Who will Astana bet on in their multi-vector approach: Moscow or Beijing?
    Or a U-turn towards the West..

    INTERVIEWS  23 November 2022 - 14:06

    Matanat Nasibova

    On Sunday, 20 November, Kazakhstan held its seventh presidential election, following which the incumbent Head of State Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was re-elected for another term. The decree on early presidential elections of Kazakhstan was signed by Tokayev after the adoption of amendments to the constitution at the end of September. According to the approved amendments, the term of office of the President was extended from five to seven years.

    And on election day, without waiting for the final vote count, Tokayev announced a series of radical changes in the country. In particular, he stated that consistent constitutional reforms and the transition to a new political dispensation were underway, as was the need for a multi-vector foreign policy.

    Before analyzing the stated hypotheses of the Kazakh leader, we note that this year was rather difficult for Kazakhstan, primarily due to the January riots. At that time, the citizens' outrage over soaring fuel prices led to widespread unrest and the demand for the government’s resignation and introduction of reforms. At that moment, the internal political situation practically forced President Tokayev to appeal to the CSTO leaders to assist him in eliminating the "terrorist threat".

    The intervention of CSTO forces in this situation in Kazakhstan actually imposed certain obligations on Tokayev’s government. There is therefore no doubt that Russia counted on Kazakhstan’s support for its position in Ukraine. However, it miscalculated itself because Kazakhstan, first of all, did not join the hostilities in Ukraine and refused to recognize the "independence of the Luhansk/Donetsk Republics", and secondly, further intensified its cooperation with the European Union. Thus, Astana, by refusing to support Russia, has demonstrated its integrity in regard to the principles of the annexation of anyone’s territories.

    On the other hand, Tokayev also managed to increase his own rating within the country, given that the overwhelming part of the Kazakh society has negatively assessed Russia’s aggression against Ukraine since the first days of the war. At the same time, Kazakhstan’s position on the Ukrainian crisis was widely supported in the West and the United States.

    American TV channel NBC, referring to the statements of officials of the country, said that Washington welcomes the unexpected position of Kazakhstan and its refusal to recognize the independence of self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk "People’s Republics" (DPR and LPR). And the statement of the US National Security Council said that the White House supports the decision of the Kazakh government not to send its military forces to participate in the Russian war in Ukraine.

    This means, that Kazakhstan, being a member of the CSTO and generally participating in other Eurasian projects such as the EAEU, thus strengthened the position of its country towards the European and American directions besides having demonstrated the personal firm principles of President Tokayev. This is also an important factor in the prism of the interests of Kazakhstan’s statehood.

    Given these nuances, it was no coincidence that Josep Borrel, the Chief for European diplomacy, recently toured the Central Asian countries to coincide with the elections in Astana. The European diplomat arrived on the eve of the presidential election, and during a meeting with Tokayev, besides discussing plans to deepen relations between the EU and Kazakhstan, expressed his support for the "ambitious program of socio-economic and political reforms" which aim to make Kazakhstan more open, inclusive and democratic. At the same time, the EU representative practically called on the Central Asian countries to develop transport corridors between the EU and the region which would bypass Russia.

    In Moscow, where the Asian tour of the high-ranking European official was being closely watched, did not miss his statements regarding the payment of compensation to third countries that are hurt by the anti-Russian sanctions. The head of the EU diplomacy stressed that these sanctions are not aimed against the economies of other countries, but specifically target the weakening of Russia’s financing potential for its military action.

    The wide-ranging discourse in the Russian political science community also triggered President Tokayev’s statements about the need for a multi-vector policy. The prevailing opinion regarding this topic is that this call generally entails maintaining the current foreign policy of the country and that the relations between Moscow and Beijing will remain the most priority for Astana. And this thus suggests that Borrel’s visit will not have a serious impact on Kazakhstan’s geopolitical course.

    Alexander Kobrinsky, History Doctor and Director of the Ethno-National Strategies Agency commented on this issue for Caliber.Az, saying that Tokayev’s recent address to the nation, in which he outlined plans for great changes in the life of the republic, gives the citizens of Kazakhstan a reason to expect major changes in the domestic policy.

    "The high support for Tokayev among those who voted for him can be explained by the expectations of rapid improvements in the lives of ordinary people. Of course, the activity of the Kazakh President in the international arena increases the recognition of the republic in the world and raises the authority of politicians, but has little impact on the lives of ordinary people. And some of the republic’s voters are not able to draw logical conclusions of linkages between these phenomena.

    When over 25 large international corporations extract energy, metals, uranium and other raw materials from your country, when about 70% of the economy is under the control of the Anglo-Saxons, then the position of the professional diplomat Kassym-Jomart Tokayev stating that "[…] We simply have to carry out a, as is referred to nowadays, a ‘multi-vectored’ foreign policy approach" becomes clear and understandable. However, the problem is that such multi-vector policy sometimes has unfortunate consequences", Kobrinsky believes.

    According to the estimates of Alexey Malashenko, as well a history doctor and Chief Researcher at the Russian Center of Situational Analysis at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, the national interests of the Central Asian states are increasingly determined by their cooperation with other countries that are showing considerable interest in the region. So the multi-vector phenomenon in Kazakhstan is becoming more definite.

    Discussing the general strategy of building relations from a multi-vector policy standpoint of the Central Asian region, in particular taking Kazakhstan as an example, the political scientist noted that nobody is going to fight the West in Central Asia.

    "They will negotiate, which is what we are observing today. However, the following factors should be taken into account: firstly, the countries of the region are not inclined to support the actions of Russia in Ukraine, and they get irritated by the tactless statements given by some Moscow politicians on the ‘inferiority’ of the Central Asian states. Secondly, they are surprised by the slow progress of the Russian military activity. Thirdly, they are not and will not join the sanctions imposed on Russia. And point number four, they cherish their relations with Europe and America and realize that a weakened Russia is unlikely to be able to assist them as it did before February of this year. Hence the skepticism towards organizations that remain under the auspices of Russia, such as the Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and others.

    Simply put, the Central Asian states act in accordance with their national interests, and they do not always coincide with Russia’s. The Russian vector is weakening. This is also largely due to the fact that the region has grown and formed a new generation, which are unaware of the maps, in which Central Asian states were painted in Soviet pink. They do not experience feelings of respect for the Soviet Union which collapsed overnight nor infinite gratitude for its Russian heiress", the analyst said.

    Malashenko noted on the fact, that demands to Russia exist in almost all Central Asian capitals. "This is expressed in different ways, but the fact that no one in the region has recognized the independence of the ‘LPR’ and ‘DPR’ and especially their entry into the Russian Federation is a clear indication of that. This is not Syria or North Korea.

    Let’s add to this the disappointment of the Russian policy of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, who have counted on the support of Moscow in different instances. And finally, ‘silence’ from the CSTO, which is considered a tale of fiction in the region. Against whom does this organization guarantee regional security?

    Whether you like it or not, an offensive question begs itself: is Russia being perceived as a great world power, with its share of less than 2% of the world gross domestic product (GDP) and being entwined into the special operation in Ukraine? It is no longer sufficient to give speeches at the highest Russian stages stands to maintain such an image".

    "The national interests of the Central Asian states and the reflection on the future are increasingly determined by cooperation with other countries that are increasingly interested in the region. The multi-vector approach is becoming more definite", Alexey Malashenko said concludingly.


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