ASTANA, Feb 28 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Central Asia Tuesday where he will visit and meet with officials from all five former Soviet republics following the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Blinken's visit to the capitals of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan is his first to the region as the Biden administration's top diplomat.
The trip comes just days after the Feb. 24 anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, which has tested Moscow's influence in a region that also includes Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Leaders in the region have been emboldened to stand up to Russia by their new-found leverage as Moascow looks to their markets and trade routes in a bid to circumvent Western sanctions.
In Astana, Blinken will with meet with the five nations' foreign ministers individually and as a group, in what officials say is an effort to set out the benefits of U.S. cooperation to a region facing economic fallout from the conflict to the west.
"Our main goal is to show that the United States is a reliable partner, and we see the difficulties that these economies are facing – high food prices, high fuel prices, high unemployment, difficulty in exporting their goods, slow post-COVID recovery, and a large influx of migrants from Russia," Donald Lu, the State Department's top official for South and Central Asia, told reporters ahead of the trip.
Blinken will also meet Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who was re-elected in a landslide in November and has pushed back publicly against territorial claims made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.
Russia and Kazakhstan share the world's longest continuous land border, prompting concern among some Kazakhs about the security of a country with the second-biggest ethnic Russian population among ex-Soviet republics after Ukraine.
Blinken will travel to Uzbekistan later on Tuesday to meet with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.