DOC hosts round table on Kazakhstan’s Foreign Policy

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The Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC) on 28th of January 2019 hosted the second in a series of round tables on the foreign policy of Central Asian states at its office in Moscow. “Multiple Vectors of Central Asia: the Case of Kazakhstan” brought together Russian and Kazakhstan experts studying Kazakhstan, Central Asian region and Eurasian integration processes to discuss the foreign policy of Central Asia’s largest state and how it may develop in future. The keynote speech was given by Andrei Grozin, Head of Central Asia and Kazakhstan Department at the Institute of CIS Countries.

Andrei Grozin noted that Kazakhstan has the most developed multi-vector foreign policy of all Central Asian states. This is a geopolitical imperative due to Kazakhstan’s position as a landlocked country in the centre of Eurasia (the Caspian Sea cannot be considered a sea in the full sense), which makes maintaining a balance among different centre of powers a necessity.

Other factors include the interests of the political elite, and particularly of the Kazakh leadership. Kazakhstan is also the most integrated of all Central Asian states into the global economic system, which also makes it vulnerable to volatility in commodity markets, Andrei Grozin noted. Another key leitmotif is to maintain independence from external forces, although no external actor is currently seeking hegemony in relations with Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan has been successful in building constructive relationships with a number of leading nations, although the country now has to choose which partners to engage with more closely to avoid become a “friend to everybody and a friend to nobody”. Another potential vulnerability is that Kazakhstan’s political economy still operates using the model developed during the high oil prices of the 2000s, when money seemed to be the solution to every problem. Lower oil prices since then have highlighted inefficiencies in the political system.

Grozin concluded by saying that Kazakhstan will seek to maintain its current foreign policy. Only minor stylistic changes are likely, such as the strengthening of mutual interest between Central Asian states and India in the last year.

In the discussion that followed, political scientist and Central Asia expert Arkady Dubnov noted that many of the successes achieved by Kazakhstan in the early 21st century were made possible by the policy of liberalization in the 1990s.

The question was raised as to whether there is concern about the potential growth of Turkish influence in Kazakhstan. Grozin said that, while he sees no prospects for Turkish domination, Turkey is undoubtedly attempting to strengthen its influence in Kazakhstan through soft power, in particular by investing in intangible capital. The Turkish development model is also of interest to some members of the Kazakh elite. DOC Chief Researcher Alexey Malashenko added that Turkish foreign policy is currently more focused on the Middle East.

To a question from Iran expert Vladimir Sazhin regarding the prospects for “soft Islamization” in Kazakhstan, Grozin answered in the negative, but added that there is growing interest in Islam, as well as specific demands for the implementation of an “Islamic alternative”, primarily as a result of high levels of social inequality. Alexey Malashenko concurred, saying that the emergence of Islamism in Kazakhstan is almost impossible.

Temirbek Kappasov, Counselor at the Kazakh Embassy to Russia, noted the main components of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy, in particular the creation of a security belt along the state border since early 1990s, as well as a new priority, the “economisation” of the country’s foreign policy.

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