/ The Crisis of Afghanistan: A test for the European and Central Asian Partnership

Last year, the Central Asia region experienced both positive dynamics and turmoil. It is said that there are not just five countries in the region (namely, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) but a sixth one as well – Afghanistan. In recent years, the countries of Central Asia have swiftly opened up to Afghanistan. Back in July, the ambitious cross-border infrastructure projects were discussed with the then- President of Afghanistan Ashraf Gani at the International Connectivity Conference in Tashkent, but by the end of August, Kabul had already fallen into the hands of the Taliban.

The withdrawal of the United States and its allies from Afghanistan was accompanied by dramatic scenarios of refugee flows and chaos in the wider Central Asian region, leaving a vacuum for Chinese and Russian dominance. At least for the time being, the countries of Central Asia are showing resilience, are more stable, are demonstrating a pragmatic approach and ability to make their own foreign policy choices.

Yet, stability can be fragile. In early 2022 Kazakhstan, most wealthy country in the region, was shaken by large and violent protests. In order to stop them the outside military support from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was asked. It remains to be seen whether these events will have implications on changes in Kazakhstan, on its foreign policy choices, as well as on the developments in the region. The Central Asian region much depends on the situation in Afghanistan, on how its countries will strengthen their stability and security, and how they will be able to balance among the big players.

This chapter provides an insight into the relations between Latvia and the Central Asian countries over the past year, especially in the context of the Afghan crisis. It looks at what could be expected in Latvia’s foreign policy in the region in 2022. It also offers recommendations. Latvia should continue advocating for EU’s engagement in Central Asian countries to strengthen their resilience in the complex security environment. Latvia has been active in the development cooperation in Central Asia; its projects have been appreciated by the partners in region and should be continued. The region is dynamic and with a growing economic potential, raising the European business interest, hence Latvia should put more efforts in advancing economic cooperation, especially with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

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Gunta PastoreFor the Latvian Foreign and Security Policy Yearbook 2022