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Germany with an Eye on Central Asia

Today in the Moscow Times:

Getting the EU Back Into Eurasia By Raffaello Pantucci and Alexandros Petersen German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier appears to be serious about carrying out his nation’s plans to reorient European foreign policy toward Central Asia. This recalibration is a welcome shift from Germany, which under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder tended toward almost pusillanimous relations with Russia, to the detriment of other former Soviet states. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s new Ostpolitik will continue to remain balanced carefully against national energy interests, but it seems that she is capitalizing on the fact that Germany holds the rotating presidencies of both the Group of Eight and the European Union to try to focus European (and world) attention on Russia’s other, often unseen flank in Central Asia and the Black Sea region. … It is the presence of energy as an issue, however, that is one of the critical defining factors in this reinvigorated European interest, and that offers some assurance that this may be a genuine approach. While there are no easy solutions to Europe’s dependency on energy (or that of the West in general), there are two fundamental things Europe can be do to re-craft the status quo: diversify and find alternative routes. The‑first of these is increasingly a given for European governments and is feeding current complex political debates around the globe. The second, however, is often not rigorously addressed within the European Union. Currently, the EU is reliant for almost half of its energy resources (a figure it has estimated will increase to 70 percent by 2030) on two unreliable routes from Russia, through Belarus and Ukraine. While it is looking at opening new routes, such as the Odessa-Brody pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Poland or the Nord Stream pipeline running directly from Russia into Germany along the bottom of the Baltic Sea, it has seemingly ignored the potential importance in diversifying its sources of supply by not looking toward concentrating more on Central Asia and the Caucasus. Among European states, Germany stands out as particularly well-placed to drive this issue forward, both as a result of close ties with Russia, Europe’s main energy supplier, and the fact that it is the only member state with embassies in all the Black Sea and Central Asian countries. Merkel reflected her particular interest in her first speech to the European Parliament, declaring that she hoped “especially to develop a neighborhood policy for the Black Sea region and Central Asia.”