Assessment Report: British Foreign Secretary’s Visit to Central Asia

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron
The British Foreign Secretary, David Cameron, started his tour in Central Asia and Mongolia (Credits: Tom Evans, OGL 3, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 41 Issue 22
SpecialEurasia OSINT Unit

Executive Summary

The visit of David Cameron, the British Foreign Secretary, to Central Asia, marks a significant development in relations between the UK and the region.

Cameron’s diplomatic tour across the region underscores the UK intent to deepen ties with Central Asian nations, focusing on economic cooperation, human rights issues, and the prevention of sanctions evasion activities, particularly those concerning Russia.

With a focus on the geopolitical implications, this report examines Cameron’s visit and offers insights into the potential risks and opportunities it presents for both the UK and the Central Asian states.

British Foreign Secretary in Central Asia: Background Information

On April 22nd, 2024, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron started his official 5-days visit to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. By doubling funding for Chevening scholarships and providing tailored English language teaching materials, Cameron aims to enhance educational opportunities and promote British values across Central Asia and Mongolia.

The UK British Foreign Secretary’s visit aims to bolster economic ties and support British businesses in creating jobs and growth in both the UK and the region. By demonstrating that British investment prioritises sustainability and respects the sovereignty of Central Asian nations, Cameron seeks to build trust and foster long-term partnerships.

Moreover, London’s commitment to promoting regional growth, economic resilience, and cooperation is evident through the announcement of £50 million in new development funding for the Central Asia and Eastern Neighbourhood region over the next three years.

Geopolitical Scenario

Central Asia occupies a crucial geopolitical position, bridging Europe, Russia, China, and the Middle East. The region’s significance lies in its vast energy resources, strategic transport routes, and geopolitical competition among major powers. In this scenario, the UK seeks to diversify its partnerships beyond traditional allies and explore new avenues for economic and diplomatic engagement.

The Ukraine conflict has significantly affected Russia’s relations with the countries of Central Asia, introducing an additional layer of complexity to the region’s geopolitical landscape. The conflict has triggered global instability, driving up energy and agricultural prices, which has particularly affected Central Asia because of its heavy dependence on Russia for trade and logistics.

This turbulence has forced Central Asian states to navigate a delicate diplomatic balance, distancing themselves from Moscow’s aggression while avoiding complete alienation from Russia.

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Amidst the challenges posed by the conflict, Central Asian countries have also found opportunities to assert their interests and negotiate concessions from Russia. The Western sanctions against Moscow have pushed the Russian Federation to increase attention and engagement with the region. Some countries, like Tajikistan, have successfully leveraged this attention to secure agreements that may not have been feasible under different circumstances.

While Russia’s actions in Ukraine may create openings for China to strengthen its ties with certain Central Asian states, the relationship between these major powers and the region is not a zero-sum game. Both Russia and China have unique approaches and priorities in engaging with Central Asia, shaped by historical ties, economic interests, and security concerns.

Russia’s historical perception of Central Asia as part of its blizhnee zarubezhe (near abroad) and as a component of its lebensraum (living space) underscores Moscow’s strategic interests in the region. Leveraging entities like the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), Moscow seeks to maintain its traditional sphere of influence and counter external encroachment, particularly from China and Western powers.

Concurrently, the People’s Republic of China has aggressively pursued its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a vehicle for expanding its economic and strategic foothold in Central Asia. Through extensive infrastructure investment and financing, Beijing aims to bolster connectivity across the region while solidifying its position as a dominant player in Central Asian affairs.

However, the increasing attention and engagement of Western powers, including the European Union and the United States, as well as regional actors like Turkey, Iran, and the Gulf Arab monarchies, add complexity to the geopolitical dynamics.

These actors employ diverse strategies to enhance their presence in Central Asia, ranging from economic partnerships to security cooperation, reflecting their respective geopolitical interests and objectives.


David Cameron’s diplomatic mission to Central Asia reflects the UK’s strategic efforts to bolster ties with the region across various fronts while addressing pressing concerns, including the circumvention of trade sanctions on Russia.

Emphasising cooperation in key areas such as business, climate change, and counter-terrorism, Cameron underscored the importance of supporting the sovereignty of Central Asian nations. However, Cameron’s visit also coincides with reports of luxury UK cars reaching Moscow through former Soviet states despite export bans imposed on high-end vehicles to Russia, highlighting the need for discussions on sanctions circumvention and other pressing issues during his diplomatic engagements with regional leaders.

By allocating substantial funding for development projects and educational initiatives, Cameron seeks to show Britain’s enduring partnership with the region. The primary risk associated with Cameron’s visit pertains to the potential backlash from Russia, given the discussions on sanctions evasion and the establishment of a direct investment fund in Central Asia. Moscow may perceive these initiatives as encroachments on its sphere of influence and respond through diplomatic or economical means, complicating UK-Central Asia relations.

While Central Asian republics have articulated aspirations to diversify their commercial and diplomatic relationships, the enduring influence of Russia and China in the region remains paramount. Despite efforts to reduce dependency on these two powers, Moscow and Beijing continue to exert significant sway over Central Asian affairs.

Russia’s role as a guarantor of security and provider of military support, coupled with its robust counterterrorism cooperation, underscores its enduring relevance in addressing regional challenges. This is pertinent for countries like Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which confront the escalating threat of terrorism and extremism.

On the other hand, China’s ascendancy in Central Asia is largely driven by its substantial investments and burgeoning trade ties with the region. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has enabled Beijing to emerge as the primary economic partner for Central Asian states, facilitating infrastructure development and enhancing connectivity.

Despite initiatives like the UK’s new developing fund for Central Asia, which aims to bolster economic cooperation, the scale of Chinese financial support dwarfs’ other external sources of investment in the region.

Read also | Central Asia’s Security Risk Assessment

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