President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev has opened the autumn session of the country’s parliament with a remarkable speech. Addressing parliamentarians and government representatives attending the session, the Kazakh leader said Kazakhstan launched modernization of the three basic fields: economy, policy and conscience. Overcoming the difficulties of independence, the country tackled modernization in quite an uneasy global situation where Big Powers hold dialogue amid sanctions that “cannot but affect Kazakhstan.” Regional conflicts, destructive ideologies keep expanding amid total digitization that brings both new opportunities and risks.
In an interview with EADaily, Yuri Solozobov, Director for International Programs, Russian National Strategy Institute, comments on Nursultan Nazarbayev’s speech.
In his speech, Nursultan Nazarbayev spotlighted the West’s sanctions, though there aren’t any sanctions imposed on Kazakhstan.
Sanctions are imposed on Russia, the vanguard of the Eurasian Economic Union, the key country of commodity flows, transit via Kazakhstan. In this light, Kazakhstan’s economy is experiencing certain depression after sanctions were imposed on Russia. This has affected the investment climate, so less money is invested in common projects. The pressure of sanctions is still high. At first, there was certain “euphoria” – they said the “war of sanctions” may take several months, or a couple of years. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suggested to be patient. However, things got worse. It is evident now that sanctions will be toughened. Kazakhstan has taken steps to soften the negative effect – Astana International Financial Center was established on the principles of the British laws. It is intended for raising funds from Arab states, attracting new investors. It is impossible to be in the same chain with Russia and do not feel the pressure of sanctions, though indirectly. Implementation of a number of big projects, including in the transport sector, is on hold. Russia was supposed to expand its opportunities as a “land bridge” between China and Europe. The Western China – Orenburg highway built by Kazakhstan exists only on paper in Russia. We are designing its extension, but the future of the project has been questioned. In this light, Nazarbayev’s proposal that was made yet in 2014 comes to mind. He suggested to “show reasonable approach to the conflict in Ukraine, create an international fund to restore Donbass…” I think that suggestion was made ahead of time. It is extremely relevant today. Ukraine is a common trouble. If we fail to find effective steps for sanation within a year or two and create a kind of club of Ukraine’s neighbors and those who are interested in the settlement, the conflict will become long-term. We need to realize these alternatives. Either we try to settle the conflict within a couple of years, or we get an “ulcer” in the center of Europe for about 350 years and a phenomenon of Ukrainization or “somalization” of Ukraine will be felt not only in the East but in the West too.
Did they hear Nazarbayev’s suggestion to mediate Ukraine conflict?
They did, once. I’d like to recall that the Minsk format was chosen as interim one, as the first point of meeting of European commissioners, representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics, Moscow. Then Nazarbayev suggested that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso too traveled to Minsk. However, he was stepping down from office then and sent four European commissioners instead. Anyway, the meeting in Minsk was very important. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko even joked saying he played the role of a steward serving coffee.
The Astana format was to be the next stage. We can see that it works in the case of Syria. However, Ukraine issue has remained out of access. U.S. distanced itself from it and brought Victoria Nuland to the political field. What happened next is known to everyone. In fact, it is tragedy that the Astana format on Ukraine failed. It is reasonable to return to it. There are at least two important reasons to do it. First, Astana format’s success in Syria. Second, settlement of the conflict in Ukraine is very important to Poland and Kazakhstan, and these countries are UN Security Council members and can promote interesting, new approaches to the conflict settlement, which will be undoubtedly heard by the world community.
Nazarbayev mentioned also the expanding destructive ideology. He was speaking about ISIS (“Islamic State” – a terrorist organization banned in Russia and other countries). To what extend does ISIS threaten Kazakhstan?
It was about both ISIS and spreading of radical groups as Salafis, Wahhabism…All this is quite serious and dangerous. There was tense situation in Aktobe not so long ago. There is a problem of Jihad’s romantization, using social discontent as the best supporter of radicalism. Propaganda of Salafism says the government has distanced itself from the people, ignores the problems and burdens of ordinary citizens, while Salafis help the people with money, though in exchange for solidarity and small services. Another matter that these services suddenly grow into demands to blast something, attack someone. Such scheme works in the North Caucasus. It may work in Kazakhstan too. Astana is trying to be proactive and not to ignore current threats and challenges, and this is good.