Britain will help Kazakhstan develop export routes bypassing Russia, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on a visit to the Central Asian nation on Saturday.
Donning traditional dress including a fur hat and coat, Mr Cleverly posed with local women, held birds of prey and had target practice with a bow and arrow during a visit meant to demonstrate unity with Kazakhstan’s leaders, who have refused to support Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
He said Britain valued the position of Kazakhstan – which has traditionally been closely allied with Moscow – on the Ukrainian conflict.
“The UK greatly appreciates Kazakhstan’s consistent and principled position in supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and your desire to bring about resolution to the war in line with the UN charter,” he told a briefing.
Demonstrating London’s willingness to secure closer ties with Astana, Mr Celeverly represented Britain at the official opening of the new HM Queen Elizabeth II Square in the city’s Central Park.
Astana’s British Embassy shared pictures on social media of the Foreign Minister learning about the country’s “rich culture”.
Mr Cleverly, who met Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and a number of other senior officials, said he discussed the disruptions in Kazakh oil exports – most of which go through Russia – and discussed ways to support the development of alternative routes such as the so-called Middle Corridor.
That route crosses the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, and requires significant investment in order to boost its capacity, although Kazakhstan has already started diverting some crude shipments towards it.
Mr Cleverly and Kazakh diplomats said they had signed a memorandum on critical minerals such as rare earth metals, but provided no details about it.
Kazakhstan, a landlocked former Soviet nation of 20 million people, accounts for almost a half of the world’s uranium output and has large deposits of rare earth minerals which the West has traditionally sourced from China or Russia.
Kazakh leaders called in Russian troops to help put down street demonstrations weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. But since the invasion Mr Tokayev has been careful to keep his distance from Moscow and keep relations open with the West.