US Secretary of State Blinken visits Central Asia

US diplomats are reaching out and hoping to nurture ties in a region where the Russians maintain influence. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Kazakhstan with leaders of former Soviet republics who pursue a flexible approach in their foreign policy.

Blinken is the first senior official in the Biden administration to visit Central Asia. On Tuesday, he joined his counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. He announced 25 million dollars to help expand trade routes and support the private sector.

Blinken said, "Central Asian governments are strongest when they work together to address common challenges and to shape their own future. The United States aspires to be a steadfast partner."

Kazakhstan is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the military alliance made up of Russia and other former Soviet states. However, Kazakh leaders have refused to recognize Russian President Vladimir Putin's claims on Ukrainian territory.

Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi said, "Kazakhstan has very historic ties with both Russia and Ukraine. Our economy is interconnected for a long, long time."

He added that his country is trying to avoid "any possibilities for evasion of sanctions" by the Russians.

Central Asian leaders for decades have also maintained diplomatic relations with Beijing. They took part two weeks ago in a forum hosted by China to foster economic cooperation.

However, Blinken says US officials "will not hesitate" to target companies that violate any sanctions or support the Russian war effort.