| WASHINGTON, March 28
WASHINGTON, March 28 A senior U.S. official will
travel to two countries in Central Asia next week to emphasize
U.S. support for the independence of post-Soviet states after
Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal, Washington's
point person for South and Central Asia, will visit Kazakhstan
from March 31 to April 2 and Kyrgyzstan from April 2-4.
"In both countries Assistant Secretary Biswal will re-affirm
the U.S. commitment to continued engagement and partnership with
the countries of the region for stability and prosperity," the
State Department said in a statement.
A State Department official added that would "affirm our
support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of both
countries and for all post-Soviet states."
The U.S. visit will come two weeks after Russian President
Vladimir Putin's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine,
another former Soviet state.
Putin is now expected to turn to the autocrats of Central
Asia, particularly Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev, to further
his aim of erecting a Eurasian Union of former Soviet states.
Kazakhstan is one of two ex-Soviet states, along with
Belarus, that has joined a customs union with Russia. Members
plan to sign documents this year to form the Eurasian Economic
Union, a regional bloc within former Soviet borders intended
eventually as a counterweight to the European Union.
While the other four former Soviet republics in Central Asia
- Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan - will not
be founder members of the new body, all are likely to be drawn
closer into Moscow's orbit as it restores influence in a region
it ruled for most of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The U.S. State Department official said all countries had
the right to choose their own development paths and added: "No
country has the right to determine the political and economic
orientation of another country, nor decide which alliances and
trade agreements it can join."
The Central Asian states have so far responded to the events
in Ukraine by staying silent or issuing cautiously worded
statements to avoid irking Moscow.
Kazakhstan's Nazarbayev told Putin on March 10 he
"understands" Moscow's stance on Crimea. He said on Tuesday work
on the Eurasian Economic Union would continue. However, he also
felt the need to point out that his country has no intention of
once again falling under Moscow's rule.
In late 1991, the United States became the first country to
recognize Kazakhstan's independence after the dissolution of the
Soviet Union. U.S. firms have significant investments in the
country's oil and gas sector, but the Kazakh economy has
remained closely intertwined with Moscow's.
Kazakhstan's much poorer regional neighbors Tajikistan and
Kyrgyzstan are both firmly in Moscow's orbit and have expressed
their willingness to join the customs union, but due to their
dire economic plight it may take years before they can join.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sandra Maler and