U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stressed the importance of regional stability during a short tour of Russia’s Central Asia neighbor countries as Moscow’s war on Ukraine presses into its second year. 

In his first trip to Central Asia as secretary of state, Blinken met in recent days with leaders from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, also called the C5+1 group, underscoring U.S. support for the countries’ “sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.”

Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asia, had said ahead of the tour that the State Department’s “main goal” was to “show that the United States is a reliable partner,” in contrast to Russia. 

In a joint press conference with Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi, Blinken applauded the country for hosting more than 200,000 Russian citizens who fled after the war began last February, and for provisions of food, clothing and other humanitarian aid to Ukraine. 

Tileuberdi said that Kazakhstan has “very historic ties” with both Russia and Ukraine, complicating the economic dynamics in the region, but said that the country would not allow the use of its territory for Russian aggression or sanctions evasion.

February 26-March 3, Blinken is off to India for a meeting of foreign ministers in the G-20 after wrapping up visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.