Multi-vector at the crossroads
In one of the past issues of Central Asia Monitor, the results of a survey of domestic experts were published on how Kazakhstan should behave in the conditions of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. Today we decided to continue this discussion, but more broadly to consider the threats and risks that the current line of conduct of Astana carries. The questions that we addressed to our interlocutors, sounded like this: what will result in increased tension in relations between Russia and the West for Kazakhstan's multi-vector approach, and will a “reset” of the country's foreign policy be required?
Bulat Auelbaev, Head of the Department of Foreign Policy Studies at KISS under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan:
“Kazakhstan’s weighted position restrains the escalation of growing contradictions between regional and world powers”
- The events of the beginning of 2014 of the year have become for world politics another stage in testing the strength of the entire system of international relations. Now the epicenter of threats and challenges to global stability has shifted from the Middle East and North Africa to the territory connecting Eastern Europe with Eurasian expanses, that is, the territory is actually divided into parts of Ukraine.
In a short time, which included many changes in this country, the world community was plunged into a state of legal and political uncertainty. The system of international law has not just corroded - the entire modern architecture of global relations and rules has been seriously questioned. Currently, the only connecting element remains the interdependence of the economies of the states, without tying them to political positions regarding the change of power in Kiev, the change of the status of Crimea and events in the eastern regions of Ukraine.
At the same time, the growing crisis in relations between Russia and Western countries regarding different approaches to resolving the conflict in Ukraine threatens in the future to break important ties in the global economic system. With modern realities, in particular, the concentration of the population in urban agglomerations, the complex structure of the global division of labor and the international exchange of resources, this process will have irreversible consequences for the general world security.
For Kazakhstan’s foreign policy, all of this is a serious challenge. At the same time, the actions of our republic in the international arena are fully explainable and justified. They come from the experience gained by Kazakhstani diplomacy over the years of independence in neutralizing the negative impact of destabilizing factors on our country.
Currently, a balanced position of Kazakhstan allows not only to minimize the spread of the negative impact of the Ukrainian crisis, but also to curb the escalation of the growth of contradictions between regional and world powers. Other neighboring countries adhere to the same principle, which makes it possible in general to maintain a balance of relations in such a difficult situation.
Thus, based on multi-vector, balance and pragmatism, the foreign policy strategy of Kazakhstan is the most optimal in modern conditions. It must be assumed that the adopted by 21 on January 2014 of the “Concept of the foreign policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2014-2020 years” recorded these basic principles, consistent with the general approaches of the UN Charter and the rule of international law.
Asylbek Bisenbaev, candidate historical sciences, associate professor:
“We can be in close alliance with a state that is isolated by the international community”
- Kazakhstan is an ally and partner of Russia as a member of not only the Customs Union, the CSTO, the CIS and other associations, but also the future Eurasian Economic Union. Naturally, the situation in the Russian Federation seriously affects our economy and politics. Sanctions against it will have a negative impact on all participants in economic relations with the flagship of the CIS.
For Kazakhstan, such an impact can be especially painful. We, as well as Russia, are an exporter of energy resources and mineral raw materials. And also, as in the Russian Federation, this type of activity forms the basis of our economy, since the other sectors are simply not competitive in world markets. In this regard, it is necessary to think about new ways of transporting raw materials.
Let me remind you that international sanctions against Iran have had a strong impact on the activities of our mining companies, which have seen in this country not only a consumer, but also a transit country. Therefore, there remains one stable direction - the PRC.
The second point is the price of resources. Due to the measures taken, the prices of gas and mineral raw materials can go down, as the European consumer will be redirected to other sources, including alternative energy. With a significant reduction in the prices of oil, gas and mineral raw materials, the governments of Russia and Kazakhstan will find it difficult to keep at least an acceptable social policy bar. But such an option is possible, including if China starts the game for lower prices.
There are fewer resources for development due to the fact that, due to significant corruption, pressure from various government agencies and other reasons, entrepreneurship in both Russia and Kazakhstan is in dire straits. The investment attractiveness of the EAEU states is very low. The ruble is rapidly depreciating against the dollar. In connection with the announced sanctions, a serious outflow of capital, including national investors, from Russia followed.
In addition, Russia by its actions undermined the most important achievement and the fundamental principle of the existence of the CIS and other associations - the inviolability of borders and non-interference in internal affairs, which was perhaps the most significant achievement of the CIS, justifying its existence. Russia's refusal to recognize the inviolability of borders is a crushing blow to the idea of integrating the post-Soviet space.
Naturally, part of Kazakhstan’s society is wary or sharply negative about the idea of integration with Russia. There is a fear of loss of sovereignty, the possibility of interference in internal affairs or informational pressure from Russia is not excluded. Therefore, it is impossible to present the opponents of integration as retrogrades and isolationists, putting various negative labels on them. This is a question of the future of the country, and the existence of different points of view in the current situation is justified, which, by the way, must also be taken into account when developing a foreign policy course.
Of course, this course needs serious adjustment. Multi-vector implies a constant and comprehensive study of the situation with the subsequent choice of the only right step. Today for Kazakhstan the main thing is the strengthening of political and economic independence by all means. And this is possible mainly due to active foreign policy, progressive and dynamic development. The evolution of the country itself towards the real market and democracy will enhance the competitiveness, attractiveness and security of Kazakhstan. A dynamically developing state is of interest to all neighbors, near and far. While the stagnant country is not interesting to anyone.
Kazakhstan’s position is such that it is necessary to actively and comprehensively cooperate with all its neighbors, without getting too close to any of them. Therefore, multi-vector and integration at this stage of development are not synonymous. We must avoid involvement in an interstate political union, especially directed against third countries, and one-sided economic orientation. The confrontation caused by the events in Ukraine will be long enough and can have unpredictable consequences. We can be in close alliance with a state that is isolated by the international community. Russia's rating is now rapidly falling. Almost no one supported her actions in Ukraine. You can not lightly refer to international sanctions and think that everything can be “divorced”. A distinctive feature of the West is that the adopted laws are enforced until they are repealed. Therefore, the signing of the agreement on the EAEU in modern conditions can put our country in very difficult conditions.
Valikhan Tuleshov, Director of the Institute for Regional Development:
“Single-vector Kazakhstan is the same nonsense and circus as a one-party parliament”
- Valikhan Utebalievich, what will be the increase in tension in relations between Russia and the West for Kazakhstan's multi-vector approach?
- First, we should immediately say that multi-vector is a form of our universal view of the world, and therefore this principle will remain the same universal tool as it was until now. It is necessary only to conduct it more consistently and accurately in the practice of interstate relations, not to leave it under any circumstances. I say this because today in Russia, which by its policy towards Ukraine isolates itself, it has become increasingly common to talk about “the end of Kazakhstan’s multi-vector approach”. Various analytical structures, individuals and so and so are trying, to put it mildly, to “compromise” the multi-vector policy of our state, wanting Kazakhstan to isolate itself after Russia from the rest of the world. After all, multi-vector approach is, first of all, comprehensiveness and versatility, I repeat, the universality of our view of the world and our place in it. These pseudo-analysts want us to abandon our national interests along the entire perimeter of our international contacts and make the transition to Kazakhstan’s one-vector orientation towards Russia. It is also silly how to make a person eat, for example, one sauerkraut, denying him the rest of the variety of foods. If our partners want to eat only sauerkraut, let them eat, and our food culture cannot accept such a diet.
Secondly, it is not the first time when Russia puts its partners in a position of choice, that is, in fact, it takes such steps that cause image damage to us. In the process of its rebirth, Russia is increasingly behaving like an elephant in a china shop. Why doesn’t the President of the Russian Federation find harmonious solutions, but lead to an escalation of contradictions and thereby actually substitute his partners? I can not remember a single case that Kazakhstan behaved so irresponsibly in the international arena and substituted its partners. Even when the Kyrgyz energy sector urgently dumped water, and it threatened to flood many of our settlements, Kazakhstan found opportunities within the country and built, for example, counter-regulators-reservoirs, which received this water. Why Russian politicians, before asking for our support, do not coordinate their actions with us? Maybe they still believe in their infallibility and that God only gave them a monopoly on the truth? But then this is doubly wrong: partners must communicate with each other in confidence. Instead, we are constantly being faced with a fact, and we are forced to respond to very painful questions for us and the entire world community, not recognizing openly the “rightness” of the Russian position, but “treating with understanding” to it. So it was with Kosovo, so it was with Georgia, it happens with Ukraine. Today, our cooperation programs with Ukraine suffer from such a “coordinated” policy. Most likely, the issues of using the transit potential of Ukraine and Kazakhstan, cooperation in the field of nuclear energy and in the space sphere will remain frozen until the end of the current situation. The “Western China - Western Europe” highway will also lose relevance due to Russia's dangerous for the world actions. In addition, the industrialization program, which is a priority for our country, will be implemented without Ukrainian enterprises that could create joint ventures in Kazakhstan.
As for the attitude of the West to Kazakhstan, we must minimize the risks of negative scenarios. We need to explain to our Western partners that we are building our policy on the EEU purely on the principles of economic pragmatism, and nothing more. That we are not going to go on creating the political format of the EEU, that this is a form of economic cooperation that minimizes the risks and threats of social and cultural delimitation (growth of interethnic contradictions and divisions). And that after Kazakhstan’s accession to the WTO, many parameters of the EAEU will become standardized for it.
In order to gain indisputable sovereignty and full awareness of national interests, Kazakhstan will need time for another generation of citizens who will have to create their own effective system of national security. In the meantime, Kazakhstan risks indirectly falling under the sanctions of Western countries, if it will produce its products from Russian raw materials, transport and sell it through the territory of the Russian Federation, and support those caught under the sanctions of Russian citizens.
In the event that Kazakhstan fully “looks in Lavrov’s mouth”, supports Russia's policy, “single-vector orientation”, then we will also have to face isolation, perhaps softer in form, but I can assure you, very negative in content. Then all our efforts to make the state strong and developed, and the Kazakh culture recognizable throughout the world will be in vain, at least in the medium term.
Russia wants hostility with the whole world, even if it is hostile, but Kazakhstan can’t do this by any means: too many forms of dependence on partners can turn the country into a chronic patient, a vassal, a social and political outsider who is not like the most advanced 30 countries of the world - it will be problematic to recover. In this case, the window of opportunity in the 21 century, which the president is talking about, will close indefinitely.
- In your opinion, will a “reset” of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy be required?
- Yes, it will. We need to restart relations not only with Ukraine, but also with Russia. As applied to the first, taking into account its European choice, and in its relations with the second, towards achieving its national interests in the integration structures in which we have it. At the same time, I repeat, we cannot deviate from our multi-vector policy. On the contrary, we must move more efficiently and purposefully in its format.
Kazakhstan can also play the role of a peacemaker, but not Russia with the West, but Russia with Ukraine. However, we should clearly define our interests in different areas of this trilateral cooperation. We will need to more specifically show our Russian partners what we want to achieve in relations with Ukraine, and what we don’t want and need to close is what we can lose if Russia continues to ask us to act in the format of allied solidarity based on the CU treaties , SES and EAEU.
In particular, we must do everything so that Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan continue, until other concepts of civilizational, cultural and technological development mature, to work together in the framework of the Cosmotrans project, which provides for cooperation in the space sector and the joint use of the Baikonur cosmodrome . After all, Ukraine has certain achievements in the field of research and production of spacecraft, which are used by Russia and will apparently be used for some time by us until fundamentally new technologies appear.
In other words, it is necessary to reboot our relations in such a way that it does not interfere with the civilizational choice of the people of Ukraine and at the same time allows us gradually to evolve in a cultural and civilizational way, without jerks and exacerbation of situations. Kazakhstan should clearly assess the scale of these disintegration processes in Russia itself, as well as understand what we lose if we do not maintain the previous high level of our relations with Ukraine. After all, among other things, it has one of the highest transit factors in the world for its territory. Convenient transcontinental traffic flows pass through it. A further rapprochement between Ukraine and the West, especially with regard to the unification of energy and transport and logistics systems, will create additional opportunities for Kazakhstan in terms of promoting our economic interests in the European region.
For example, cooperation in the field of maritime transport was interesting for Kazakhstan in terms of the use of Ukrainian ports. The possibilities of joint implementation of oil transshipment projects in the area of the Pivdenny marine oil terminal and an oil refinery near the city of Yuzhny, Odessa region, were considered. In addition, prospects for the joint production of oil and gas equipment in Kazakhstan and Ukraine were studied, and the construction of transport infrastructure was being worked out.
Ukraine was also interested in us with its engineering capabilities based on modernizing industrial bases since the USSR, and Kazakhstan was interested in supplying agricultural equipment, equipment for power plants, importing cars, airplanes, etc. We were interested in the creation of plants for the assembly and maintenance of this equipment in our territory.
In the agro-industrial complex, issues of opening representative offices of Ukrainian enterprises of agricultural engineering, service centers for servicing agricultural machinery of Ukrainian production, as well as deliveries of Ukrainian machinery and spare parts to it are being worked out in Kazakhstan.
You can enumerate a lot, which can now be subjected to Ukraine, due to its current state, revision and reset of its relations with us.