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ASTANA: Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Kazakhstan on Thursday, while Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi were expected in Uzbekistan, amid renewed diplomatic interest in the region.

Central Asia’s former Soviet republics have sought to diversify their partnerships as Moscow’s sway over the region – which it considers as under its sphere of influence – has waned since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Russian leader and his Kazakh counterpart Kassym-Jomart Tokayev nevertheless praised their countries’ relationship in interviews ahead of their planned meeting in Astana.

“Our strategic partnership is truly forward-looking,” Putin said, while Tokayev praised an “alliance with a rich past and a bright future”.

But three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Russia bogged down in Ukraine, other world powers are investing in Central Asia.

China has become a major partner across the whole region with its Belt and Road Initiative, a gigantic infrastructure project.

Putin visits ‘dear friend’ Xi in show of no-limits partnership

And Putin’s trip to Kazakhstan comes a week after French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit – and as the European Union, the United States, Iran and Turkiye seek to strengthen ties there.

Raisi and Erdogan in Tashkent

More than 1,000 kilometres south, a summit of the Economic Cooperation Organisation will be held in Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent.

The city will host the Iranian and Turkish presidents, as well as Pakistani Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar and Central Asian leaders.

The war between Israel and Hamas is not on the agenda, Uzbekistan said.

On October 7, Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel that killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities.

Aiming to destroy Hamas, Israel responded with a relentless bombardment and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 10,500 people, many of them children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Tehran, which backs Hamas, said it did want to discuss the conflict, state-run agency IRNA said.

Raisi already discussed the conflict during a meeting with Tajik leader Emomali Rahmon on Wednesday.

And Erdogan – who hardened his tone against both Israel and its Western supporters – is likely to bring the issue to the table.

Most of the talks are expected to focus on trade, humanitarian cooperation and transport.

Russia’s Putin to stay in power past 2024, sources say

Central Asian countries, which are landlocked, are trying to gain access to the sea including via Pakistan.

Russia is under pressure in the region but it remains a key partner.

It renewed investments in the energy sectors, having been excluded from most of the European market by sanctions triggered by the invasion of Ukraine.

Putin says Russia-China ties at ‘unprecedented historical level’

Moscow has launched large-scale energy projects, including by launching gas supplies to Uzbekistan via Kazakhstan.

It is also discussing building nuclear power plants and hydroelectric projects in several countries.

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