24.02.2022, 11:56
A+ Analytics

Foreign policy of Kazakhstan: Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis

Today's events taking place around Kazakhstan, taking into account the war between Russia and Ukraine, force us to draw conclusions and form a new strategy of behavior in the future. The multi-vector foreign policy of Kazakhstan has been the "mantra" of the country's diplomacy and foreign policy throughout the years of independence, because then it was easy for the country's leadership and the Foreign Ministry to promote "world peace" in the context of the country's ability to maneuver among the "proposals" and initiatives of world powers and strategic allies . However, the current situation and the expected cut-off of Russia from the world economy and politics, as well as Moscow's response, will require "Machiavellian" decisions from Kazakhstan, taking into account the realities and national interests of the country.

Фотография с открытых источников

A multi-vector foreign policy was the pride of the country's first president N.Nazarbayev. K. Tokayev, when he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic, confirmed that then "the principle of the multi-vector diplomacy of Kazakhstan was formulated, which today is the core of the country's foreign policy activities." For a long time, this allowed Kazakhstan to truly maintain equal partnerships with all world powers, sometimes even cooperate with NATO and conduct joint military exercises, such as the Steppe Eagle. Moreover, within the framework of a multi-vector approach, the military of Kazakhstan participated in the anti-terrorist campaign of the United States and NATO countries in Iraq for ten whole years.

However, the events of recent years show how difficult it is to maintain "balance and equidistance" from strategic allies, profitable economic partners and the so-called "brotherly countries". With a thoughtful analysis, it becomes clear that the revision of the details and content of the concept of "multi-vector" began long before 2022, at a time when there was a forced reassessment of the composition of Kazakhstan's strategic partners and allies.

The transformation of the strategy is clearly visible when comparing the concepts of the foreign policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan from 2014 and 2020. Both concepts are the most important documents that determine the composition of the country's partners and allies. If the first concept of 2014, as a result of the policy of the full-fledged at that time Nazarbayev, is a reflection of the global and regional situation, the capabilities and plans of the government, then the concept of 2020 has become much more rational and concise. Without going into details and individual terms, one can notice a strong shift in attention to cooperation with Russia, China and the United States, as well as countries that have fallen out of the list of important allies and partners, Turkey and Ukraine.

The current international situation around Kazakhstan dictates its own terms to the goals and objectives of Kazakhstan's foreign policy, which is likely to become more specific and will better match the capabilities and resources of the republic itself. For a long time in the 90s of the last century, the United States and the countries of the European Union were the main political and economic partners of Kazakhstan, especially in the context of military-political weakness and economic collapse in Russia.

Now the situation has changed dramatically: the withdrawal of the NATO international coalition troops from Afghanistan last year led to a general decrease in Washington’s interest in Central Asia, although it was previously believed that Kazakhstan and other partners from our region should take a share of responsibility for stabilization and economic progress in this country. The well-known initiative of the US State Department "C5 + 1" (Central Asia plus the USA) gave an important place to Kazakhstan in helping to build the economy, combat terrorism in Afghanistan, but it seems that this project is now forgotten by the D. Biden administration.

In addition, the previously diligently neutral European Union changed the format of relations with Kazakhstan at the end of 2021. Direct discussion of the imposition of sanctions against the government and high-ranking officials of Kazakhstan in the European Parliament after the events of "Bloody January" is forcing the official Nur-Sultan to assess the status and significance of the European Union for our country differently.

However, the most serious reason for reconsidering "multi-vector" to "two-vector" is obviously the growing international influence of Russia and China, especially in the military-political aspect. Despite the secrecy, information was leaked to the media about phone calls to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation S. Lavrov from the leadership of the PRC during the "Kazakhstan odyssey" of the CSTO contingent in January 2022. This demonstrates that China is the most important point of support for our country, which is able to influence both the decisions and the "behavior" of Russia in Kazakhstan.

As a result of Russia's full-scale confrontation with the United States, the G7 countries, other NATO members, on the basis of a military conflict with Ukraine, it is not difficult to predict further calls from the Kremlin to the CSTO countries to unite in opposition to "Western" competitors. Already now, on the largest information platforms and portals of the federal media in Russia, it is literally in two clicks to find messages about the negative influence of Western countries on Kazakhstan during the "Bloody January".

So, on the popular Russian Internet portal Lenta.ru, catchy headlines appeared that “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan spoke about the possibility of sending Collective Security Treaty Organization peacekeepers to the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics,” although further from the text it follows that our the country resolutely refused such an offer. Keeping in mind the destructive role and informational power of such media, one can draw an unambiguous conclusion about the real interest and desire of the Russian side to influence the decision of the Kazakh authorities regarding Ukraine and the CSTO.

It is obvious that in the near future more “convincing” arguments may be voiced to form the necessary attitude of the authorities of Kazakhstan regarding the countries of the West. For example, the claims of Russian politicians and deputies to Kazakhstan about the allegedly “donated territories”, linguistic and onomastic issues are well known.
It can be summarized that “Machiavellianism” is the best option for transforming the multi-vector policy at this stage. The need to maneuver and recognize the danger and risks posed by neighboring superpowers will help Kazakhstan survive, or at least endure, a difficult period of instability without incident. Whether we like it or not, we have before us a negative example of Ukraine, which, even with the best outcome of the war, victory over the aggressors, still has a ruined economy, casualties among the population, which is impossible and unacceptable for the realities of Kazakhstan.

It is also difficult to expect assistance from NATO countries in the confrontation with possible foreign aggressors, similar to the one provided to Ukraine. Therefore, one can only hope for the ability of the country's leadership to transform the multi-vector approach into a forced and, we hope, temporary two-vector foreign policy. A rational understanding of the country's limited capabilities, as well as an awareness of the lack of interest of the countries of the European Union and the United States in relation to Kazakhstan, in comparison with the same Ukraine, will help Kazakhstan make the right decision regarding a truncated multi-vector model.