The fifth consultative meeting of heads of state of Central Asia (which took place this year in the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe) significantly highlights that a process of gradual integration and improved cooperation is gaining ground in the region. This consultative format was inaugurated in 2018, actively promoted by both Uzbekistan’s President Mirziyoyev and the Kazakhstan’s former president Nazarbayev with the aim to draw up a broader cooperation among Central Asian states based on political dialogue and mutual trust in order to deal with the regional shared challenges.
The idea to develop an ambitious framework of endogenous cooperation mainly based on the achievement of the economic and political needs expressed by the five republics – within which the external actors as Russia and China can be partners but without dictating the agenda – has progressively become a priority task for the regional governments, mainly due to the eroded geopolitical image of Moscow following the Ukraine’s invasion.
In the Dushanbe summit emerged that economy, trade and connectivity issues remain the most attractive fields of cooperation for the five republics. Given its geographic centrality, Kazakhstan is strongly interested on the promotion of interregional trade, also because its territory is a strategic bridge to connect Central Asia with Azerbaijan, Turkey and the EU’s markets. In his speech, Tokayev highlighted that intraregional trade turnover has grown by more than 80 percent in the last five years, reaching $10,6 billion, but stressing that the regional economic growth would increase mutual trade turnover to $15 billion (Central Asia’s leaders get into specifics on trade-boosting initiatives, Eurasianet, September 15, 2023).
Turkmenistan’s President Serdar Berdymukhamedov pointed out his attention on the development of a Central Asian transport and logistic platform, within which the region will play the role of transportation hub through the creation of new corridors, the modernization of the existing routes and the harmonization of regulations. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are both Caspian coastal states, so they perceive themselves as key actors for the Middle Corridor’s implementation, a strategic alternative to trade routes crossing Russia in order to deliver goods to the EU markets crossing Central Asia region (namely the territories of the above-mentioned Caspian countries) and Azerbaijan.
The presence of Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev as guest during the meeting further confirms this geopolitical trend, openly recognizing Azerbaijan as the main partner to promote infrastructural projects and to concretely exploit new trade corridors. Moreover, Central Asian ministers of transports drafted an Agreement of Strengthening Land Transport Relations in Central Asia in the same days of the consultative meeting, which could allow to better coordinate national and regional initiatives to reinforce connectivity (F. Costa Buranelli, Central Asian Regionalism After the 5th Leaders’ Meeting, The Diplomat, September 19, 2023).
These regular annual meetings among Central Asian presidents are the expression of a shared will to build a more integrated region able to autonomously position itself between China and Russia as well as in the international arena, even if some domestic resistances must be lifted. As a matter of fact, also Tajikistan and Turkmenistan abstained again to sign the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourhood and Cooperation for the Development of Central Asia in the 21st Century proposed in the previous meeting and already signed by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
PhD in Geopolitics. He is non-resident researcher at the Center for Energy Governance and Security (EGS South Korea) and analyst at the Observatory for Central Asia and Caspian. He is research fellow at the University of Siena.