On December 29, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed the creation of a “tripartite gas union” to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to export natural gas to countries including China. The aim of Moscow was to establish a coordination center between gas exporting countries like itself. At a time when the energy crisis in the world deepened, Russia aimed to develop cooperation with various countries in order to use its energy trump card more effectively with the said proposal. It can be said that the Kremlin aims to take precautions against the policies that the West will follow and the alternatives it will create.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan reacted differently to Moscow’s “triple gas union” proposal. Astana stated that the issue should be discussed and discussed. Tashkent, on the other hand, stated that cooperation was made with various countries, including Russia, through mutual agreements; however, they stated that they would not sign an agreement that would harm their sovereignty. Uzbekistan Energy Minister Jurabek Mirzamahmudov used the following statements in his evaluation on the subject:
“Even if a gas agreement is signed with Russia, this does not mean unity. Therefore, negotiations are being held for the delivery of gas via neighboring Kazakhstan. This will be a technical contract; not a union.”
With the statement made, Uzbekistan has a will to develop cooperation with states; however, it has revealed that they are sensitive about making independent decisions, pursuing a multi-faceted foreign policy and not limiting the commercial relations they have established with various states to certain mechanisms. In addition, Mirzamahmudov made statements that Russia can send liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Afghanistan and Pakistan via Central Asia. These statements made it necessary for Russia to develop a more comprehensive policy and make a new opening.
For this purpose, the Moscow administration established direct contact with Astana and Tashkent. According to the Kremlin’s statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with his Kazakh counterpart, Mr. Kasım-Cömert Tokayev, on January 3, 2023. During the meeting, energy-centered bilateral relations were discussed. While detailed information about the meeting was not shared; It was announced that the leaders agreed to maintain coordination between governments and specialized agencies.
On January 4, 2023, Putin had a telephone conversation this time with his Uzbek counterpart, Mr. Shevket Mirziyoyev. Strengthening bilateral relations was discussed at the meeting, and the parties expressed their commitments to deepen cooperation in various fields, including energy. The increase in Russia’s dependence on customers in terms of energy and Uzbekistan’s cold approach to a gas union were influential in the discussion of the energy issue at the meeting.
In addition, Russia is trying to develop its energy relations with other Central Asian states. For example, Kyrgyzstan is dependent on foreign oil and natural gas. For this reason, Bishkek management needs foreign investors in energy and energy infrastructure. One of the prominent companies at this point is Gazprom Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyzstan extension of Gazprom. The company in question has invested $400 million in the country’s gas industry since 2016 and has built more than 1000 kilometers of distribution networks. In this way, approximately 40% of the country has become able to access natural gas. This rate is planned to be 60% in 2030.
One of the topics that has been talked about recently in Kyrgyzstan is the establishment of a nuclear reactor in the country. Because in 2022, the Ministry of Energy of Kyrgyzstan agreed with the Russian-based company Rosatom to conduct a feasibility study for the establishment of a nuclear power plant. This situation reveals that Russia has a multidimensional presence in the energy field in Central Asia.
There are various reasons for Russia’s energy expansion towards Central Asia. First of all, the Moscow administration, whose economy is dependent on energy exports, had to turn south in order to reach new markets. Therefore, the geopolitical importance of Central Asia has increased. In addition, the security and stability of the lines that will provide energy transfer are of critical importance. The fact that Central Asia is relatively more stable compared to other geographies has accelerated this process.
On the other hand, Russia is heading south with the effect of its broken relations with the West. At this point, Central Asia comes to the fore as an area where Russia feels safe because it is a post-Soviet geography. In addition, Russia is trying to intensify its relations with energy-rich countries in a process where the energy crisis is deepening and is being talked about more and more every day. In this way, he thinks that the West can balance its energy policies and continue to use energy as a trump card. In particular, the increasing interest of the West in Central Asia forced Russia to be more interested in this region. Because the increasing presence of countries such as China, India and Japan in the region has had a significant impact. In addition to all these, Russia wants to re-establish its influence on price determination in the world energy market. For this, it believes that relations with energy exporting countries should be strengthened.
As a result, the Kremlin suffered a significant economic loss with the war in Ukraine and left a large market. In this context, the energy trump card used against the West has weakened considerably. The situation in question pushed the Moscow administration to produce new policies and to strengthen its relations with Central Asian countries. However, Russia’s proposal to establish a gas union was negatively received. For this reason, Moscow is trying to develop new strategies. For this reason, it is seen that Russia focuses on making an energy initiative.
 “Putin Proposes Creation of ‘Natural Gas Union’ with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan”, RFE/RL, https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-kazakhstan-uzbekistan-gas-union-putin/32153946.html, (Date of Acession: 07.01.2023).
 Navbahor Imamova, “Russian Gas Swap Scheme Gets Cold Shoulder in Central Asia”, VoA, https://www.voanews.com/a/russian-gas-swap-scheme-gets-cold-shoulder-in-central-asia/6867304.html, (Date of Accession: 07.01.2023).
 “Putin, Tokayev Discuss High Level of Russia-Kazakhstan Relations-Kremlin”, TASS, https://tass.com/russia/1558721, (Date of Accession: 07.01.2023).
 “Telephone Conversation with President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev”, President of Russia, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/70324, (Date of Accession: 07.01.2023).
 Aygun Maherramova, “Gazprom Kyrgyzstan Talks Gas Supply, Investments in Country’s Gas Sector”, Trend News Agency, https://en.trend.az/casia/kyrgyzstan/3690654.html, (Date of Accession: 07.01.2023).
 Aiday Erkebaeva, “The Looming Fight Over Nuclear Power in Kyrgyzstan”, Eurasianet, https://eurasianet.org/the-looming-fight-over-nuclear-power-in-kyrgyzstan, (Date of Accession: 07.01.2023).