French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Kazakhstan puts Central Asia in the spotlight. Embarking on a diplomatic mission to Central Asia, French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Kazakhstan on the first leg of his tour and met with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The region, historically seen as dominated by Russia, has become a topic of fresh interest among Western nations, particularly in the wake of the Ukrainian conflict.
With its abundant oil reserves, Kazakhstan has emerged as an alternative supplier of crude to European countries that have sought to reduce their dependence on Russian oil. Furthermore, the country has established itself as a crucial hub in the new China-Europe trade route, bypassing Russia and facilitating trade between the two economic powerhouses. Macron’s visit bespeaks the growing recognition of Kazakhstan’s geopolitical significance and the evolving dynamics within the region.
France is the fifth-biggest foreign investor in Kazakhstan and the longstanding relationship includes the massive Kashagan offshore oilfield project partnered with French energy giant TotalEnergies, as well as a uranium mine run by French company Orano, the head of which is among Macron’s delegation. France’s Orano already operates a joint venture with its state nuclear firm Kazatomprom.
More over French energy giant EDF is in the running to build Kazakhstan’s first nuclear power station.
During a meeting with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Macron signified his approval to Kazakhstan for not choosing to side with Russia in the Ukrainian conflict. He also mentioned that the two countries struck agreements for doing business together, including a commitment to work together on rare earths and rare metals, which are very valuable materials.
The improvement of ties between the countries has been facilitated, among other factors, by President Tokayev’s recent political and economic reforms, sparked off by the leader’s yearning for a freer market economy as well as democratic amendments. According to Ilya Mitasov, CEO of consulting company IMN.Expert, "While Kazakhstan may not yet be considered a fully democratic state, President Tokayev is investing heavily in enhancing and refining the political system. Notably, he has implemented measures such as banning the re-election of presidents for a second term and abolishing the death penalty. Special emphasis must be laid on the laws liberalization and laws regarding rallies and peaceful assemblies. Currently, activists are only required to notify the authorities about the location and timing of their intended rally. Moreover, his UN expertise will contribute to fostering cooperation with France, Europe, and establishing Kazakhstan as a reliable partner."
Emmanuel Macron says that "France values ... the path you are following for your country, refusing to be a vassal of any power and seeking to build numerous and balanced relations with different countries." "We respect our friends, we are here when they need us and we respect their independence," Macron said. "And in a world where major powers want to become hegemons, and where regional powers become unpredictable, it is good to have friends who share this philosophy."
Russia has voiced concerns over Western aspirations in its “back yard”.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week the West was trying to pull Russia’s “neighbours, friends and allies” away from it.
This is not the first time Moscow has voiced concerns over Western ventures in Central Asia in recent months.
"Co-operation between Kazakhstan and France is developing dynamically, at the same time it is necessary to give it additional impetus. Therefore, we can call your visit historic, very important. I am sure today’s talks will be productive," said Kazakhstan leader Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.