Nargis Kassenova is director of the Program on Central Asia on the Davis Heart for Russian and Eurasian Research at Harvard College.
Kazakhstan is making an attempt to place itself as an open, entrepreneurial nation — one which’s a great neighbor and helpful accomplice for President Vladimir Putin’s remoted Russia, but in addition one which isn’t closed off from the remainder of the world.
However because the geopolitical division between Moscow and the West continues to widen, this may definitely to be a tough feat to drag off.
The issue of this job was on clear show this month, as Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev reassured European Union leaders they may rely upon him to assist the 27-nation bloc overcome its power disaster. Nonetheless, simply the subsequent day, a court docket in Novorossiysk — Russia’s Black Sea port — ordered the month-long closure of an oil pipeline coming from Kazakhstan, which sends provides to Europe.
Ostensibly, the shutdown order was in response to violations of oil spill laws. Nonetheless, when Tokayev later instructed the federal government at an pressing Cupboard assembly to prioritize the event of the Trans-Caspian hall, bypassing Russia for Kazakh oil, the court docket revised its choice, substituting the suspension with a advantageous as a substitute. This reversal has now raised suspicions that the court docket’s actions, in addition to earlier disruptions brought on by injury to the loading services from a storm in March and the seek for World Conflict II mines within the port aquatoria in June, had been politically motivated and a part of a sanctions tit-for-tat between the West and Russia over the struggle in Ukraine.
The problem dealing with Tokayev was additionally vividly demonstrated on the St. Petersburg Worldwide Financial Discussion board in June. As the one notable overseas chief to attend the discussion board in individual, sitting subsequent to Putin was a transparent present of solidarity for Tokayev, however the plenary session itself revealed the pair to be at odds.
Kazakhstan’ President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (L) speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) throughout their assembly at Moscow’s Kremlin | Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP by way of Getty Photographs
Whereas Putin’s Russia is politically and economically closing, the younger Kazakh nation is set to remain open, and this conflict will solely proceed within the weeks and months to return. Assuming Russia’s “lonely” interval lasts for a number of years, nevertheless, what can Kazakhstan do for itself, Eurasia and the world?
Satirically, the 2 international locations’ drastically completely different paths are chosen in pursuit of the identical objective — strengthening nationwide sovereignty.
Putin made sovereignty the principle theme of his prolonged speech on the plenary, utilizing the phrase 9 occasions. He complained that america and international locations of the “golden billion” deal with all of the others as colonies, contemplating them second-rate. And he insisted that Russia ought to maintain its sovereignty in a holistic manner — defending political sovereignty and nationwide identification, and strengthening financial, monetary, technological self-sufficiency and independence.
Tokayev’s remarks on the occasion had been shorter and fewer emotional. He calmly and politely reaffirmed Kazakhstan’s place of favoring the precept of territorial integrity over the that of self-determination, in addition to the non-recognition of the quasi-state territories of Donetsk and Luhansk. He famous that the desire for self-determination might result in the emergence of tons of new international locations, leading to chaos — which could possibly be seen as a well mannered invitation for Russian elites to think about the results of such a improvement for his or her multiethnic nation.
Nonetheless, Tokayev’s different remarks, much less observed by worldwide audiences, are additionally necessary for additional understanding the Kazakh political elite’s idea of sovereignty and their ongoing divergence with Russia. He spoke of worldwide cooperation and making the nation engaging for funding. He harassed the impossibility and futility of makes an attempt to be self-sufficient. And he additionally famous the significance of ongoing reforms in Kazakhstan, aimed toward making the system extra inclusive and simply, and the nation extra steady and succesful to compete.
So, what can come of this divergence?
As Kazakhstan tries to handle relations with Russia, balancing its openness with its “strategic ally’s” anti-Western isolationism, tensions appear inevitable. And the dangers for the nation are significantly excessive.
Within the instant future, strict compliance with sanctions and the pursuit of stronger relations with the West might immediate Moscow’s irritation and even wrath. However makes an attempt to accommodate Russian pursuits might additionally create the bottom for secondary sanctions.
Within the medium and long term, a brooding and impoverished Russia that’s going via tough occasions — on account of placing itself in a geopolitical entice — isn’t excellent news for the area both. The unfavourable impression is prone to be multifaceted and in the end onerous to foretell.
At current, Kazakhstan is concentrated on containing the injury by recalibrating its overseas coverage. It’s additionally very busy exploring new alternatives which are opening up. In St. Petersburg, for instance, Tokayev stated the Eurasian Financial Union (EEU) ought to undertake a extra proactive and versatile commerce coverage towards Asian and Center Japanese markets, and that Kazakhstan might play the function of a buffer market on this new setting. He additionally needs to develop higher linkages between the EEU and China’s Belt and Highway Initiative too.
As could be seen, Kazakhstan is making an attempt to profit from the reorientation of commerce routes, however in a manner that Russia sees profit too. It’s positioning itself as an open entrepreneurial service provider nation, a great neighbor and helpful accomplice.
For this balancing act to work, nevertheless, the nation wants a buy-in from all key events, which isn’t going to be straightforward — though, if goodwill is proven all spherical, it’s nonetheless not unattainable.