Beibut Atamkulov paid an official visit to Moscow, where he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. During the meeting, the diplomats discussed prospects for the development of bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on various issues of the international agenda. Moreover, they signed an action plan for the cooperation of the foreign affairs agencies for the next two years. Lavrov noted the success of Astana diplomacy in the international arena. Atamkulov spoke about reformatting the activities of his department. He stressed that the Foreign Ministry plans to strengthen the economic component of Kazakhstan’s diplomacy. “A serious emphasis will be placed on the issues of attracting investments and promoting Kazakhstani exports. We expect that the intensification of cooperation in the economic field will have a mutual positive effect on our countries, both in terms of increasing mutual trade and in the direction of investment and industrial cooperation. Russia is one of the seven largest investors in the Kazakh economy,” Atamkulov said.
The first and second place among investors are traditionally held by the EU and the United States. But Russia is leading as a foreign policy direction in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s foreign policy and its possible changes were discussed during the round table entitled ”The Multiplicity of Central Asia: the Kazakhstan Version” on January 29th. According to the senior researcher at the Center for the Study of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Ural-Volga Region at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Head of Central Asia and Kazakhstan Department at the Institute of CIS Countries Andrei Grozin, Kazakhstan was the first among the CIS countries to declare a multi-vector foreign policy at the official level and is following it during all the independence period. According to the expert, not only subjective factors influenced Kazakhstan’s multi-vector policy (leadership decided, leadership accepted the multi-vector concept), but objective circumstances as well.
Among the objective circumstances is the territory of the country and its geographical location. Kazakhstan is a gigantic landlocked territorial entity in the center of Eurasia – it has no access to world maritime communications. The Caspian Sea – a large closed reservoir – does not count. Therefore, the authorities of the country were forced to accept the concept of multi-vector maneuvering between world powerhouses. Subsequently, other measures were added to this tacking. The matter concerns the ability to use the interests of these world powerhouses for the country’s own benefit and fulfillment of the national interests.
The subjective factors include Kazakhstan’s foreign policy, which, like of all post-Soviet republics, is determined by the interests of the ruling political class of the country, working to maintain and strengthen its power and political systems. The economy is secondary to a certain extent.
Andrei Grozin also recalled that unlike its neighbours, Kazakhstan was able to integrate into the world economic system. On the one hand, the liberalization and denationalisation of the economy carried out at the dawn of independence yielded certain fruits that were gathered by the political and business elite of the country. Kazakhstan, according to experts, remains the economic leader of the region. The standard of living of the population in the republic is higher than in other countries of Central Asia. On the other hand, a serious dependence on raw materials emerged.
According to the expert, the entire foreign policy of Kazakhstan, as well as other Central Asian countries, with the exception of Kyrgyzstan, is built upon the interests of the country’s top political leadership and president. Decision-making depends on leadership’s views on certain issues on the agenda.
Kazakhstan, in addition to the objectively existing factors that have led to the adoption and implementation of a multi-vector policy, in the future, will adhere to the established style and maintain the model of foreign economic and foreign policy balancing between the various world powerhouses.
In his latest message, President Nursultan Nazarbayev once again set political priorities with minor changes. However, the reshuffle with the preservation of the Russian-Kazakh cooperation on the first lines does not reflect the fluctuations in Astana’s foreign policy. “The republic will try to adhere to the same strategies in relation to Moscow, Beijing, Brussels and Washington, as well as to other capitals. It is unlikely that one of the world powerhouses will seek any greater one-sidedness from Astana,” Andrei Grozin said. According to him, Astana, being in close relations with Russia, has never pursued a policy that would meet 100 percent of Russia’s national interests. Astana, for example, does not recognize Moscow’s decisions on Transcaucasia; Kazakhstan is quite critical about the number of recent Russian steps. Periodically, there is a mutual misunderstanding on some issues, but they are technical in nature. And what is important, they are not as ‘loud’ as, for example, between Moscow and Minsk. The reason for this is the style and behavior of elites. The Kazakhstan elite is more integrated into the Russian context than the Belorussian one. In addition, the political system of Kazakhstan, in contrast to Belarus, is not prone to flamboyant statements. Nazarbayev, in fact, is the oldest president in the post-Soviet space. Obviously, due to his age and political experience, he does not lack the understanding that spoiling the relations with the leadership of Russia is not too productive or rational, and will not lead to anything good.
Kazakhstan has managed to implement a strategy to increase the political weight and authority of the country in the world arena; it has managed not to quarrel with the world’s leading players and to smooth out all the difficulties that arise both with the Kremlin and the White House. So far Astana manages to maneuver in the increasingly complex global agenda. But there are also disadvantages. Kazakhstan to a certain extent has become a confirmation of the English proverb: friend to everybody is a friend to nobody. The current geopolitical reality can put Astana that wants to maintain a model of foreign policy activity with a focus on everyone before a choice. Another question whether this development is possible.
Asked by Vestnik Kavkaza whether the status quo of Kazakhstan will be preserved in the post-Nazarbayev period, Grozin answered that, most likely, yes. “The transit of power will be closer to the Uzbek scenario than to the Turkmen one. This is likely to be a planned transfer of power, rather than an unexpected one, giving rise to numerous conflicts and problems. In any case, due to the activity that has been observed in the state construction over the last two to three years, it is clear that the insurance mechanism for force majeure is being built in. This is a question concerning the new status of the Security Council, the prospects for holding early parliamentary and presidential elections, which are widely discussed in the country. The transfer of power will be characterized by a consensus between the main financial and industrial elite groups, as in Uzbekistan, and if a consensus is reached, an attempt will be made to preserve the political system that has developed over the past 25 years. No matter who becomes the successor, the state line will remain unchanged, as it was under Nazarbayev, including the foreign policy guidelines, tactics and strategy for building foreign policy. We should not expect a major revision of the economic decisions.”
However, Alexey Malashenko, the head of research department at the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, is not sure that the transit of power in Kazakhstan will be similar to Uzbekistan’s one: “There are nuances. There are zhuzes that are said to be outdated, but, nonetheless, they are preserved. The political elite in Kazakhstan is bright. There are at least five or six ambitious politicians who hope for something at heart. I will not mention their names, because, as they say in Kazakhstan, if you want to spoil someone’s biography, name him a presidential candidate. Moreover, there are Kazakhstani politicians who are in emigration. In particular, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin. The transfer of power will be based not on the continuity of a rigid authoritarian regime, but on a certain synthesis of authoritarianism and consensus. This is the best scenario for Kazakstan,” Malashenko believes.