MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) We are about to start the press conference. I’d like to give the floor to the Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, and the minister of foreign affairs of Kazakhstan, Mukhtar Tileuberdi. You can pose your questions after we give the floor to our speakers. The floor goes to Mukhtar Tileuberdi, the foreign minister of Kazakhstan.
FOREIGN MINISTER TILEUBERDI: (Via interpreter) Distinguished Secretary of State, Mr. Antony Blinken, distinguished members of the American delegation, and media representatives, today I am pleased to receive my friend, the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan on his first official visit to Astana. So far we have met at various international events in Washington, D.C., and today we are here hosting him at his official visit. Welcome to Kazakhstan.
Before noon, during the first half of the day, we had a very productive series of meetings with the U.S. delegation, and the State Secretary also held a meeting with the president of our country, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in the course of friendly and constructive talks. They discussed salient issues of bilateral and multilateral agenda, as well as prospects of the Kazakhstan-American cooperation. I am glad to note that cooperation with the United States is developing in the spirit of an enhanced strategic partnership. This is confirmed by the revival of political dialogue, trade, economic, and investment cooperation.
Mutual trade turnover between Kazakhstan and the United States exceeded 3 billion U.S. dollars in 2022, and this figure is 37.2 percent higher compared to the results of the previous year. Export is growing because the U.S. is one of the largest investors in Kazakhstan’s economy since 1993. The total inflow of foreign direct investments from the U.S. to Kazakhstan exceeded 62 billion U.S. dollars, and in the first three quarters of 2022 the volume of American investments increased by 58.8 percent compared to the corresponding period of 2021. About 590 enterprises with the participation of the American capital function are present in Kazakhstan, and more U.S. companies are showing they’re interested in the Kazakh market.
We have just finished the C5+1 ministerial meeting of the foreign ministers of the Central Asian countries and the U.S., and the participation of my colleagues from the Central Asian states clearly shows our joint political efforts to strengthen regional ties in a complex international situation. Kazakhstan highly appreciates the commitment of the United States to strengthen cooperation with the Central Asian region. Our country continues a balanced multilateral foreign policy, in accordance with its diplomatic priorities and Central Asia, and the United States remain our major partners.
For us, as the host country, this makes the C5+1 format a – relevant to mechanism of regional cooperation. The C5+1 mechanism has established itself as an effective regional diplomatic platform for promoting economic cooperation, security, as well as sustainable development in Central Asia. During the event, a wide range of issues were discussed, including cooperation on food security, combating terrorism, energy, environment, as well as other pressing issues.
Returning to the topic of bilateral cooperation, I would like to note that the Secretary of State firmly supports the political and economic reforms initiated by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev aimed at ensuring the democratization and the rule of law. I would like to thank the American side for its intent to further consolidate our bilateral relations.
Thank you for your attention.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. We’d like to give the floor to the State Secretary of the U.S., Antony Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. Mukhtar, thank you. Thank you for today. Thank you for – as you very aptly described today, a very good day both bilaterally as well as with our C5+1 colleagues. And it’s always good to be with you, and it’s particularly good to be here in Kazakhstan. When we hosted your delegation in Washington last May, well, the weather was just a little bit milder than it is today. But I think it’s fair to say that the temperature outside is more than made up for by the warmth that you and President Tokayev have shown us on this trip. And I especially want to thank the president for his terrific hospitality, for the generosity of his time, and for the very good conversation that we had.
I’m here to underscore that the strong partnership, and in particular the enhanced strategic partnership between the United States and Kazakhstan, is moving forward strongly. Ever since being the first nation to recognize Kazakhstan in December of 1991, the United States has been firmly committed to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of Kazakhstan – and countries across the region. In our discussions today, I reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Kazakhstan, like all nations, to freely determine its future, especially as we mark one year since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in a failed attempt to deny its people that very freedom.
We applaud Kazakhstan for continuing to host more than 200,000 Russian citizens who fled their country after President Putin launched his war. And I want to thank the people of Kazakhstan for generously providing food, clothing, medicine, other humanitarian supplies to Ukraine, including setting up those yurts of invincibility in Kyiv and Bucha, where Ukrainians can find warmth and respite from the war.
I also reiterated that the United States strongly endorses the reform agenda that President Tokayev announced last March. We look forward to seeing the additional concrete steps Kazakhstan will take to realize that agenda, expanding public participation in the political process, increasing government accountability, curbing corruption, introducing presidential term limits, protecting human rights. Those reforms are an important reason why foreign investors, including from the United States, are increasingly turning to Kazakhstan. American businesses were among the first to invest here, injecting more than $50 billion into the Kazakh economy going back to 1991.
We are eager to bolster our economic cooperation, not only to strengthen the development and opportunity within Kazakhstan but also to strengthen linkages across Central Asia, promoting the diversification of energy and export, among other investments that will benefit Kazakhstan’s people in very tangible ways. Kazakhstan also continues to be a valued partner on key global issues: reducing the spread of nuclear weapons by dismantling Soviet-era missiles; contributing to vital peacekeeping operations from Lebanon to Mali; exploring the galaxy through space cooperation; repatriating and rehabilitating more than 600 foreign terrorist fighters and their families.
We’re grateful to Kazakhstan for its leadership in Central Asia and for hosting the C5+1 Ministerial today – this is the fourth one that I’ve had the opportunity to participate in as Secretary – demonstrating our commitment to be a reliable partner to all countries in the region. We discussed with our fellow ministers from Kazakhstan, from Kyrgyzstan, from Tajikistan, from Turkmenistan, from Uzbekistan concrete ways to continue to advance our shared economic, energy, environmental, and security goals. The C5+1 is an increasingly important platform. 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 steadfast partners in those efforts.
We’re working to do our part to try deliver solutions to the shared challenges that are affecting our people, from developing clean energy to contributing – excuse me – to combatting diseases like COVID, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis. Back in September, with food and gas prices surging due to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, the U.S. committed $16.5 billion toward food and security here in this region. We also set up the Economic Resilience Initiative for Central Asia – $25 million to expand regional trade routes, establish new export markets, attract and leverage greater private sector investment, providing people with practical skills for the modern job market.
Today, I’m announcing an additional $25 million for that initiative, a total of $50 million to build up the regional economy, and especially to make sure that people have the skills they need to succeed in this global economy. To further empower and connect the people of Central Asia, we’re launching an effort to increase English language proficiency for more than 1,000 young professionals in government and across civil society.
So we’ve had a very productive day of conversations and new initiatives that we hope will build on those discussions to the benefit of our partners in Central Asia. We sat around the table behind you with our colleagues from the C5+1, and I have a notebook filled with very good, concrete ideas about how we can further deepen our collaboration and address, in practical ways, the challenges that we’re facing.
I mentioned space exploration a few moments ago, so let me just close by noting that seven astronauts are currently orbiting above us in the International Space Station. They hail from different countries, they speak different languages, but many of these astronauts journeyed to the stars together from Kazakhstan, and they will land here in Kazakhstan when they return to earth. To me, that’s a wonderful symbol of how this country can be a launching pad for our collective progress on earth, through the partnership between the United States and Kazakhstan, across Central Asia, around the globe. Thank you.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much, dear colleagues. Now it’s high time for you to pose your questions. Please raise your hands, introduce yourselves, and name a person that you would like to address your question to. Please.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good evening. My name is Zhanna Alpysbayeva. I am from Atameken Business Channel. I have the following question: The West declared about the need related to bypassing the sanctions. In your opinion, what’s the importance of secondary sovereign sanctions for Kazakhstan, and in which case those sanctions can be imposed here as well? Because – because of these sanctions imposed on Russia, the economies of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan are suffering as well. What are the compensations for our countries?
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Whom you are addressing your question to?
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) To the Secretary of State.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. First, let me start by saying this: The sanctions that dozens of countries around the world are imposing on Russia, as well as the export controls, didn’t just materialize out of thin air. Countries came together to impose them because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its aggression against not only Ukraine but against the very principles at the heart of the international system and the United Nations Charter: territorial integrity, independence, sovereignty – principles that matter deeply to countries in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan.
And so in response to what Russia did, countries around the world, including the United States have been supporting Ukraine in its efforts to defend itself against the Russian aggression, but also to try to put what pressure we can on Russia, to impose costs on Russia so that it stops the aggression, pulls its troops out, and restores Ukraine’s full sovereignty. That’s what this is about. So it’s important to put it in that context.
We are watching compliance with sanctions very closely, and we’re having an ongoing discussion with a number of countries, including our C5 partners, on the economic spillover effect, because we’re very conscious that this Russian aggression has had real consequences – not just for Ukraine and not only for the principles I mentioned, but in very concrete ways for countries around the world, including here in Central Asia. We’re issuing licenses that make sense, we’re sharing information with our partners, and we’re supporting the C5 countries in their efforts to diversify their own trade relationships.
So for example, licenses have been granted for companies or entities in countries that are engaged with sanctioned Russian companies so that they have time to wind down those activities and cut their ties with Russia. It’s not like flipping a light switch. We understand that sometimes you need time to do it in a way that doesn’t harm your business. We’ll do our part to strengthen the region and improve the lives of people living in Central Asia, ourselves in concrete ways – I mentioned a few of them with some of the initiatives that we’ve engaged in. As I said, I announced $25 million through the Economic Resilience Initiative for Central Asia, expanding regional trade routes, so that gives new opportunities, new places for countries to engage and to trade, new export markets so that they’re not reliant just on one country, and then attracting private sector investment. And today, as I mentioned, I’m announcing an additional $25 million to that effort, bringing the total to $50 million.
So it’s a long way of saying we’re very conscious of the spillover consequences of Russia’s aggression. We’re doing everything we can to minimize them, to mitigate them, and create new opportunities, different opportunities for partners here in Central Asia.
FOREIGN MINISTER TILEUBERDI: (Via interpreter) If you don’t mind, I would like to add and say that the Government of Kazakhstan and the leadership of the United States established the mechanism of regular consultations on this matter in order to avoid the negative consequences for the economy of Kazakhstan and in order to prevent a possible secondary sanctions. We have national coordinators appointed on both sides, and they are in touch with each other, and we are really thankful to the American side for informing us about possible cases of the imposition of secondary sanctions as early as possible.
Therefore, I would like to say that for the time being, there is no single Kazakh company or there is not a single Kazakh sector that has been imposed secondary sanctions. Thank you.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. Who wants to pose our next question?
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Vivian Salama from The Wall Street Journal. Thank you so much, Foreign Minister, for having us. You actually just answered my first question, so I’m going to mix it up a little bit. Are you concerned at all about how deeply entrenched your economy is with Russia, that it would take too long for, say, new allies, new partners like the U.S. and Europe to be able to sort of fill that void moving forward?
And Mr. Secretary, you also just answered my first question, but I do have a second one for you regarding the potential Chinese lethal aid assistance to Russia. There have been a number of public statements from you and your – a number of members of President Biden’s cabinet expressing concern about China’s deliberations. Can you elaborate a bit on what the U.S. and its allies are doing to persuade Beijing away from such a move, and what consequences it could face if it delivers on any such aid? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER TILEUBERDI: Yes. I’d like to say that indeed Kazakhstan has very historic ties with both – with Russia and Ukraine. Our economies interconnected for long, long time, and that’s why definitely all this situation is quite heavy for us, for our economy, and we trying to avoid any negative effects from the sanctions. You can understand that Kazakhstan is a member of Eurasian Economic Union, and we don’t have any custom borders between Kazakhstan, Russia, and other members of this union. So that’s why definitely it’s sometimes very difficult to manage how we can provide this free trade by products and services between our borders. But at the same time, we trying to evade any possibilities – to avoid any possibilities for evasion of sanctions by Russian or even by any foreign companies. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Vivian, as you know, this is something that I raised directly with China’s senior foreign policy official, Wang Yi, when I saw him on the margins of the Munich Security Conference last week. And the backdrop here, of course, goes back to even before Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Just a few weeks before that, you’ll remember that President Xi and President Putin had a summit meeting in which they talked about a partnership with no limits. And that, of course, in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a real concern, including the concern that such a partnership might lead China to materially support Russia in its aggression, including with lethal military support and/or with efforts to systematically evade the sanctions that were being imposed on Russia for the aggression against Ukraine.
And as I’ve mentioned going back to, I think, the first conversation between President Biden and President Xi after the Russian aggression, President Biden raised this concern and made very clear to President Xi that were Russia to engage in lethal material support for Russia in the aggression against Ukraine or the systematic evasion of sanctions, this would be a serious problem in our relationship.
So we’ve been watching it very carefully from day one. And the reason that I raised this not only with Wang Yi last week but also publicly, along with other colleagues in the administration, is because of concern we have based on information that we have that China is considering moving beyond the nonlethal support that some of its companies have been providing to actually lethal material support for Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.
And what I can share with you is that we did very clearly warn China about the implications and consequences of going through with providing such support. We will not hesitate, for example, to target Chinese companies or individuals that violate our sanctions or otherwise engage in supporting the Russian war effort.
Beyond that, what I heard very clearly from countries around the world that I’ve been engaged with over the past 10 days, since these concerns have first been raised and shared with many countries, is that this is not only something that would be a serious problem for China and its relationship with us, but a serious problem with its relationship with countries around the world.
And let me just add this: China can’t have it both ways when it comes to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. It can’t be putting forward peace proposals on the one hand while actually feeding the flames of the fire that Russia has started with the other hand.
So I hope that China will take what we said very seriously – but not only what we said, what many other countries around the world are saying – and refrain from any further consideration of materially supporting Russia in the war effort.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. Next question.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My name is Yerbolatov. I have a question to be posed to the Secretary of State. So you said – you know that we are celebrating the one year anniversary of the war of Russia against Ukraine. And if we take into account the aggressive policy of the Russian Federation, is there a threat to peace and security in Central Asia in this regard, taking into account the aggression of Russia against Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. The concern that we have is not simply the aggression against Ukraine itself and the horrific things that are being done to its people, but, as I said before, the assault on the very principles that are at the heart of the international system, the heart of the United Nations Charter, that we believe are necessary to keep peace, security, stability around the world, including here – the principles of territorial integrity, of sovereignty, of independence.
And a big part of the reason why it was so important for countries to stand up against the Russian aggression is not only to help Ukraine defend itself but also to defend those principles. Because if we allow them to be violated with impunity, then that does open up the prospect that Russia itself will continue – will consider further aggression against other countries if it sets its sight on them, or other countries will learn the wrong lesson and would-be aggressors in every part of the world will say, “Well, if Russia can get away with this, then we can too.” And that’s a recipe for a world of conflict, a world of instability, a world that I don’t think any of us want to live in.
So that’s why it’s been so important for so many countries to stand up and say, “No, we don’t accept this.” I can’t speak to any specific ideas, plans that Russia may have anywhere else. I think its focus is very much on Ukraine. But I can say that had we failed to stand up in support of the principles that Russia was violating by invading Ukraine, that would have created I think a greater prospect that Russian aggression would point in other directions.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. Due to the lack of time, we have one final question.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I was going to ask a question that was quite similar to my colleague’s, if I – Mr. Secretary, if I could ask little bit more, the idea that you had of – you said repeatedly here that territorial integrity, independent sovereignty of all the Central Asian nations. Do you see that being at risk at all? I know you just mentioned that you don’t see anything specific from Russia, but what are the types of the things that the U.S. could provide, or the security guarantees, if you want to put it that way, diplomatic support? What can the U.S. do to ensure that those values are held?
And if I could ask the foreign minister a bit of the same thing. You mentioned historic ties both with Russia and Ukraine. To what extent do you feel any threat, any risk from what’s happening in Ukraine, not just on the economic front but also the security front? Thanks very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Shaun, thank you very much. One of the things that we’re working on in very practical ways is to demonstrate that the United States is a steadfast partner for countries in Central Asia. Our support for their independence, for their sovereignty, for their territorial integrity is real, but it’s particularly manifested in two ways. One, it’s manifested in helping them in different ways develop the strongest possible capacities for their own security, their growing economic prosperity, and the strength and resilience of their societies. That’s the best way to make sure that going forward these countries can determine their own futures consistent with those principles. And we’re doing that on a bilateral basis, and we’re doing that, as you mentioned, in the C5+1.
One of the things that we’ve seen in Ukraine is that its own resilience to the Russian aggression of course starts with the incredible courage of the Ukrainian people, the extraordinary efforts of its military. But I think it goes beyond that. I think what we’re seeing as well is a resilient society that’s resilient also because it has stronger and stronger institutions, not only within government – those are usually important – but also beyond it, including a vibrant free press, including a strong civil society. Each of those things is part of Ukraine’s success story in dealing with Russia’s aggression and in creating a country that’s resilient to the aggression, that can deal with it, and that will bounce back from it.
And so it’s a long way of saying that our partnerships here, the work we’re doing here is also to help our friends in Central Asia build these kinds of strong, resilient societies with strong institutions, with ever greater capacity for their people, with more and more investment coming in from the United States and from other countries, with greater connections among them because these governments ultimately are going to be even stronger when they’re working together to meet common challenges. And I think that creates the kind of region where their ability to uphold their own territorial integrity, their own sovereignty, their own independence will be that much stronger.
FOREIGN MINISTER TILEUBERDI: Yes. I just mention that definitely Kazakhstan doesn’t allow to use its territory for evasion sanctions, but it doesn’t mean that for today we have or feel any threats or risks from Russian Federation.
As I answered to the first question, Kazakhstan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, Collective Security Treaty Organization, Commonwealth of Independent States, with other states and countries surrounding Russia. So our relationship we consider as an alliance in the framework of all these multilateral structures.
And for bilateral cooperation, relationship, we have solid legal base that – which is more important that we have the completed delimitation process, the state border between Kazakhstan and Russia, and as you know is the longest land border in the world. It’s over – more than 7,500 kilometers. Now we are in the process of demarcation. It’s almost 70 percent of this border completed. We have regular consultations between the government and federal states on the different issues. And as you know, Kazakhstan will continue its multi-vector foreign policy. It means that we are trying to keep the system of the check and balances and to develop the mutually beneficial cooperation, relationship with all the countries of the world. Thank you.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Dear colleagues, our press conference is over. Thank you for your attention.