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Russia’s Expanding Energy Ties in Central Asia

Russia’s isolation from the West following its invasion of Ukraine has given new impetus to the country’s already close cooperation with the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Russia is using energy to enhance its influence in Central Asia and achieved notable successes in 2023, including building generating capacities, increasing electricity and hydrocarbon supplies to the region, and developing its transit potential to China. In this Q&A, the author discusses the different facets of Russia’s strengthening energy cooperation in the region and what’s behind Central Asian countries’ steadily growing dependence on Russian energy.

Why has Russia significantly increased its energy cooperation with Central Asian countries? What does it gain from this cooperation?

After the invasion of Ukraine, Russia faced unprecedented sanctions. Following the refusal of many Western countries to buy Russian hydrocarbons, huge volumes of Russian energy exports were diverted to other parts of the world, primarily to Asia.[1] At the same time, looking for new markets, Russia has intensified cooperation with numerous other nations that have declined to explicitly denounce its invasion of Ukraine or have stayed neutral, including its closest Central Asian neighbors.

Russia’s main reasons for expanding regional ties in the energy sector were, first, to urgently find an alternative to lost European energy markets—even if that meant less-profitable customers in Central Asia— and, second, to strengthen its political influence in the former Soviet Union space by increasing the energy dependence of those countries on Russia.

What are the benefits of energy cooperation with Russia for Central Asian countries?

The state of energy systems across Central Asian countries is quite deplorable. Roughly three-fourths of the power generation in Central Asia comes from fossil fuel power plants.[2] Most of the generation capacities and grids, built during the Soviet era, have deteriorated.[3] In Kazakhstan, for example, the average deterioration of energy infrastructure was 66% in 2023.[4] Deteriorating power assets repeatedly cause major outages, such as serious accidents at thermal power plants in the Kazakh cities of Ekibastuz[5] and Ridder[6] in 2022. Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, too, are facing blackouts, “short-term outages,” and power rationing.[7]

In addition to intermittent supplies of electricity, there is also a chronic shortage of fuel in the region.[8] Although some countries are major energy exporters, they have had difficulty meeting domestic demand in recent years. For example, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are unable to supply their domestic markets[9] with sufficient gas, while also being forced to severely curtail their gas exports to China. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also lack their own refining capacity against this backdrop of rising fuel consumption. The problem of painful fuel shortages is raising social tensions. A sudden jump in domestic prices of car fuel sparked unprecedented nationwide unrest in Kazakhstan in January 2022, nearly toppling the country’s ruling regime.[10]

In recent years, Central Asian countries have successfully attracted foreign direct investments in their renewable projects—Kazakhstan, for example, is among the top five developing economies by international investment in renewable energy.[11] According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s “Renewable Energy Status Report 2022,”[12] Central Asian countries have seen unprecedented growth in renewable power capacity. Nevertheless, wind and solar comprise only 6% of installed capacity in the region,[13] while implementing large renewable projects will take years and require enormous investments to the tune of $1.4 trillion between 2020 and 2050.[14] Central Asian countries are receiving greater support for the future development of new, renewable energy than for addressing their current challenges. This is where Russia has found excellent opportunities for cooperation, coming in with cheap energy resources as a “here and now” partner.

What new joint projects and initiatives in the power sector has Russia proposed to Central Asian countries in the past two years?

For Central Asian countries, cooperation with Russia in the energy sector has been facilitated by historical ties, a common energy infrastructure inherited from the USSR, and numerous economic and political integration projects initiated by Russia—above all, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).[15] Lower energy prices are one of the most important value propositions from the Russian side; Russian president Vladimir Putin has claimed that energy prices in the EAEU are 10 times lower than in Europe.[16] The EAEU member states are planning to create a common market for electricity,[17] gas,[18] and oil and petroleum products[19] by 2025. Russia is helping the countries of Central Asia overcome the electricity sector crisis in multiple ways, including electricity exports, power plant operation and modernization, and, especially, the construction of new thermal, hydro, and nuclear generating capacities (Table 1).

In addition to assisting with the region’s power crisis, what are some other ways in which Russia is expanding energy relationships in the region?

Having lost the European market, Russia is actively trying to turn Central Asian countries into customers as well as transiters of its hydrocarbons to China. At the end of 2022, Putin proposed establishing a tripartite gas union with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to coordinate the transport of Russian gas to China through the territories of the republics.[34] While Uzbekistan[35] and Kazakhstan[36] have both underscored the absence of a “trilateral union” between their respective countries and Russia, developments in the region suggest otherwise.

For the first six months of 2023, the three countries continued trilateral negotiations and the preparation of infrastructure for the start of Russian gas transit. Then, in July 2023, Gazprom signed a contract with Kazakhstan for the provision of services for Russian gas transit through its territory to Uzbekistan,[37] and supplies began in October of that year.[38] The next month, Alexey Miller, chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee, stated that Gazprom was negotiating long-term cooperation for 15 years with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and planned to reach legally binding agreements by mid-2024.[39] Miller also said that Gazprom planned to increase gas supplies through the Central Asia-Center gas pipeline system by developing gas transportation infrastructure in Kazakhstan by November 2025,[40] and did not rule out the possibility of Russian gas transit through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan to third countries.[41]

In addition to gas supplies and transit, Russia is increasing supply to Central Asia of petroleum products, which play a critical role in the social stability of the region. Oil transit arrangements with Kazakhstan are important for rerouting Russian exports, including boosting oil exports to China[42] (Table 2). Russia is also using its leverage over operations of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), which provides for more than 80% of Kazakh oil exports,[43] and providing an opportunity to replace sanctioned Russian oil supplies to Europe with transit from Kazakhstan via the Druzhba pipeline.[44]

Is there concern in Central Asia about growing political and energy dependence on Russia?

At a time when the energy systems of all the Central Asian republics are deteriorating and new bouts of social instability loom, Russia’s offer of cooperation is too tempting and timely for Central Asian leaders to refuse. Most of the non-Russian energy investments are focused on green energy, which doesn’t solve urgent energy deficits and related problems in the region. The risks of greater political and economic dependence on Russia do not outweigh the dangers of new social explosions, such as the one in Kazakhstan in 2022. As a result, Russia is expanding its influence in the region using the cheap fossil fuels that the countries of Central Asia so desperately need.















[14] [15] The Eurasian Economic Union ( is an economic union of five post-Soviet states located in Eurasia (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia). It is an ambitious project for economic integration in the former Soviet region. Its formal objectives are to create a common market much like the European Union. It aims to achieve this by coordinating economic policy, eliminating non-tariff trade barriers, harmonizing regulations, and modernizing the economies of its five member states.




















[35] According to the Uzbek energy minister, Uzbekistan intends to import gas and electricity from neighboring countries based on trade agreements and not within the framework of a union, and that the country would not allow “any political conditions” to be imposed on it in exchange for gas. However, in January 2023, Gazprom signed a roadmap for gas cooperation with Kazakhstan followed by signing a similar document with Uzbekistan the following week.;

[36] Similarly, in August 2023, officials from Kazakhstan pointed to the absence of a “trilateral union” between the republic, Uzbekistan, and Russia, stating that cooperation was limited to a bilateral basis.































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