Central Asia: Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell to the press

Good morning and thank all of you to be here in this final press point, after an intense and profitable visit to the region, which has combined meetings with all countries in the region in the framework of the Ministerial Meeting with Central Asia and [a] bilateral visit to the host country.
Allow me to try to debrief about what we have been doing here since Monday and how we have been reinforcing our relationship with Central Asia, our cooperation between the European Union and Central Asia. We call it Central Asia, but it is more than central to Asia, [it] is becoming central to the world because this region is becoming strategically important and for us [it is] an important partner. And we wish to develop the Central Asia region [as] a stronger, prosperous, and more closely interconnected economic and political space. Central Asia is in the middle of the way between Europe and [East] Asia. It is a space for connectivity, but also for cooperation, and we want cooperation more than rivalry. And we believe that we can make a strong contribution to the future of the region. The Central Asian states show determination in their commitment to regional cooperation among them, and to the reform of the democratic way inside before each one of them.
In this Joint Ministerial Meeting and [in] our bilateral talks with Foreign Ministers, and in the activities that my colleague [Commissioner Jutta] Urpilainen [of International Partnerships] has been developing, we have been looking at options to take our cooperation forward in a broad range of issues. We have focused on intensifying our joint actions to promote a green and sustainable post-corona recovery; and stepping up our cooperation in the context of the situation in Afghanistan. I think that there are the two to issues that have been determining the frame of our discussions: Afghanistan – big geo-political problem in the neighbourhood; and the post-corona recovery, following the lines of digitalisation and greening the economies and societies.
And this is a good moment to take advantage of these issues. For me personally, it is my second visit to Central Asia. This year [I] had the possibility of meeting the leaders of the region in the Tashkent Meeting on Connectivity, just some days before the fall of Kabul. And, many of the Presidents of the Central Asian countries, particularly Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, have visited, or will visit Brussels shortly. Additionally, to this increasing relationship between the European Union and Central Asia region, we have launched our first ever European Union – Central Asia Economic Forum that brought together high-level business representatives and decision makers from the two regions.
Allow me to have a look at each one of the countries of the region, because, as I said, we are combining bilateral visit with the regional engagement.
Starting with Kazakhstan. With Deputy Prime Minister and Minister [of Foreign Affairs, Mukhtar] Tileuberdi, we appreciated that our corporation is developing well. We are the first trade partner and the first foreign investor in Kazakhstan. And we fully support the green agenda and the efforts to diversify its economy. Certainly, they will have to diversify their economy because our Green Deal and the general fight against climate change will make a big change on the energy mix of the world. And we welcome Kazakhstan ambitious goal to reduce the house gas emissions by 50% in 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. I welcome the interest of Kazakhstan in stepping up cooperation with us on the low carbon and green technologies to meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets. We also discussed the continued success of our high-level business platform. I expressed appreciation for the progress made in addressing concerns, shared by EU investors, with regard to the barriers to trade and investment and taxation and their recent discussion of the transition to low carbon green technologies and sustainable forestry and agriculture.
With the Kyrgyz Republic, with Minister [Ruslan] Kazakbayev [of Foreign Affairs], we discussed how to upgrade our bilateral relations. The developments in Afghanistan and the future cooperation in connectivity. We are very much engaged in supporting the Kyrgyz Republic politically and economically. The Minister and us, we agreed that the recovery from the crisis should be an opportunity to promote this partnership.
On Tajikistan, the host country, we focused very much on Afghanistan. As Tajikistan is one of the frontline states, 1,400 kilometres of border, [it is] a very difficult border to control, I had the opportunity to get to know it. [It] makes Tajikistan a country very much affected by the crisis in Afghanistan. And we have to thank for the active role Tajikistan has played in the region recently and I especially appreciate the positive role [that it] play[s] in promoting a positive and cooperative regional agenda on Afghanistan. We stand together to help the country to manage some of the most challenging repercussions of developments in Afghanistan, be it uncontrolled mass migration, and by the time being has not happened, radicalisation and terrorism, illicit drugs and trafficking of human beings. And we thank Tajikistan for its particular role in the context of the United Nations, in the case of water and reaffirm our support for the organisation of the Dushanbe Water Conference in 2022, co-organised with the Netherlands, that I hope will give us a new opportunity to visit this country. We considered also the border dispute with the Kyrgyz Republic. We enquired about the state of play of negotiations between the two countries and [the] demarcation. And we encourage all bilateral disputes in the region to be settled through peaceful means.
We discussed also with Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is an important partner and a strong champion of our regional cooperation with Central Asia. We expressed our gratitude for the role that they are playing getting humanitarian support to the Afghan people. We discussed the progress on reforms and also reviewed progress in our negotiations for a new Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and Uzbekistan. And we will be in the Conference on Connectivity that is going to take place in Samarkand to look at the new routes and new corridors of the two regions in order to be very much present in the development of the region.
I want to stress to all countries, and in particular, to Uzbekistan. We discussed together and bilaterally the issue of the situation in Belarus and the artificial crisis, [which] is not a migration crisis, but it is a crisis that has been created using migrants in the Belarusian borders with the European Union. I asked all [Foreign] Ministers to take measures to prevent their airports and territories from being misused for potential migrants and trafficking movements. In some countries we have not perceived such moves, in others like in Uzbekistan, yes. There has been a clear and strong movement of people to Belarus, and from Belarus to the European borders. In all meetings, in all conversations with our colleagues, Ministers, they were very much concerned about that, and they ensured us that they were going to take all needed measures to prevent that their airports and territories [are] being misused for potential migrants and trafficking movements. So, we appreciate very much this response, especially from Uzbekistan – fast action in restricting the flights to Minsk. This is one of the [most] important deliveries of this meeting. The whole region, and in particular, Uzbekistan, expressed their strong commitment to stop the flow of migrants to Belarus, where they are going to be used against the European borders; they are cheated and they are being sent to nowhere. They were promised a way to Europe and they found themselves lost in the woods in a very dire humanitarian situation. Please, help us all the media to inform people that this promise of a free and easy way to go to Europe through Belarus is a trap. I count on you to disseminate this news.
With Uzbekistan we have a strong relationship, we expressed our appreciation for the role it plays in getting humanitarian support for the Afghan people.
And finally, with Turkmenistan, with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hajiyev, I confirmed our readiness to strengthen relations. I reiterated that improvement in the field of democracy and human rights are required in order to unlock the potential in our relations. In particular, the ratification of the European Union-Turkmenistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. We also discussed the security situation in Afghanistan and the Turkmenistan-Afghan border. And we appreciated [that] the positive impact of Turkmenistan on the neutrality and status contributed to regional stability and their efforts to support stabilisation and reconstruction in Afghanistan.
I thank a lot to Tajikistan for the strong support they provided to Afghanistan by providing electricity. I put that as an example yesterday in an interview with the European press. When we talk about support to Afghan people, this is a good example of a country that does not recognise the Taliban regime, but in spite of that, provides an important support providing electricity, that by the time being is not being paid, and in spite of that it continues with the supply of critical resources to allow the Afghans to face the winter season. You can help people in Afghanistan, without a recognition of the regime. That is what Tajikistan is doing. And I certainly have to say that this is a good example for the international community to provide not only money, but a critical good, which is electricity, especially in these difficult circumstances. Other the countries are doing the same. Certainly, the approach to Afghanistan is not the same among the different countries of the region. We noticed it, but the will to continue cooperating on the issue of borders, on facing the crisis in Afghanistan, improving the democracy, stability, prosperity in the region is our strong commitment.
It has been a very interesting visit. Now [I] know much more about the region, and about Tajikistan. And on my behalf, and on behalf of Commissioner [for International Partnerships, Jutta] Urpilainen, [I want] to thank for the warm welcome and all kinds of attentions that Tajikistan’s authorities [have provided to us], the good organisation of the conference, and the good prospects for our future cooperation.
https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-214514