Kazakhstan Will Play Key Role in Russia’s Foreign Policy

Kazakhstan is Russia’s strategic partner and co-founder of the Customs Union. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev advanced the idea of Eurasian integration, which makes him the founding father of the planned Eurasian Union, advocated by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Valdaiclub.com interview with Valikhan Tuleshov, Deputy Director, Institute of World Economics and Policy (IWEP) at the Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

What role will Kazakhstan play in Russia’s foreign policy in the next 5 to 10 years?

I believe that Kazakhstan will play a key role in Russia’s foreign policy during Vladimir Putin’s presidency. To begin with, Kazakhstan is Russia’s strategic partner and co-founder of the Customs Union. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev advanced the idea of Eurasian integration, which makes him the founding father of the planned Eurasian Union, advocated by all the three countries [Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan]. An implicit, contextual discussion is currently underway on the principles on which Eurasian integration will be based.

The ideas which Nursultan Nazarbayev put forward before the Customs Union was created were rather abstract: economic pragmatism, mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of allies, refusal to transfer sovereignty, and the creation of supranational agencies. But when talks on a common economic union were launched, these principles acquired a new meaning. They were complemented by other priorities such as improving investment attractiveness, innovative development, creation of breakthrough technologies, mediation and ties between the Euro-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific regions, the financial and economic independence of our community as an element of the global economic system, as well as evolutionary and voluntary development.

These principles have been generalized within the G-Global format for communication, which Nazarbayev proposed at an economic forum in Astana. There are five underlying trends: evolution rather than revolution; fairness; equality and consensus as the new paradigm of global development; global tolerance and trust; and global transparency and constructive multipolarity. In other words, the G-Global principles are an extension of Nazarbayev’s development principles for the post-Soviet space. On the other hand, they contradict the ideas advocated by Russia and Belarus. Given these differences, Kazakhstan will play a key role for Russia in the paradigm of dialogue on the foundations of the Eurasian project.

Furthermore, Kazakhstan is the geopolitical center of Eurasia and so its opinion must be taken into account on a wide range of issues, from Russia’s relationship with the Central Asian countries to Russian-Chinese relations within the SCO and the partnership for Afghan security also within the SCO. The U.S. Modern Silk Road geopolitical strategy takes into account Kazakhstan and its influence on processes in Eurasia. Considering these factors, Kazakhstan’s multivector policy plays an important, albeit not crucial role [in the region]. Hence Kazakhstan’s importance for Russia will be significant, possibly on a par with the importance of the European Union. Overall, Kazakhstan can be seen as a vast area for actions aimed at preserving Russia’s influence and protecting its interests in central Eurasia. Without Kazakhstan, Russia’s foreign policy would lose many regional and global facets, especially in view of the good relations between Astana and Beijing.

What is the difference between the U.S. Modern Silk Road and Kazakhstan’s New Silk Road projects?

The United States' Silk Road is a geopolitical project which covers the whole Eurasian continent and includes not only trade and economic but also political functions. The pivotal points of this project are India, Pakistan, Central Asia and Afghanistan. Washington needs to create an integrated network of trade and economic relations between these countries in order to protect its own political and strategic interests.

Kazakhstan’s Silk Road project is not only an economic but also a cultural and civilizational project. Kazakhstan wants to regain its historical role as a transit hub, a bridge between Europe and Asia. The U.S. and Kazakh projects overlap in terms of economic development and trade, but differ dramatically on geopolitical issues. Kazakhstan wants to become a link, for example to connect the Customs Union and China, and its investment climate is attractive to businesses from many countries. The advantages of the Kazakh project include the creation of favorable conditions for developing a transport hub between Aktau and Khorgos. Kazakhstan and Russia could connect Europe and Asia and increase traffic between the two continents, whereas the U.S. project will separate Europe and Asia, and plans to include such "problem" countries as Afghanistan and Pakistan in the transportation network.

Are the Common Economic Space and the Customs Union ready for a new crisis? How would the crisis influence relations between the three member countries?

In my view, the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space are being created too hastily. Only 14 documents have been signed, while another 52 are still on the table. We not only need to sign them, but also prove their importance. The Customs Union project is being implemented by the political elites of the member states. There are people in Kazakhstan who oppose both the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Union.

Moreover, the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space are not settled organizations and so are not ready for a new wave of the crisis. First, the three member states have no common institutions or tools for taking decisions and dealing with negative economic developments. They have different banking systems, different pension systems, different trade and investment environments, so there is a long way to go before they have a standard set of tools.

Second, they have a different level of readiness for the new wave of the crisis. Russia and Kazakhstan can pin their hopes on high prices of hydrocarbons, while Belarus has a better developed manufacturing sector. Furthermore, each of the three governments is pursuing its own policy, often taking steps without even informing its partners in the economic union. The expert community analyzes and compares these steps to make recommendations to their governments on the best way to minimize damage from possible economic shocks. Our countries do not consult each other, so their joint actions will have no synergistic effect for a long time to come.

In order to bring our countries’ positions closer to one another, we should consider all spheres of political and economic cooperation more thoroughly, coordinate our projects and learn how to come to a mutual understanding. In general, we must find the points where the interests of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus coincide and act in such a way so that all sides benefit. It has been said at business forums in Kazakhstan that the Customs Union is ruining small and medium-sized businesses in Kazakhstan, that the Common Economic Space exists only on paper, and that there is little probability that the Eurasian Economic Union will be created by 2015. Therefore the integration rhetoric must not overshadow the heart of the problems; we must be ready to analyze problems honestly, practically and openly, instead of promoting short-term interests. Otherwise we will see only minor and fleeting positive changes before the whole new mechanism rolls back with a deafening crash.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.