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Russia –Kazakhstan: Limits of alliance

Moscow State University has lately hosted an international roundtable “Kazakhstan’s Foreign Policy Initiatives amid Global Changes.” The event was initiated by Russian expert centers. Key topic on the agenda was Kazakhstan’s application for a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council in 2017-2018.

Those present at the roundtable discussion took a favorable view of the prospects of Kazakhstan membership of the UN SC hailing the country’s role in the Eurasian area and the mediation capabilities of the Kazakh diplomacy. Experts say it would meet Russia’s interests. Alexander Sobyanin, the head of the Strategic Planning Service, Association of Transboundary Cooperation, says Kazakhstan should make its application clear and significant for Russia, first, as Russia’s arguments in favor of Kazakhstan’s ambitious task will matter for those who will be deciding whether to let it to the UN SC or not.

Head of the Eurasian Integration and SCO Development Department of the CIS Institute Vladimir Yevseyev shares these views saying Russia would prefer Kazakhstan as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council to any other country. “Kazakhstan will be supporting it by 100%. It is my personal opinion. Therefore, Russia pins hopes on Kazakhstan’s support, while it not always can rely on Belarus,” he said.

It is noteworthy that Yevseyev and other participants in the roundtable discussion preferred not to remember the fact that during the voting on Crimea at the UN last March, Russia’s CSTO ally and member of the Customs Union – Kazakhstan – abstained from voting. Actually, that voting revealed that the CSTO lacks unity – only Armenia and Belarus supported Russia then (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan decided not to vote at all).

Meantime, Stanislav Pritchin, a research fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, showed certain skepticism about Russia’s hope for Kazakhstan’s support at the UN. “Kazakhstan is our closest ally, but even at the official level, it does not support our operation in Syria, much less one can expect it to somehow assist us in practice…Yet the fight against IS meets Kazakhstan’ interests,” Pritchin recalled.

He casts doubts on Astana’s mediation capacities too. In this light, he recalled that in 2010 when Kazakhstan was chairing the OSCE, a conflict emerged in Kyrgyzstan. Astana failed to do anything to settle it then. “It appears that when a true crisis emerged, one of the post-Soviet countries with the most efficient diplomatic school and structures failed to suggest something or involve into resolution of the conflict that broke out near its borders,” he said.

Although Kazakhstan’s foreign policy was the key topic of discussion, the experts could not avoid the latest downing of the Russian warplane by Turkey’s air forces over Syria. They actively discussed that incident behind the scenes too. The incident will seriously affect the relations of Russia and Turkey for years to come.

This issue requires a response by Astana and its irreplaceable leader Nursultan Nazarbayev. It is widely known that Nazarbayev cooperates with the Turkic countries. It was he who invited Turkey to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

Nothing is that clear about the cooperation of the EEU countries and China. Moscow offers Beijing to agree with the EEU over cooperation of the Union and the Economic Belt of the Silk Road. Meantime, China prefers a bilateral format of cooperation with every country involved in the EEU. In this issue, much will depend on Kazakhstan – the country with the second largest economy in the EEU.

In addition, Kazakhstan’s joining WTO has created additional problems to the EEU and Russia particularly. The negotiations for joining the WTO took nearly 20 years and ended in what the Kazakh authorities call admissible conditions. “We have managed to combine the requirements of WTO and EEU so that it meets our national interests,” Nazarbayev said.

Meantime, not all members of the EEU share the Kazakh leader’s optimism, as Astana committed to reduce its customs duties, which impedes business for all the other countries of the Union. Alexander Lukashenko harshly criticized the Kazakh leadership at the Forum of the Regions of Russia and Belarus in Sochi this September saying the countries have to adjust to what Kazakhstan “tricked out with WTO.”

Referring to representatives of the Eurasian Economic Commission, Gazeta.ru reported that before Kazakhstan’s joining WTO, the single customs tariff temporarily did not apply to some 400 commodity items, while after joining it, the number of the commodity items in that category has increased to 1,347. The Eurasian Commission said Russia’s regulators will have to toughen control over counterfeit goods and the post-clearance audit.

With this background, Russia needs Kazakhstan as a reliable ally. It should be noted that Astana supports Moscow in many issues and strictly pursues Eurasian integration. At the 70th Session of UN General Assembly this September, Nursultan Nazarbayev openly slammed the West’s sanctions against Russia saying the sanctions not backed by a decision of the UN Security Council shake the foundation of the world order and are a rudiment of the Cold War.

Furthermore, Kazakh leader’s idea to conduct a forum “Islam against Terrorism” was hailed by the Russian president and can help Russia keep its image in the eyes of the Islamic world. As the conflict with the West, Turkey, Saudi Arabia is growing amid the war against terrorism and radical Islamism, Russia wants to be confident in its allies – Kazakhstan is one of them, of course.

After all, Nursultan Nazarbayev was the first to voice the idea of the Eurasian integration. It is fair to assume that the president of Kazakhstan will do his best not to let that project fail.

Hayk Khalatyan for EADaily

Permalink: eadaily.com/en/news/2015/12/02/russia-kazakhstan-limits-of-alliance
Published on December 2nd, 2015 11:44 AM
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