Macron in Central Asia and France's interest in the New Silk Road

02.11.23 18:50

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Kazakhstan and then Uzbekistan on Wednesday 1 November 2023. The purpose of the visit, according to media reports, was to sign agreements to supply uranium for French nuclear power plants. This summer, an anti-French military seized power in Niger, which supplies 15 per cent of France's uranium needs, raising questions about whether the African country can continue to be a reliable source. Niger recently stopped supplying France with uranium.


"Niger raises questions, Russia could raise questions in the long term if the EU imposes sanctions on the nuclear sector". Macron's visit to Central Asia helps address these concerns," said Phuc-Vinh Nguyen, an energy expert at the Jacques Delors Institute in Paris.


 EU imports from Russia are falling, while uranium imports from Kazakhstan rose by more than 14 percent last year. Earlier this year, Yerzhan Mukanov, CEO of the country's state nuclear company Kazatomprom, said there was growing interest from Europe and that Kazakhstan intended to become a major player in the European nuclear market.


French nuclear company Orano has been active in Kazakhstan, where it has operated uranium mines since the 1990s, and more recently in Uzbekistan. Orano president Claude Imauvin is accompanying Macron on the trip, along with 14 other French executives, including Luc Remont, head of French energy giant EDF.


Uzbekistan, it should be remembered, is one of the top 5 uranium producers, after Kazakhstan, Namibia, Canada and Australia. There is therefore a "superficial" explanation for Macron's current visit: France is under great pressure to supply its nuclear power industry with uranium raw materials. But there is another, no less important, explanation for France's interest in Central Asia: Paris is trying to "stake out" its interests in the countries along the new Middle Silk Road linking China and Europe. For the EU, whose most important economy, along with Germany, is France, participation in the transit of goods to and from China is of strategic importance.

In April this year, Emmanuel Macron visited

China, where he made virtually "pro-China" statements on the Taiwan issue, which are particularly painful for Beijing, saying that Europe must adopt a "neutral position" on the Taiwan issue.


Such "curtsies" are not made for nothing. France seriously expects to cooperate with China both in Africa, where Beijing is actively expanding, including in countries that Paris considers "its" sphere of influence, and most likely along the new Middle Silk Road, including Central Asia and the South Caucasus.


According to an Elysee Palace spokesman, Macron's visit to key Central Asian countries is intended to expand France's influence in a region with close ties to Russia and now also to China. In other words, it is really all about the same 'new middle silk road' that Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are known to be part of. In other words, it is clear that in addition to the "uranium component" of Macron's visit to Central Asia, there are other factors behind Paris's interest in the region.


Analysing these factors once again, one is reminded of the introduction of CSTO troops into Kazakhstan in January 2022, on the initiative of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (Armenia, which was destroying the CSTO from within, took advantage of its status as "CSTO chairman"). And its equally hasty withdrawal from the country.  Realising that under Nikol Pashinyan Armenia had already become a full-fledged French "proxy", some analysts did not rule out France's interest in Kazakhstan as the largest importer of Kazakh uranium. And where there are French interests, there are often Vatican interests. Caucasus Plus has already written about a possible "Vatican trace" in the events in Kazakhstan in the article "What is the Armenian contingent in Kazakhstan doing? (


Let us also recall what followed the events in Kazakhstan in January 2022: the aggression of the Russian Federation, which had just withdrawn its troops from Kazakhstan, against Ukraine, the "blocking" of transit through the Russian Federation, the growing interest in transit through the South Caucasus, the growing importance of the "Middle Corridor" through the South Caucasus and Central Asia for the transit of goods between China and Europe, which is of strategic importance for the economy of the EU and France. In other words, France's interest in participating in the functioning of the New Silk Road was evident even then.


It is clear that there is no way to "bypass" the countries of Central Asia, such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, in the "middle corridor". But other "forks" are possible. And here France has two options.


Or Paris should negotiate amicably with Azerbaijan and Turkey, which are also key to the functioning of the Middle Corridor. And help them to develop the international transit, at least by forcing Armenia, which is dependent on itself, to open the Zangezur corridor sooner and for the common benefit. Or France will continue to intrigue and try to "build and launch" alternative routes to the north or south. Given the current global status of Russia and Iran as "pariahs", this will be difficult in the current geopolitical situation. And if the situation deteriorates further with the participation of these countries, it will be impossible. It is hardly in France's interest to embark on an adventure and trigger a global redistribution of borders and the collapse of Russia and Iran in order to create "alternative paths".


Looking back in history, the functioning of the Great Silk Road once depended indirectly on France. It was during the so-called Avignon captivity of the Popes, when, for almost a century from 1309, the Popes were in fact "hostages" of the French kings and their residence was not in Rome but in the French city of Avignon.


This "captivity of the Popes" ended in 1377 when Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome from Avignon. The Vatican became the new papal residence, replacing the Lateran Palace, which burned down in 1308. But after the death of Gregory XI in 1378, the cardinals, unhappy with his successor Urban VI, elected an "anti-pope", Clement VII, who returned to Avignon. Thus, within a year of the end of the "Avignon Captivity", the "Great Western Schism" began, when both Avignon and Rome had competing popes, dividing the entire Catholic world between them.


The era of the "Avignon Captivity of the Popes" and the "Great Western Schism" was at the same time the era of prosperity of the Ulus Dzhuchi (Golden Horde) and the functioning on its territory of the Great Silk Road through the territories of present-day Kazakhstan, the Lower Volga region of the North Caucasus and the Black Sea (including Crimea), the Black Sea and Constantinople to Europe.


 And the "operators" of this route in its western part were Italian states - Genoa and Venice, linked to the Roman popes, who were unconditionally subordinate (at least until 1377) to the French kings. It is no coincidence that it was then that the name "Franks", i.e. the French, took root behind the Catholic Europeans in the East.


But since 1417, when the "Avignon Pope" Benedict XIII was deposed and excommunicated by the Council of Constance, the Roman popes finally left the close tutelage of the French kings and settled in Rome, which was beyond the control of France.  And then the route of the Silk Road through Ulus Dzhuchi was "cut" by the Ottoman Empire with the conquest of Constantinople, which led the Western countries to search for "roundabout ways" and became a push of great geographical discoveries. After these events, the Golden Horde very soon fell into decline, disintegrated and disappeared, ceding a significant part of its possessions to its former vassal - the Grand Duchy of Moscow, which became the core of the future Russian Empire.


Of course, it is no longer realistic to return to the period of French hegemony over the western world and the "western part" of the Silk Road. But it is not impossible that some French leaders draw analogies between this period of "local Western hegemony of France" and the present, and have certain ambitions.



Alexandre Zaqariadze 

Read: 910

Write comment

(In their comments, readers should avoid expressing religious, racial and national discrimination, not use offensive and derogatory expressions, as well as appeals that are contrary to the law)

You can enter 512 characters

News feed