After a coup d’état was prevented in Kazakhstan, it became clear that the republic would never be the same again. In domestic politics, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has already announced the expansion of social assistance to the poor in Kazakhstan at the expense of those who became rich during the rule of Nursultan Nazarbayev. But in international relations, there has not yet been heard of a change in approaches, although in Russia it seems to many that they should happen.
In foreign policy, Kazakhstan adheres to the multi-vector principle. For example, this is expressed in his economic ties. According to 2020 data, Kazakhstani goods are primarily sent to China ($9 billion), Italy ($6.6 billion) and Russia ($4.9 billion). The main importers to Kazakhstan are Russia (13.3 billion), China (6.3 billion) and South Korea (4.9 billion).
Most of the investments come to Kazakhstan from the Netherlands – over 60 billion dollars. However, most of them in reality belong to Russian and Kazakh businessmen who transfer money from subsidiaries located in the Netherlands. The United States is in second place in terms of investment, with $39.5 billion. Basically, Americans invest in mining, namely in oil and gas. Russia and China, according to Kazakhstani statistics, account for 4.8 and 5.2 billion dollars, respectively.
True, the participation of the PRC in the finances of Kazakhstan is still more impressive due to loans and export credits. Thanks to them, from 2000 to 2017, Kazakhstan received about $39 billion from its neighbor.
When Kassym-Jomart Tokayev first became president of Kazakhstan, many considered him a pro-Chinese statesman. All due to the fact that he worked in China for some time on a diplomatic line and knows Chinese. Some even thought that Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev would restrain his protégé from getting too close to Beijing. Now, when the first president has disappeared without a trace, Tokayev’s sympathy for the Chinese is being talked about again.
“I would not say that Tokayev is a pro-Chinese politician. In addition to working in China, he also studied at MGIMO. Tokayev has a very balanced position. He had a chance both in the East and in the West, ”said Stanislav Pritchin, senior researcher at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at IMEMO RAS, to MK. According to the expert, no major changes in relations with China for the better are currently visible, and the situation can change for the worse only if the Kazakh authorities worsen the conditions for Chinese investors.
As you know, the western part of Kazakhstan periodically breaks out with strikes of workers who are dissatisfied with poor working conditions and low wages. In particular, people are worried that Chinese companies work in enterprises that Chinese companies have built for themselves and receive higher salaries than local residents.
In turn, the head of the Eurasian Expert Council, Chingiz Lepsibaev, told MK that Kazakhstan has two allies with whom it will not spoil relations under any circumstances – these are Russia and China. However, this does not mean that the difference in wages will continue, the political scientist emphasizes.
“The Chinese, as they earned, will continue to earn, but the residents of Kazakhstan should start receiving. Tokayev has already stated that social reforms will be carried out in the country, and I would like them to affect this area as well.
The problem is that the “Labor Code” of the republic was written by representatives of big business, so ordinary workers found themselves in a disadvantaged position. This needs to be changed,” Lepsibaev told MK.
CSTO help is not an argument
However, the absence of a tilt towards China does not mean that Kazakhstan will readily fall into the arms of Russia. Although, judging by the statements of a number of Russian politicians and public figures, there are certain expectations of this kind.
“How Kazakhstan will behave in foreign policy is largely an open question. On the one hand, it is clear that a crisis situation occurred in which the CSTO partners became the only ones who extended a helping hand. Accordingly, the question arises to what extent Kazakhstan is ready to be consistent and grateful in response to the full support from Russia and other partners in the CSTO.
But the logic of a sovereign state is always based on diversifying its foreign policy contacts as much as possible. Accordingly, the country’s foreign policy is unlikely to change,” Pritchin believes.
In turn, Lepsibaev told MK that the authorities of Kazakhstan do not at all feel obliged to Russia after the assistance provided. “There is a trend in the Russian media that it was the CSTO peacekeepers who resolved the political crisis in Kazakhstan, but this is far from the case.
The peacekeepers played a preventive role. When something happens in Russia, we send it our humanitarian aid, now it happened with us, and help came to us. Moreover, if Tokayev applied to the CSTO, and he was refused, there would be no more CSTO,” the political scientist believes.
True, Kazakhstan is still not going to leave Russia anywhere. “Our countries remain not just allies, we are the founders of joint integration projects, for example, the EAEU. This union is determined by history, economics and geography,” recalls Pritchin.
The West and Russia’s Embrace
As for relations with the European Union and the United States, there are no signs of any changes either. In particular, Western human rights activists did not raise a wave of indignation over reports of violent suppression of protests in Kazakhstan. They were not even embarrassed by the lack of evidence of a terrorist attack on the republic and the order to shoot to kill the rebels without warning. Instead, the EU countries and the United States expressed their support for the Tokayev regime.
“Except for the reaction to the deployment of the CSTO troops, there were no serious criticisms from the European Union and the United States against Kazakhstan related to how the republic is getting out of the political crisis. Kazakhstan is not accused of violating human rights, because everyone understands how vulnerable Tokayev is, and how much he is now dependent on Russia. It is unlikely that anyone in the West will want to push him even more into the arms of Moscow,” Pritchin believes.
In addition to Russia, China, the European Union and the United States, Turkey is trying to gain a foothold in Central Asia, which is developing its project of the Turkic Union. However, Ankara’s influence in the region is still not enough to support its ambitions with serious arguments.
“Turkey is the main initiator of strengthening cooperation with Kazakhstan along the line of “Turkic unity”. But this crisis has shown that Ankara has very limited opportunities in the region. It is hardly worth saying that Turkey in the foreseeable future will be able to become the fourth leg for the Kazakhstani chair in addition to Russia, the West and China,” concluded Stanislav Pritchin, senior researcher at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at IMEMO RAS.
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