United Arab Emirates’ Central Asian Policy: A Constructive Collaborative Approach

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Even being a Gulf country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been pursuing different policies for different regions like every other state. Central Asia is one of the interests of UAE’s different policies. These policies of Abu Dhabi towards Central Asia has been shaped by a pragmatic approach that prioritizes common interest with the state party and has obtained a constructive quality. This is why the regional activities of the UAE have been based upon the development of economic relations and the achievement of economic gains through investments made in various countries.

Along with the economic ties regarding its relations with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, UAE has been taking energy cards into consideration. Within this framework, Abu Dhabi spread on the effort to gain the involvement of UAE corporate in Caspian-based projects. All the process of these policies has corresponded to foreign investment expectations of regional countries and accelerate the relations with the mutual benefit maximization approach.

To clarify this approach, it is necessary to touch upon the Relationship between UAE and the countries in the region. First of all, to speak about Kazakhstan, it can be said that UAE has developed a well-established relationship with this country during the period of the Founding President of Kazakhstan, Mr Nursultan Nazarbayev. In the years between 2005-2020 it has been known that UAE invested approximately $2.4 billion in Kazakhstan and the trade volume between the two countries in 2020 was 474.4 million dollars.[1]

This development between the two countries also reflects the populace and lead to rising proximity and cultural interaction among peoples. Thusly, Kazakhstan applies visa exemption to UAE citizens, as well as it’s limited to one month. From this point of view, it is possible to foresee that the economic relations between the two countries will upgrowth. As a matter of fact, Deputy Minister of Economy of Kazakhstan Alisher Abdykadirov stated that the most significant partner of his country in the Middle East in the UAE, and announced that 30 new projects will be available to be implemented between the two states.[2] It is seen that Mr Kasım-Cömert Tokayev also encourages the inflorescence of bilateral relations. Moreover, the Kazakhstan-UAE Investment Forum is held regularly every year in order to deepen the bilateral economic relations and through this forum, communication is established between investors.

The driving force behind the connection among the Abu Dhabi-Nur Sultan line is the economy. This means that the investments of the UAE are a prominent issue for Kazakhstan. For the UAE, the situation of the energy basin in the Caspian is quite substantial. Hence, the UAE company Mubadala has been involved in projects in this region by purchasing 24% of KazMunaiGas company, which carries out natural gas exploration activities in Kazakhstan.

Similarly to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan has also held a noteworthy investment from UAE. For instance, on February 8, 2012, a Loan Agreement for the Bishkek-Torugart Highway Rehabilitation Project was signed between the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Abu Dhabi Development Fund herewith the UAE has started to provide financial assistance to transportation projects in Kyrgyzstan. On 7 December 2014, a memorandum of understanding was signed to encourage mutual investments, and thereafter, a significant increase occurred in UAE investments in Kyrgyzstan. Another memorandum of understanding, signed on the same date, opened the door to cooperation in the fields of mining and trade.

As can be seen, the relations on the Abu Dhabi-Bishkek line are shaped through economic cooperation. Moreover, these relations have been regrowth in recent years, especially since Mr. Sadir Japarov became the President of Kyrgyzstan. The main UAE company known to be operational in Kyrgyzstan is DP World.[3] There is also a visa liberalization implementation between the two countries which began reciprocally on January 17, 2017.[4] This served to strengthen the bond of communion between peoples of two countries.

There has been concrete progress in the relations of the UAE with Uzbekistan after the leader of the New Uzbekistan Movement, Mr Shavkat Mirziyoyev, became the President of Uzbekistan. The fact that Mr Mirziyoyev became the President brought about Uzbekistan’s expansion in many fields. In this context, Mirziyoyev’s administration, which focuses on projects for the development of Uzbekistan and tries to attract investment to its country, also drown together with the UAE.

As a tangible outcome of convergence on a question, the UAE invested a total of $4.5 billion in various projects in Uzbekistan between the dates of March 2019 and August 2021.[5] The most striking of these investments is the first solar power plant with a 100 MW capacity, which was opened in July 2021 and built by Abu Dhabi-based Masdar. There are 107 UAE-owned enterprises in Uzbekistan at present. In addition, 28 UAE-based companies are operational. All these have shown that the relationship between the two countries has a circle around economic ties.[6]  In this regard, the two parties are on the same page to increase the bilateral trade volume to 10 billion dollars.[7]

A positive atmosphere prevails in the UAE’s relations with Tajikistan either. In March 2007, the UAE became the first Gulf country where Tajikistan opened a consulate. This situation reveals the importance given to Abu Dhabi by the President of Tajikistan, Mr Emomali Rahmon. It is known that 22 companies of UAE origin participate in fairs organized to invest in Tajikistan. Therefore, it can be said that the economy is the driving force in the UAE’s relations with Tajikistan, just like in other Central Asian countries.

Finally, when we look at the relations of the UAE with Turkmenistan, it is seen that the main topics of the relations between the two countries are energy, trade and urban development. It is also known that UAE companies such as Petrofac, Gulf Oil and Gas Fze are closely interested in projects in the Caspian Sea and carry out operations in Turkmenistan.[8] These operations are also supported by the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. The propulsive force of the relations between Abu Dhabi and Ashgabat is the UAE-Turkmenistan Business Council The Council has an effective function in determining investment areas in Turkmenistan and guiding UAE investors.

There are 49 bilateral agreements between the two countries. As a result, Turkmenistan meets the majority of its electronics, high-tech, truck, car and other needs from the UAE. Currently, the UAE is the fifth-largest supplier of Turkmenistan.[9]

Based on all this information, it can be stated that the UAE plays a constructive role in Central Asia and contributes to regional welfare as well as creating employment through its investments. This situation brings about the sympathy of the regional capitals towards Abu Dhabi. Of course, the UAE’s activities in the region are not only for the Central Asian states; It also provides gains to the UAE. Abu Dhabi Administration is making significant gains from the region both through investments and energy projects. However, it is obvious that this type of connection is not a form of relationship in which one side exploits the other. In other words, the relations of the UAE with the states of the region operate with an approach that suits the interests of all parties within the framework of the understanding of interdependence. Therefore, the regional capitals do not have any concerns about the activities of Abu Dhabi. Thus, it can be predicted that the positive atmosphere in the UAE’s relations with the regional states will continue.

[1] “UAE, Kazakhstan to Strengthen Business Relations in Key Sectors”, Gulf Today,, (Date of Accession: 29.12.2021).

[2] Same source.

[3] “Trade and Economic Cooperation”, Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic,—Foreign-/–uslugi/Trade-and-Economic-Cooperation/AE, (Date of Accession: 09.09.2021).

[4] “Legal Base”, Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic,—Foreign-/–uslugi/Legal-base/AE, (Date of Accession: 29.12.2021).

[5] “UAE and Uzbekistan: Heralding A New Era”, Gulf Business,, (Date of Accession: 29.12.2021).

[6] “Uzbekistan, UAE Agree to Enhance Trade-Economic, Investment Cooperation”,,, (Date of Accession: 29.12.2021).

[7] Aynı yer.

[8] “Bilateral Relationship”, MOFAİC,, (Date of Accession: 29.12.2021).

[9] “UAE, Turkmenistan Mull Strengthening Cooperation”, Araznews,, (Date of Accession: 29.12.2021).

Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN, 2014 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2017 yılında Giresun Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası Güç İlişkileri Bağlamında İkinci Dünya Savaşı Sonrası Hegemonik Mücadelelerin İncelenmesi’’ başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora derecesini ise 2021 yılında Trakya Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı‘nda hazırladığı “İmparatorluk Düşüncesinin İran Dış Politikasına Yansımaları ve Milliyetçilik” başlıklı teziyle alan Başaran’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Uluslararası ilişkiler kuramları, Amerikan dış politikası, İran araştırmaları ve Afganistan çalışmalarıdır. Başaran iyi derecede İngilizce ve temel düzeyde Farsça bilmektedir.