Energy Factor and Kazakhstan in Baerbock’s Visits to Central Asia

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German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on 30 October and 2 November 2022 respectively.  In her statement before the visit, Baerbock did not hide the geopolitical and strategic reasons that led her to go to Astana and Tashkent. As a matter of fact, when we look at the statements made to the public and the general meaning of the visits, it is seen that the Berlin administration has different strategic goals for both countries. While focusing on Kazakhstan’s large energy reserves, Baerbock drew attention to the potential of Uzbekistan in terms of population and its capacity to become a regional power.

As it will be remembered, the German Foreign Minister said that they wanted to create an effective network between Central Asia and Europe before the visit. In addition, Baerbock stated in the same statement that Germany in particular and Europe in general do not aim to create new dependencies or economic advantages, but rather to create honest and fair opportunities.[1] In fact, this statement shows that Germany is trying to develop a different perspective against the policies of Russia and China. Therefore, Berlin is careful to create a positive image in the face of Central Asian capitals. As a matter of fact, Baerbock’s statement that they desire the establishment of a partnership in accordance with the principle of equality of states also proves this.

One of the remarkable statements made by the German Foreign Minister before her visit is that 85% of Germany’s trade with Central Asian countries is with Kazakhstan.[2] Trade with other Central Asian states is only 15%. That’s why Baerbock first visited Astana on her trip and she met with senior government officials, including Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov and Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi.

At a press conference following the discussions in Astana, Baerbock divided the focus of her interactions into three points: praise for taking a position in support of international law, the extent of the country’s green hydrogen potential, and sustainable growth. In addition, the German Foreign Minister also drew attention to the situation of interdependence in Kazakhstan-Russia relations.

As expected, Baerbock’s speech in this discourse is praise to Kazakhstan’s attitude of caring about international law in the Ukrainian War, despite its close relations with Russia. As it is known, Kazakhstan has been cautious since the beginning of the war and calls for acting in accordance with the law. This issue is important for Germany. But the main reason for Astana’s approach is the desire to turn the sanctions imposed on Russia into an opportunity. Of course, this situation is in the interests of Europe, which wants to diversify its energy supplier. In fact, the frequency of the European authorities’ visits to Astana also confirms this situation.

The most important development in Baerbock’s contacts in Kazakhstan was the decision of the Berlin administration to open a Hydrogen Diplomacy Office in Astana. As a matter of fact, the German Foreign Minister stated that an office will be opened, which will consist of experts from both countries. Considering that Kazakhstan is a major energy power, it can be asserted that Astana can turn into an energy centre in a global sense. At this point, it is necessary to remind that the delegation headed by Baerbock on her visit to Central Asia includes names of experts in terms of energy and infrastructure. Therefore, the Berlin administration is making a Central Asian initiative on energy. Obviously, this opening can be described as the most rational solution for the European Unition (EU). Because, in the face of the energy crisis due to the Russia-Ukraine War, Europe has several options. These are projects based in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. However, in the current situation, there are serious risks regarding the security of the problems that will be carried out through the Middle East and Africa. Kazakhstan, on the other hand, is a stable actor in the context of both energy and route security.

On the other hand, an agreement of 50 billion dollars was signed between Kazakhstan and the Svevind Energy Group company, which is building the largest wind farm in Europe.[3] The power plant, which is projected to be one of the largest green hydrogen power plants in the world when completed, is planned to have a size of 20 gigawatts.[4] The most important point of the project in question is the production capacity. According to the company, the electrolysers will be able to produce up to 2 million tons of green hydrogen per year starting from 2032. This is equivalent to one fifth of the EU’s imported green hydrogen target in 2030.[5] Therefore, this project has a great importance for the energy security of Europe. In addition, since it is green hydrogen, the power plant in question will also mean a big step forward in terms of environmental sensitivity.

It should be noted that Kazakhstan is becoming a desirable centre due to its geography suitable for green hydrogen production at low costs. In this regard, Kazakhstan can be seen as an important and competitive actor in the global market. One of the reasons behind the visits made or planned to Kazakhstan in the recent period is the energy potential of the country. Therefore, increasing energy prices due to the Russian-Ukrainian War have improved the hydrogen market against fossil fuels and new projects have come to the agenda in the world. This is what brings Kazakhstan to the forefront.

In short, the energy factor pushes European countries, especially Germany, to open to Central Asia. One of the most important countries here is Kazakhstan. Baerbock’s visit is a reflection of this. Undoubtedly, Kazakhstan’s approach to this issue is also important. However, the developments indicate that Astana will be evaluated as an important partner which many actors are trying to convince.

[1] “Statement by Foreign Minister Baerbock Prior to Her Departure for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan”, Almanya Federal Dış İlişkiler Ofisi, 30 Ekim 2022, (Date of Accession: 12.11.2022).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Vanessa Dezem, “Kazakhstan Signs Deal to Make Hydrogen at a $50 Billion-Plant”, Bloomberg, 27 Ekim 2022, (Date of Accession: 12.11.2022).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

Göktuğ ÇALIŞKAN, who received his bachelor's degree in Political Science and Public Administration at Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University, also studied in the Department of International Relations at the Faculty of Political Sciences of the university as part of the double major program. In 2017, after completing his undergraduate degree, Çalışkan started his master's degree program in International Relations at Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University and successfully completed this program in 2020. In 2018, she graduated from the Department of International Relations, where she studied within the scope of the double major program. Göktuğ Çalışkan, who won the 2017 YLSY program within the scope of the Ministry of National Education (MEB) scholarship and is currently studying language in France, is also a senior student at Erciyes University Faculty of Law. Within the scope of the YLSY program, Çalışkan is currently pursuing his second master's degree in the field of Governance and International Intelligence at the International University of Rabat in Morocco and has started his PhD in the Department of International Relations at Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University. She is fluent in English and French.