C5+1 initiative aims to lift partners out of COVID-19 economic slump

By Aydar Ashimov


Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin (right) and Adam Boehler, CEO of the US International Development Finance Corporation, sign an agreement on the Central Asia Investment Partnership in Nur-Sultan January 7. [Kazakh prime minister's press office]

NUR-SULTAN -- Large-scale investment will help Central Asian countries recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and will strengthen C5+1, analysts say.

C5+1 comprises the five Central Asian states -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- and the United States and is a platform for dialogue and joint efforts to address common challenges among the members.

On January 7, the Kazakh, Uzbek and US governments issued a joint statement announcing the creation of the Central Asia Investment Partnership. The initiative will be implemented through C5+1.

"Through this initiative, the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), Astana International Financial Centre, acting in the interests of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade of the Republic of Uzbekistan will make all possible efforts to raise at least $1 billion over five years to support projects that advance private-sector led growth and increase economic connectivity within Central Asia and the broader region," reads the joint statement.


A COVID-19 testing centre in Almaty is shown last June 1. Large-scale investment will help Central Asian countries recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and will strengthen C5+1, say analysts. [Kanat Altynbayev/Caravanserai]

The partnership aims to attract investment to the region and to expand trade, development and co-operation benefiting the Central Asian countries.

This mission is essential as the region tries to recover from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The partnership "is an important step in advancing US efforts to support economic growth and prosperity for Central Asia", said the statement.

The members welcome other countries to join the initiative.

Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin held talks with Adam Boehler, CEO of the DFC, Mamin's press office said in a January 8 statement.

"The parties discussed the prospects for the development of investment co-operation in the fields of agriculture, tourism, logistics, infrastructure, as well as finance and technology," the statement said.

The two sides emphasised the need for priority implementation of projects and initiatives aimed at developing Kazakhstan's private sector, it said.

Following the negotiations, officials from the Astana International Financial Centre and the DFC signed an agreement stipulating the implementation of joint investment projects worth up to $1 billion.

Genuine benefits of C5+1

Since the first meeting in 2015 of the C5+1, the platform has proven to be an effective mechanism that genuinely benefits all its members.

Last February 3, when the Central Asian and US foreign ministers convened in Tashkent, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed the importance of close ties with Central Asia and remarked on the threat of Russian and Chinese economic and military dominance in the region.

On June 30, Pompeo and the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian countries discussed "mutual efforts to build economic resilience and further strengthen security and stability in Central Asia and the region", the participants said in a joint statement.

"As in the past, Kazakhstan is seeking a multi-pronged partnership, but now there are high hopes for C5+1, in areas such as dealing with the consequences of the pandemic, developing regional co-operation, increasing regional security and attracting American investment and technology," said Bolatbek Isayev, a political analyst in Nur-Sultan.

"We are now once again seeing the benefits of C5+1," he said.

"Large-scale investment in the economy means new businesses, new jobs and greater prosperity for the population," Isayev said. "Ultimately, every Kazakh will benefit in one way or another."

EEU 'a disappointment'

Kazakhstan is especially keen on C5+1 since the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which includes Russia and four other ex-Soviet countries, has been a disappointment to many Central Asians, analysts say.

The two Central Asian members of the EEU are Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Central Asian officials and business leaders object to unfair economic practices that the Kremlin has imposed through the EEU.

Last May 19, at a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (SEEC), Kazakhstan rejected Moscow's proposal to expand co-operation outside the economic bloc. The SEEC is the EEU's highest-ranking body.

In the wake of recent statements by Russian politicians about territorial claims on Kazakhstan, many Kazakhs have become openly hostile toward the EEU.

In a Facebook post in December, Dosym Satpayev, a political analyst in Almaty, wrote of the need for retaliatory actions, including Kazakhstan's departure from the EEU.

"The next step should be Kazakhstan's exit from the EEU, and then a halt to its participation in the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Kremlin-dominated security bloc], what Uzbekistan once did," he said.

Uzbekistan withdrew from the CSTO in 2012.

A series of supportive comments followed Satpayev's posting.

"We need to take advantage of our chairmanship [of the EEU] and leave this EEU," replied Ruslan Aitkul, another Facebook user.

The chairmanship rotates among the EEU members.

The EEU's dependence on Moscow is hindering the Kazakh economy, added Keldibek Zakhai to the Facebook thread.

"Leave the Taiga Union [derogatory name for the Eurasian Customs Union] once and for all," advised Facebook user Ermek Dusembekov.

"Time and again, Moscow tries to steer the work of the EEU to coincide with its political objectives, which in no way intersect with our interests," Yernar Beisaliyev, a political analyst in Nur-Sultan, told Caravanserai.

"Kazakhstan is chairing the EEU this year, but there is no doubt that Russia will continue to push its own agenda," he said.

The Kremlin regularly proposes initiatives that do not benefit Kazakhstan, while "we have not gotten any help from the EEU during the harrowing COVID-19 pandemic", he said.

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We don't need the EEU at all. It only benefits Russia.