OPINION: The Kremlin is celebrating its success in using its vast energy resources to win the support of former Soviet republics in Central Asia as Russia works to minimise the impact of international sanctions against the country and its state corporations.
This past weekend, a visibly relaxed President Vladimir Putin greeted leaders of two prominent Central Asian nations at his countryside residence near Moscow.
Presidents Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan arrived in Moscow to participate in the launch of first-ever Russian gas supplies to Uzbekistan, set to assist the fast-growing country in meeting booming energy demand.
Although Russia’s annual supply of 2.8 billion cubic metres of gas to Uzbekistan is small for gas giant Gazprom, the beginning of pipeline deliveries is of great importance to Putin in his effort to expand the list of what he calls “nations that are friendly to Russia”.
Next in line is Kazakhstan, which is working to prepare its transmission network to transport cheap Russian gas to supply the capital, Astana, and other regions in the north and northeast of the country.
Such an arrangement will allow this resource-rich nation to send more oil and gas to European and Asian markets to maximise its own revenues, similar to India, where refiners already export fuels produced from Russian oil to better-paying European markets.
No matter how much investment US and European companies have committed to Kazakhstan since its independence in 1991 — and more recently to Uzbekistan — political leadership in these and other former Soviet states in Central Asia have increasingly aligned themselves with Moscow in exchange for energy.
The presidents of these countries ignore popular sentiment back home, which largely opposes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They also turn a blind eye to Russian efforts to conscript nationals of their countries into its armed forces to fight in Ukraine.
Last week, Putin spoke for over three hours at a forum in the city of Sochi about his plans to restore “the bipolar world” and create an alliance of nations that will stand against the US and its allies.
After more than 19 months of war in Ukraine, cargoes of Russian oil and related products are sailing to markets in Asia Pacific, Africa and South America after being banned in Europe.
These deliveries, reportedly at preferential terms for countries with their own economic challenges, is laying a foundation for Moscow to grow its political influence.
With no end in sight for the war in Ukraine, the West should radically revise its approach to using economic measures to tackle the Russian energy weapon.
This is an Upstream Opinion article.
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