Blinken wraps up Central Asia tour before G20 talks in India

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is wrapping up a brief tour of Central Asia in Uzbekistan before heading to India for what is expected to be a contentious Ukraine-dominated meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of 20.

Blinken met Wednesday in Tashkent with senior Uzbek officials a day after warning his counterparts from all five Central Asian nations about the dangers posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking before talks with Uzbekistan’s acting foreign minister, Blinken said he believed the United States and Central Asia share concerns about Ukraine, although the former Soviet states have toed a delicate line when it comes to condemning Russia for the war.

“I think there was a tremendous sense of both common challenge and common purpose among the C5+1 countries,” Blinken said in reference to Tuesday’s meeting in the Kazakh capital of Astana among him and the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

In those talks, Blinken repeatedly referred to U.S. support for the five countries’ “sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence” in a not-so-subtle warning to the former Soviet republics that Russia’s value as a partner has been badly compromised by its year-old war against Ukraine, another ex-Soviet state.

Acting Uzbek Foreign Minister Bakhtiyor Saidov thanked Blinken for U.S. support for his country and its neighbors. “I want to underline that we share common priorities for a prosperous, stable and peaceful Central Asia,” he said.

None of the five Central Asian nations, traditionally viewed as part of the Kremlin’s sphere of influence, have publicly backed the Russian invasion. Yet none of them have condemned it and all of them passed on a chance to do so again last week when they abstained in a vote at the U.N. General Assembly on the first anniversary of the war.

Blinken was later to see Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev before leaving for New Delhi, where he will attend a two-day meeting of the foreign ministers from the Group of 20 largest industrialized and developing countries, including China and Russia.

The G-20 talks come as tensions have soared between the U.S. and Russia and between the U.S. and China over Russia’s war in Ukraine and Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. All three countries are competing fiercely to outdo each other in influence, particularly at venues like the G-20.

The U.S. and its Western allies in the G-20 will be pushing for the group to adopt a firmer position on the war, while Russia and China will likely be pressing for broad endorsement of a Chinese peace proposal for Ukraine that Beijing unveiled last week. That plan has been largely dismissed by the West.

A meeting of the G-20 finance ministers in India last week ended without consensus on Ukraine.

The last time the group’s foreign ministers met – in Bali, Indonesia, in 2022 – Blinken held extensive talks with China’s then-foreign minister, Wang Yi, that led to a summit in Bali between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Xinping in November.

Wang, who has since been promoted, met with Blinken last month on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in Germany, the first high-level talks since the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon and Blinken postponed a much-anticipated trip to Beijing.

Those discussions ended with no sign of progress on improving relations, which have been further strained by U.S. allegations that China is considering supplying with Russia with lethal military supplies for use in Ukraine, and renewed suggestions that the COVID-19 pandemic could have been the result of a Chinese lab leak.

Blinken said Tuesday in Astana that the Biden administration “will not hesitate” to impose sanctions on Chinese companies that support Russia’s war effort.

“China can’t have it both ways when it comes to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. It can’t be putting forward peace proposals on the one hand while actually feeding the flames of the fire that Russia has started with the other hand,” he said.

U.S. officials have been tight-lipped about the prospects for Blinken sitting down with new Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang or Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in New Delhi. They say only that there are no such talks planned. But all three will be present in the Indian capital.

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