Blinken Starts Asia Trip With Promise Of New Aid To Central Asia

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ASTANA -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has promised to help ease the reliance of countries in Central Asia on Moscow as concern over the Kremlin's influence grows amid its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Visiting the Kazakh capital, Astana, on February 28, Blinken announced $25 million in new support to diversify trade routes and create jobs in the region at the C5+1 diplomatic summit attended by the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Amid Moscow's war against Ukraine, Blinken said the United States backed the "sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity" of the nations of Central Asia, which like Ukraine are former Soviet republics.

The Kazakh presidential press service said President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev called Blinken's visit "important as an additional impetus to our strategic cooperation."

The C5+1 diplomatic summit has been held several times since 2015.

The U.S. State Department in a statement on February 27 described the C5+1 as a summit that "enhances cooperation with, and among, Central Asian countries (the C5) to advance our shared goal: an independent, prosperous, and secure Central Asia that addresses common concerns in partnership with the United States."

"The C5+1 is one means for the United States to support the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the C5," the statement said.

Unlike fellow former Soviet republic Belarus, Central Asian nations have reacted more cautiously toward Moscow over the unnerving war against Ukraine as they try to balance deep relations with the Kremlin.

The United States, meanwhile, has looked to avoid hurting the region with its sanctions against Russia, especially in the energy sector, which provides vital revenues to Central Asia.

Blinken will travel later on February 28 to Uzbekistan as he makes his way to India for a Group of 20 meeting.

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