with a focus on trade and regional connectivity. At the same time, we maintain our forecast that the Central Asian states will maintain close relationships with Russia, despite the growing complexity of international relations in the region, during the forecast period (2024‑28).

The analysis and forecasts featured in this piece can be found in EIU’s Country Analysis service. This integrated solution provides unmatched global insights covering the political and economic outlook for nearly 200 countries, enabling organisations to identify prospective opportunities and potential risks.