After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakh President Nazarbayev has succeeded in sustaining stability and order in Kazakhstan by using the experience of his Soviet background, the country’s ethnic diversity, the potential for ethnic conflict, and even appealing to nationalist politics. In the early years of independence he rightly prioritized economic development and a “multivectoral” foreign policy. Due to its ingenious balance in both domestic and foreign policy, today Kazakhstan is one of the world’s 30 most developed countries.
On December 16th, 2012, on the anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence, Nazarbayev delivered a speech in which he announced “Strategy Kazakhstan 2050” which encompasses the political, economic, and social development of the country over the coming decades. As stated in “Strategy Kazakhstan 2050”, the country’s balanced foreign policy has become a great asset that continues to see benefits . However, in Richard Weitz’s words, Nazarbayev split the longer-term goals of Kazakhstan 2050 for two reasons. “First, there is an increasing demand for Kazakh energy resources; so they can follow the new kind of modernization. Second, Nazarbayev sees the importance of the “Silk Road” as a means of transportation” . For example Kazakhstan signed agreements on construction railroads with China. Geographically, Kazakhstan is in between Europe and Asia—which defines its new vision of becoming a regional and global actor. In January 2014, Nazarbayev announced the “Foreign Policy Concept for 2014-2020 of Kazakhstan” while adding important details about “Strategy Kazakhstan 2050.” The 2030 strategy was the first step to establish and resettle the state beyond the fundamental level. Kazakhstan is enlarging the foreign policy concept of “Strategy Kazakhstan 2050” by adding more emphasis of foreign policy with the “Foreign Policy Concept for 2014-2020.”
What is Kazakh Foreign Policy?
The first leg of the 2020 strategy is regional stability both economically and politically. Astana intends to diminish the potential for conflict, resolve socio-economic problems, tackle water-energy issues, and other considerations within Central Asia. From the beginning of its founding, Kazakhstan has insisted on “intra-regional integration in Central Asia” and international integration of the region. So that priority is still on Kazakhstan’s foreign policy agenda.
Kazakhstan developed its foreign policy capabilities through political economy. The 2020 strategy highlights the importance of political economy under the “Foreign economic policy” section, which describes how to exploit the economic and resource, transit-transport, and export potential of the country. Among the priorities are “industrial-innovation development, expanding international cooperation in order to attract investment, ensuring the country’s full-scale participation in international economic organizations and financial institutions, developing economic and trade diplomacy, and providing diplomatic means to promote and protect Kazakhstan’s governmental interests and its citizens .” For the Eurasian economic integration, the strategy states that “Kazakhstan will strengthen the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space in order to build the Eurasian Economic Union on its basis.” In addition, according to its strategy regarding international economic organizations another priority is to join the World Trade Organization on terms favorable to Kazakhstan. However there are some challenges for Kazakhstan within the Eurasian Union. Since it is still premature organizations and the membership of Kazakhstan is criticized by some experts.
There is another section of the strategy document which bears mentioning. The “country and regional priorities” section explains Kazakhstan’s foreign policy approach. As mentioned above, after gaining independence Kazakhstan seized upon a well-tempered policy line regarding its relations with Russia, China the United States, and European countries. In the document Astana declares that “it will deepen the comprehensive strategic partnership with China within the framework of high-level political dialogue to develop energy, investment, and technology (…).” However, this phrase is preceded by an affirmation of Kazakhstan-Russia relations: “Kazakhstan will continue to strengthen relations with Russia in all spheres of political, economic, and cultural cooperation.” The two countries signed the “Treaty on Good-Neighborliness and Alliance in the 21st Century”. On the other hand, the focal point of the document is related to the United States. According to the document, Kazakhstan will continue to strengthen its strategic partnership with the U.S. in addition to efforts to continue developing full-scale relations with the EU. This foreign strategy is not limited to just these four, but for today’s conjuncture it is important to highlight Kazakhstan’s “multivectoral” foreign policy.
Kazakh Foreign Policy and Ukrainian Crisis challenges
Recently, the complicated international conjuncture, especially regarding relations between Ukraine, Russia, and EU, rightly concerned Kazakhstan. Russia’s aggressive posture toward Ukraine regarding the “Crimea is keeping the whole former Soviet Union up at night” . Some experts are saying that the situation is working against Kazakhstan. However, as I mentioned before, Nazarbayev has kept the Kazakh citizens in a peaceful and stable environment. Kazakhstan’s foreign policy also “is based on the principles of multi-vector, balance, pragmatism, mutual benefit, and solid defense of its national interests”  which means they will continue cordial cooperation with Russia, the West, and the East at the same time. Today, Kazakhstan—as it has a Russian minority (23.7%) in its northern regions—has called for a “peaceful regulation of the crisis in Ukraine on the basis of the preservation of Ukraine’s sovereignty [within] the norms of international law .” Kazakhstan has a strategic partnership with Russia, and at the end of the day it can be affected by the sanctions, used by the western country to Russia, indirectly through the Eurasian Union. On the other hand, Kazakhstan is still continuing talks for induction into the World Trade Organization, though it would be difficult to join when it is a member of the Customs Union with Russia and Belarus.
To sum up, the international system experienced an unpredictable series of events in the Ukraine and Crimea. However it is important to state that Kazakhstan has followed an even-keeled strategy towards Russia till today, it will continue to develop a deeper strategy, and by refining its foreign policy Kazakhstan will maintain its sovereignty. In addition Kazakhstan declared switching on mechanisms and tools for implanting its foreign policy of it while Ukraine experiencing the crisis. Its foreign policy concept demonstrates that Kazakhstan has found the right formula to avoid any conflict with Russia.