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Syrian crisis consolidates presidents of post-Soviet states

President of Russia Vladimir Putin has completed his trip to Kazakhstan, where he attended three important events within two days. The official program of the visit included bilateral meetings with his Kazakh opposite number Nursultan Nazarbayev, the CIS Summit, and the meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (EEU Summit).

During his negotiations with Nursultan Nazarbayev, Vladimir Putin qualified the relations of the two countries as “allied in all senses.” The two leaders discussed the situation in Syria rather than the Russian-Kazakh issues.  At least, there was such impression. The Syrian issue was voiced at the following summits too, which is not surprising considering its civilizational importance.

For instance, President of Kazakhstan Nazarbayev said “the situation in Syria is a common threat to all the countries, including in Central Asia.”  “There are speculations on the issues of Shiites and Sunnites, which have nothing in common. What is happening in Syria is a threat to all of us.” He suggested establishing a Forum “Islam Against Terrorism.” “If they support us, it will be the right direction to work toward, to better understand what we are doing,” the Kazakh president said. Vladimir Putin expressed understanding to Nazarbayev’s offer.

“We, of course, support the proposal made by the president of Kazakhstan to join the efforts of all countries, primarily those with an Islamic population, in fighting terrorism,” the Russian president said adding that “Russia and Kazakhstan are closely coordinating their approaches to international issues.”  Vladimir Putin said he briefed his Kazakh counterpart on the main results of the Normandy Four meeting in Paris and on the development of the situation in Syria and the actions to suppress terrorist activities in that country.

Actually, both the countries are actively involved in management of the “Syrian crisis.” Russia’s involvement is widely known, while Kazakhstan’s activity could have been forgotten. Meantime, it was Astana that had repeatedly provided a platform for negotiations and it could do nothing if only part of the Syrian opposition decided to use the opportunity.

Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev could not but discuss economic issues. Although the global economy like the economies of the two countries is experiencing hard times, the Russian president said, the commodity turnover between Russia and Kazakhstan and the volume of mutual investments are growing.   “The EEU will contribute to this. We have received proposals from many our partners to develop relations between economic unions. They expressed desire to cooperate with the Eurasian Union in various formats,” Vladimir Putin said.

The presidents signed a series of important agreements in the field of energy, space and a protocol on the delimitation of the bottom of the northern part of the Caspian Sea.  “The Caspian Protocol” would allow companies from both countries to launch the development of the major Struktura Tsentralnaya oil field that is located approximately 180km to the east of Makhachkala. Under the agreement signed, the oil field will be explored and developed with participation of the Kazakh partners. The sides will determine the percentage of the recovery division after stricter assessment of the oil reserves. Another agreement covers the nuclear energy sector. Vladimir Putin told a joint news conference that Russia is ready to build the first NPP in Kazakhstan.

Russia and Kazakhstan are efficiently cooperating in the spatial field too. Russia continues to use the Baikonur Space Station, the two countries have a common cosmic program. Aydin Aimbetov, a Kazakh spaceman, traveled to the Near Earth orbit as part of the international team. As to the Putin- Nazarbayev agreement, it regulates the relations of Russia and Kazakhstan in rocket launching from Dombarosvk, Orenburg region, Russia. In particular, Kazakhstan’s territory will be leased for almost USD500,000 annual payment to use it as impact area for rocket parts.

In the course of the meeting, the presidents addressed also the economic problems of their countries. “The current decline of the mutual commodity turnover is explainable and we know that it is temporary and connected with global changes and the slumping prices of our energy resources – export of production. At the same time, we understand that it is necessary to take operative coordinated measures at both the national level and within the EEU,” Nazarbayev said. The sides agreed to take “coordinated measures to soften the consequences of the economic crisis.”

Properly speaking, exclusive of the Russian-Kazakh specific issues, the topic Putin and Nazarbayev raised at their bilateral talks became the main issue for discussion at the CIS and EEU. Here are the most important moments. Spokesperson of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) Stanislav Zuyev said earlier that a suggestion to launch a dialogue on the trade and economic cooperation was submitted to the European Commission. He said the EEC hopes this initiative will lead to discussions of the idea of establishing a single economic space between the EEU and EU.  “It was a preliminary letter, not a draft agreement or any other legally binding document… It is necessary to establish trade and economic relations between the EEU and EU without political context,” Zuyev said.  In his words, it would be good to start with discussion of such issues, as, for instance, reduction of trade barriers, harmonization of the customs regulations and others. “If the European Commission considers such cooperation promising, we could launch negotiations at the level of experts in future, to draft a road map, and gradually start building a system the idea of the single economic space will be based on,” Zuyev said. The European Commission has not responded to the letter yet.

Most of the issues (out of 15) discussed at the EEU were organizational, for instance, the development prospects for 2030, the new Customs Code of the EEU, possible reduction of the number of the EEC Board (regulating body of the EEU) members. The chairman was replaced.  Victor Khristenko, Russia’s representative is the new chairperson now. The ex-prime minister of Armenia, Ambassador to U.S. Tigran Sargsyan will replace Khristenko on February 1 2016. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko made such announcement at the extended meeting of the board. “He enlists the support of the presidents, and President of Russia [Vladimir Putin], he worked with him. He is said to be a very experienced and leading specialist,” Lukashenko said at the meeting.  It is noteworthy that the ex-prime minister was rather pessimistic about the prospects of the EEU up to the moment when President Serzh Sargsyan announced that Armenia would join it.

Anyway, the Union operates for less than a year, but there are already many disagreements in it. First, the leaders of the alliance – Moscow, Astana and Minsk – despite their declarative unanimity, act asynchronously from time to time. As the West’s sanctions showed, the personal interests evidently dominate the interests of the Union.  For instance, not so long ago, Kazakhstan categorically refused to support Russia and refuse from import of the Norwegian fish. Belarus has just washed hands in such issues. The USSR simply shattered when Russia started to settle the issue in the spirit of the union “reposed in the Lord,” but changed its mind. In an interview with Le Figaro, Nursultan Nazarbayev made a point of the alliance duty, urging the West to stop the sanctions against Russia immediately, as Russia is powerful and its political will is unbreakable. He called for reconciliation, as the war in the East is much more dangerous and can be stopped only by combined efforts.  The crisis in the EEU was overcome.

Two other members of the EEU – Kyrghyzstan and Armenia – are still waiting for dividends, which are insignificant in view of the global crisis, sanctions, war and instability. However, if the situation improves, it is expected that Bishkek and Yerevan will get an opportunity to ask about the prospects of their membership as early as at the next high-level meeting.

The CIS Summit had a wider agenda. The presidents signed draft agreements on the youth, information, legal and environmental cooperation, and, of course, the draft Concept of Military Cooperation of the CIS for 2020. Sergey Lebedev, the head of the CIS Executive Committee – Executive Secretary, said the Commonwealth states are concerned over the growing activity of terrorist groups in various regions of the world.  “The actions of terrorists pose direct threats to the international peace and security. Therefore, the measures against terrorism with all its forms and manifestation are in the focus of attention of the CIS specialized councils. This issue was discussed also at the CIS Ministerial Council meeting in Kazakhstan last week and at the CIS Summit,” he told EADaily’s correspondent.

According to Lebedev, in CIS they are sure that efficient measures to fight terrorism are possible and should be based on the international law and coordinated by the UN, in line with resolutions of the Security Council and  General Assembly.  “The United Nations Global Counter Terrorism Strategy calls for a common strategic approach to fight terrorism, also through depriving its financial, ideological and personnel support.  The Commonwealth has a big potential in preventing and fighting threats emerging from the terrorist groups. We consistently work to improve the coordination of combined efforts to prevent, expose and stop terrorism, attempts of recruitment among vulnerable sections of the population,” Lebedev said.

The fourth concept adopted by the CIS countries contains the status of a “dialogue partner” that will help institutionalize the participation of the militaries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and first of all, from the bordering states,  in the CIS events.  At the high level meeting, Vladimir Putin informed his counterparts of Russia’s operation in Syria. The CIS leaders, like the Russian president, supported Nursultan Nazarbayev’s initiative to set up an international conference “Islam Against Terrorism,” which sparked a scandal. It turned out that Turkmenistan, which was represented at the Summit by the one of the deputy prime ministers, was displeased with the fact that Nazarbayev in his speech expressed concern over the “incidents on the border of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.” Ashgabat sent a protest later strongly recommending the Commonwealth to use more reliable sources of information. It was not clear what particularly aroused discontent of the Turkmen delegation.  Concentration of the Taliban forces on the border, deployment of Turkmen military and equipment closer to the border, and the incidents that happened there are widely known. Meantime, a protest is not a solution to the problem.  Apart from that, there was unanimity.

The Commonwealth leaders showed understanding to Vladimir Putin’s statement on “the non-constructive stance of the United States” on the Syrian issue.  It is known that Washington refused to receive the Russian delegation led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. “We leave doors open and hope for negotiations with the participants of this complicate process, including with our American partners,” Vladimir Putin said.

The relations with the CIS counterparts appeared to be more constructive. Anyway, the idea to establish a military group in Central Asia to meet external challenges was hailed at least in words.

EADaily Analysis

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