Akorda has always said it is pursuing the multi-vector foreign policy. In reality, however, the picture looks different since the strategic thinking of the Kazakhstan authorities and Nursultan Nazarbayev personally has, more often than not, been missing the mark these past few years.
The dramatically increased complexity of the world political situation and the weakness of Kazakhstan as a state force the country’s authorities to take their lead from several international centers of influence at once navigating their way among them and, in a critical situation, even rushing around them trying to lessen the unavoidable international political damage.
As a result, there is nothing surprising in the fact that Kazakhstan, more often than not, plays along with Russia. The most recent example is the event that happened several days ago at the UN voting on Crimea. Kazakhstan was among the 26 countries that voted against the resolution proposed by Ukraine (the list also includes Belorus, Bolivia, China, North Korea, Iran, Republic of South Africa, Tadzhikistan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and, of course, Russia). Note that the resolution was accepted by 70 votes, 76 abstained.
Therefore, the multi-vector nature of the Kazakhstan international policy is nothing but a nominal thing. Moreover, its actual formula, nowadays, may sound like this: “we support the state we currently fear more than any other”. Judging by the recent events, Russia is now performing the role of such a state.
Meanwhile, at the beginning of 2018, Nursultan Nazarbayev will visit the US where he is planning to participate in the UN Security Council meeting. Moreover, he is to start the meeting in the capacity of the leader of the presiding state. In the course of his visit, Nazarbayev is to meet with US President Donald Trump. We do not know whether their meeting will be of the working or of the formal nature and take about 20-30 minutes most of which will be spent on the procedural formalities and posing for photos. However, it is obvious that Nazarbayev will have to work hard to withstand the force of his American colleague if the latter tries and drag him over to his side.
We believe, even given Donald Trump’s energetic nature and the weightiness of his arguments of which the US economic, political, and military power is the most persuasive one, the US president will not be able to convince Nursultan Nazarbayev. The latter knows Russia and Vladimir Putin too well to take the risk. However, beyond the scope of this adversary, Akorda is relatively free to act as it chooses (the issues concerning China’s strategic interests notwithstanding).
The press release published by Nazarbayev Administration on December 20, 2017 on the occasion of the Kazakhstan Independence Day gives one the general understanding from which countries Akorda takes its lead and with which countries it wants to sustain or develop the intra-state relationships.
The order in which the countries that had congratulated Nursultan Nazarbayev were presented in the document was anything but random. In such documents, it is always the result of the complex calculations involving the position of the key state agencies, risk assessment, and forecasting the international consequences (losses or victories). Moreover, such press releases are intended not so much for the Kazakhstan citizens as for diplomats and external observers.
So, according to the aforementioned official document, Kazakhstan’s international priorities look like this:
We do not know whether American diplomats will inform Donald Trump on the fact that the US has been assigned the fourth place on the list of Kazakhstan’s international political priorities and how he may react to that, but the fact that Akorda is clearly interested in developing a relationship with Uzbekistan shows that Nazarbayev desires to gain support from this state. The question is why. Or, more importantly, against whom?