Andrei Grozin: "It is physically impossible to change Russian vector of Kazakhstan in favor of US"
The visit of Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev to the United States starts today, during which he will hold talks with his US counterpart Donald Trump. The official agenda of the talks includes the issue of relations between the two countries and Russia, as well as the Eurasia strategy of Washington. The head of the Central Asia Department of the CIS Institute, Andrei Grozin, told Vestnik Kavkaza what the Kazakh leader's trip to the US means.
- Andrey Valentinovich, in your opinion, what will top the Russian and Eurasian agenda of the Nazarbayev-Trump talks?
- Most likely, the talks will be focused on the peaceful nature of the EEU. Nursultan Nazarbayev once again said in his new book 'The Era of Independence' that Eurasian integration is an objective process that poses no threat and is aimed at realizing the national interests of the states involved in it. The President of Kazakhstan constantly sttresses that it's not a new USSR, but a purely economic format focused on solving economic and social problems of the post-Soviet states and their neighbors. I think that he will try to convey this idea to the Americans during the talks.
Nazarbayev is also expected to voice concern over the continuing and progressive deterioration of US-Russia relations, which is damaging Kazakhstan as a country that, on the one hand, has a huge number of objectively existing links with Russia - economic, financial, social, cultural, military and political - and on the other hand, builds good, constructive relations with the West. The multi-vector nature of Kazakhstan assumes such kind of policy when the state gets along with everybody and does not ruin any relations. I think that the president of Kazakhstan will try to convey this to the people in the Trump administration who are trying to develop a Central Asia strategy.
- Can the Kazakh president's visit affect positively the normalization of troubled Russia-US relations?
- It should be noted here that Kazakhstan is a country whose opinion, at least, is taken into account by the West, due to the fact that it is the economic leader of the Central Asian region both in terms of the GDP and relations with the world commodity market. Nursultan Nazarbayev's visit to the US is a demonstration of Kazakhstan's leading role in Central Asia. In this regard, Kazakhstan can play its role in the settlement of Russia-US relations, especially since after the creation of the Astana format of the inter-Syrian talks, it has become a subject of world politics. There is information that Nursultan Abishevich is bringing to Washington proposals for normalizing the situation, both those worked out in Astana and those put forward by the Kremlin.
At the same time, one should consider the fact that Kazakhstan, in spite of its multi-vector nature and its desire to build equidistant relations with the world's leading centers of power, is perceived in the West as a pro-Russian country, as a state that largely remains under Russia's influence. It is the same Western stereotype as in the case with Belarus: despite Minsk's actions critically perceived by Moscow, Belarus is perceived in Washington, London, Berlin, Paris, Warsaw as a state with mostly pro-Russian politics. This means that Kazakhstan will present some proposals to calm the situation, but there is a question of how adequately they will be perceived by the US.
- What are current US interests in Kazakhstan?
- First of all, the realization of US geopolitical interests. Despite the declared refusal of geopolitics, the US approach to Central Asia has not changed at all. Kazakhstan is interesting to the United States because of its geographical location, as a huge space between the countries classified as rival countries in the latest version of the concept of US national security - Russia and China. As well as territorial proximity to the Middle East. That is, for Washington, Kazakhstan is located in the triangle between the Islamic world, Russia and the Chinese communist regime. Even Western economic projects in Kazakhstan, such as the Tengiz and Kashagan fields, are not as significant as geopolitical interests.
The US sees that Kazakhstan is actively building a partnership with Russia within the EEU and actively trying to integrate into the Beijing One Belt and One Road Initiative, with the prospect of becoming either a point of linking the two projects, or a point of disengaging. In this regard, it is essential for Kazakhstan which strategy will be chosen by Washington as political pillar in Eurasia. It is likely that the country will be weakened from all sides, using different methods to create a large conflict zone between Russians, Chinese, Persians and the rest of the south, or try to torpedo Eurasian integration in some other way if it turns out that destroying it is too expensive. It is possible that they will handle Eurasia integration processes.
In any case, Astana will certainly implement its tactics within the framework of a multi-vector strategy to keep everyone happy both in Washington, in Moscow and in Beijing. This is a very difficult task, because the current level of mutual distrust and rejection between the world's centers of power is too high. Kazakhstan is an authoritative country, the inter-Syrian dialogue demonstrated it vividly, but the intensity of problems in relations between Astana's leading partners is very high. Maneuvering between mutually exclusive approaches will be difficult, although Nursultan Nazarbayev has a well developed instinct of power, it is quite possible he will succeed.
- How valid are fears regarding Kazakhstan distancing from Russia in favor of the US?
- I cannot imagine Kazakhstan changing the Russian vector in favor of the US partnership. It is physically impossible in today's Kazakhstan, whose neighbors are states that generate a large number of very different problems. Kazakhstan has no borders with Afghanistan, but as the situation worsens all Afghan problems (and it is possible that the new year will be worse for Afghanistan than the previous one) will affect Kazakhstan, primarily because the borders in Central Asia are rather conditional. Under such conditions, Astana will not weaken or downgrade its relations with Russia.