by serik berik
Thu Apr 13th, 2006 at 08:13:33 AM EST
Nursultan Nazarbayev frequently draws parallels between his presidential reign in Kazakhstan and the rule of legendary Abylai khan over the (short-lived) confederation of the three Kazakh tribal unions (zhuz) in the eighteenth century. For instance, he usually takes credit for the independence we acquired in 1991, claiming to have protected the unity and freedom of the Kazakh nation in times of political tumult associated with the disintegration of the USSR. Usual are also the simultaneous references he makes to Abylai khan who did save the frail Kazakh nation from destruction during the Dzhungarian and Chinese aggression more than two centuries ago. Never mind the stark contextual differences between the two cases.
Such allusions to the aruak (the sainted forefather of the Kazakh nation) are intended to strengthen the President's popularity at home, which presently does not give much of a result. The multiethnic composition of Kazakhstan implies that only a portion of the population - the ethnic Kazakhs - receives the disguised nationalistic messages of this nature. The rest look at other aspects of the President's governance in making judgements about his suitability for the position he occupies.
Despite the ambiguous effect of the analogy on the President's domestic political image, his deliberate attempts to employ it for these purposes are themselves worth an analysis. Abylai khan is famous for his outstanding diplomatic skills that supposedly played the critical role in the preservation of the Kazakhs in the period of political and military pressures from both China and Imperial Russia. He was successful in his policy of double allegiance and in diplomatic juggling between the two formidable neighbors. A like success Nazarbayev is apparently hoping for today.
Promoted by Colman
Post-Cold War developments in world politics have turned Kazakhstan into a place of special interest for three "Great Powers." The political vacuum that resulted from the dissolution of the Soviet Union was readily filled in, first , by the United States, the victor in the just ended East-West confrontation. Today, however, the influence Washington has over Kazakhstan's domestic political life is not what it was a decade ago. The reason lies in the uncomfortable issue of the involvement of certain high-ranking Kazakhstani officials in the James Giffen corruption case, right now under way in the USA. The fact was immediately recognized by the Chinese and Russian leaderships that rushed to reposition themselves in the region.
The Chinese presence in Kazakhstan and "Middle" Asia has noticeably grown in recent years. The geopolitical dimension of this presence should not, in my opinion, be underestimated: we may not be witnessing another Great Game, but a degree of competition between the biggest states for influence in the region is certainly there. However, the main reasons of the increased attention are more pragmatic: the People's Republic is currently in great need of fuel for its economic boom; the Caspian basin is where it is in abundance.
As recently as last year, Turkmenistani President Saparmurat Niyazov announced his willingness to export gas to eastern markets. Kazakhstan was then proposed as one of the possible transit routes for the (yet non-existent) gas pipeline:
During talks between Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in Astana in early July 2005, Nazarbayev said that constructing a Turkmenistan-China pipeline through Kazakh territory would be beneficial for all three countries. (Eurasia Daily Monitor
While the prospects of the eventual construction of this Turkmenistan-China pipeline are still uncertain, a like project has already been initiated with regard to Kazakhstani oil. Much has been said elsewhere about the trans-Kazakhstan pipeline that is being built on the money of the Chinese. The progress may be slow, but the amounts of money that have been and are yet planned to be invested into the construction speak of the commitment that the two parties have in the project.
In addition to that, China's CNPC has recently acquired the assets of PetroKazakhstan - the Calgary-based largest oil-producer in the country. The price of the deal that the Chinese paid ($4.2 billion) was seen as "very high" but still acceptable for such a "strategic investment." The deal is, admittedly, "far from being completed," due to the last-minute bargaining the Kazakhstanis are trying to undertake in order to secure their influence in the oil production sector at home. Nonetheless, the political significance of the takeover is immense.
In a new attempt to boost the Astana-Moscow "strategic partnership," President Nazarbayev has paid an official visit to his Russian counterpart, during which a number of important and mutually beneficial agreements were reached. Russia, for example, pledged to help the Kazakhstanis with putting their first satellite into orbit, which will have a great impact on the quality, quantity, and price of the communication services in Kazakhstan. In response, Nazarbayev generously agreed to allow the leasing of a Kazakhstani testing site to the Russian military.
The main treat of the April negotiations, however, was the launching of the Common Economic Space project, which Nazarbayev has been anticipating for years. The plan of integration, as envisioned in 2003 by the heads of state of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, is very similar to that of the founders of the European Union. The initial goal was the creation, as a minimum, of a customs union or, as a maximum, of a full-fledged economic union with a single currency and a coordinating framework of supranational institutions. In reality, however, only the achievement of a free-trade zone seems feasible at the moment. (Nezavisimaya - I am sorry, but the source is in Russian)
For the project to succeed, it must be carried out as first envisioned and planned: with all the four members participating. Otherwise, it will make little economic sense. Ukraine is, however, unwilling to sign all of the 38 initial documents prepared for ratification. Kazakhstani President , apparently, does not see a problem in that. He stated that the three partners are not going to wait for the Ukrainian participation in the ratification process, which was later seconded by Moscow.
Whatever his personal rationale, Nazarbayev seems to have grasped what the most effective strategy in foreign policy for Kazakhstan is in the present situation. Using the benefits that Kazakhstan's geographic proximity with the two state colossi brings, Nazarbayev has turned to the traditional political "flexibility" of the Kazakhs, alluding to legendary Abylai - the most skillful in this type of diplomacy, according to the preserved historical accounts of the time.
What is the ET's opinion on this matter? Do you think the President will succeed in balancing between the two (three) Powers, without falling under total control of one or the other?
 The USA was the first country to recognize and establish diplomatic relations with the newly independent state of Kazakhstan in 1991.
 Has a doctorate degree in economics.