President Emmanuel Macron announced the establishment of a strategic partnership between France and Uzbekistan. This partnership will focus on various projects, particularly in the fields of agriculture and uranium. The term “strategic” in Uzbekistan typically signifies a significant and high-level collaboration with another nation.
It’s noteworthy that Uzbekistan, in line with its neighbouring countries, has chosen not to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Despite maintaining close ties with Moscow, Uzbekistan has committed to adhering to Western sanctions. President Macron did not provide specific details about the partnership’s scope, but such a term in Uzbekistan usually implies a deep and multifaceted cooperation between the involved nations.
Key Points in the Discussion
President Macron commended the reforms initiated by Uzbekistan’s leader, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, expressing support for these changes. Additionally, Macron pledged substantial investments, a move that Russia, as Uzbekistan’s former Soviet ally, has characterized as Western efforts to court traditionally aligned nations in the region. This signifies a diplomatic and economic push by France to strengthen ties with Uzbekistan, potentially diversifying alliances in the region.
During a meeting in Samarkand, President Macron expressed France’s support for President Mirziyoyev’s policies in Uzbekistan and offered assistance in their implementation. The Uzbek leader, known for opening up his country to foreign trade and investment since 2017, engaged with several French executives accompanying Macron during the visit.
Discussions included plans by Lactalis, a major dairy company, to construct a plant in Namangan and Semmaris’s proposal to establish a network of agricultural logistics centres in Uzbekistan. Notably, there were talks with Orano chairman Claude Imauven about expanding cooperation in the exploration and mining of uranium.
Orano’s Chief Operating Officer, Nicolas Maes, also held meetings in Kazakhstan, the top uranium-producing nation, to explore opportunities for deeper collaboration. These efforts align with France’s aim to diversify its sources of uranium and reduce reliance on Russian supplies, given its heavy dependence on nuclear power. This strategic engagement reflects a broader economic and diplomatic initiative by France to boost companionship and tap into the economic potential of Central Asian nations.
The French’s Interests
France’s increased involvement in the strategically important Central Asian region is driven by two main factors. Firstly, it seeks to redefine its role from a secondary actor to a more significant player in the region. The geopolitical landscape in Central Asia is often perceived through a ‘great game’ perspective, with Russia maintaining influence through organizations like the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and China solidifying its presence through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). France’s proactive engagement in Central Asia serves as a counterbalance, preventing any single power from dominating the Eurasian region.
France aims to strengthen cooperation with key Central Asian nations, particularly Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as part of its strategy to diversify energy sources. Recent disruptions in the global energy markets, coupled with geopolitical tensions, have underscored the importance of expanding France’s energy import partners. C
Central Asia, endowed with significant untapped hydrocarbon reserves, presents a promising solution. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, in particular, possess substantial uranium reserves, with Kazakhstan ranking as the world’s largest producer and Uzbekistan as the fifth largest. Given that about 70 per cent of France’s electricity is derived from nuclear power, deepening partnerships in the region ensures a reliable supply of uranium for French reactors, reducing dependence on any single source and enhancing energy security.
Another crucial aspect is the effort to mitigate risks associated with the import of critical minerals, particularly those essential for the global transition to green energy. These minerals play a pivotal role in the production of various technologies, including smartphones, wind turbines, and rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles.
While these minerals are often sourced from China, France recognizes the importance of diversifying its supply chain to reduce dependency and associated vulnerabilities. Central Asian nations, including Uzbekistan, despite being relatively underexplored in this context, hold significant potential to contribute to this objective. By fostering cooperation with Central Asian countries, France aims to tap into their mineral resources and, by extension, assist not only itself but also other EU nations in reducing their heavy reliance on China for these critical minerals.
The deepening ties with France not only provide Uzbekistan with a platform to diversify its global engagements but also elevate its international standing, creating avenues for collaborative diplomacy amidst evolving global trends and geopolitical shifts in Eurasia. By jointly addressing pivotal regional issues, these strengthened relations not only contribute to stability in Central Asia but also hold the potential to foster peace in the wider region, including Afghanistan.
The political collaboration with Paris is poised to play a pivotal role in supporting Uzbekistan’s ambitious “Uzbekistan – 2030” strategy. France’s expressed commitment to aiding reform and modernization efforts in both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan serves as an effective strategy to diversify their international relations, aligning with their respective national objectives.
In the economic sphere, the burgeoning relationship between France and Tashkent has resulted in a notable threefold increase in joint ventures involving French companies in Uzbekistan. With an impressive project portfolio exceeding 10 billion euros, French businesses are poised to bolster investments in Uzbekistan’s burgeoning sectors. This collaborative economic effort not only stimulates growth and job creation but also facilitates the transfer of technology.
Leveraging France’s expertise in technology, smart agriculture, and tourism, Uzbekistan stands to reduce its reliance on traditional industries, thereby fostering much-needed economic diversification. Furthermore, France’s leadership in nuclear energy positions it as a valuable ally in navigating the complexities of constructing a nuclear facility, promising a comprehensive and enduring partnership that significantly contributes to Uzbekistan’s energy sector.
Beyond economic realms, the collaboration extends to addressing shared challenges in water resources management. France’s proficiency in sustainable water practices becomes a valuable asset in assisting Uzbekistan with efficient water use and conservation. Additionally, in the face of climate change, France can provide valuable support by sharing green technologies and best practices, aiding Uzbekistan in its journey toward environmental conservation and sustainable development.
Importantly, Paris has the potential to mobilize both public and private funding, utilizing instruments such as guarantees and blending, to further augment investments for European initiatives like the Global Gateway on Water, Energy, and Climate. This financial support enhances the capacity for sustainable environmental projects, solidifying the comprehensive nature of the partnership between Paris and Tashkent.
French energy giant EDF is actively participating in the competition to secure the contract for building Kazakhstan’s inaugural nuclear power station. The decision on this significant project is expected to be determined through a referendum scheduled for later this year.
In addition to its involvement in the nuclear power project, France, through the Elysee, has made another strategic move by agreeing to supply Ground Master 400 air defence radar systems to Kazakhstan. This decision is framed as a measure to enhance Kazakhstan’s “sovereignty,” indicating a commitment to bolstering the country’s defence capabilities.
A persistent challenge hampering enhanced cooperation between France and Central Asian countries revolves around the limited capacity of the Trans-Caspian Transport Route, commonly known as the “Middle Corridor.” This corridor links China and Central Asia via the Caspian Sea, extending to the Caucasus, Turkey, and Europe. In 2022, transit volumes through the Middle Corridor experienced a remarkable surge, almost tripling compared to the preceding year. However, this increased trade activity has strained the already overburdened borders, leading to noticeable delays in cross-border transport operations.
To effectively address these challenges, France must collaborate closely not only with Central Asian nations but also with other EU countries. Such collaborative efforts should aim to foster the development and prominence of the Middle Corridor. If successful, this initiative could substantially reduce transit times from the previous 38-53 days to a mere 12-23 days. This not only provides Europe with alternative and more efficient trade routes but also encourages the active participation of Central Asian nations in global connectivity and collaboration.
The collaborative focus on enhancing the Middle Corridor has the potential to streamline and expedite cross-border transport operations, thereby facilitating smoother trade activities between France, other EU countries, and Central Asian partners. By alleviating the strain on existing infrastructure and optimizing transit times, this initiative would contribute to the economic growth of the involved regions and foster a more robust framework for international trade. Furthermore, it aligns with broader goals of promoting global connectivity, trade diversification, and strengthening diplomatic and economic ties between France, the EU, and Central Asia.
The developments underscore the multifaceted nature of the collaboration between France and Uzbekistan, involving both energy infrastructure and defence technology. Participation in the nuclear power project aligns with France’s expertise in the energy sector while supplying air defence radar systems reflects a broader commitment to supporting Kazakhstan in strengthening its national security and sovereignty. The outcomes of these ventures will likely insinuate the tactical partnerships and geopolitical dynamics in the region.