On August 28, 2017, Nursultan Nazarbayev met with Deputy Secretary of the US Energy Department Dan Brouillette. The meaning of this, in essence, perfunctory for Akorda visit is evident from the official press-release that, in its size and tone, differs significantly from other reports on Nazarbayev’s meetings with foreign visitors. (Unless, of course, these visitors are the heads of the influential states or the powerful international organizations such as the UN or World Bank).
Meanwhile, the status of the American guest clearly shows what place Kazakhstan occupies in the sphere of the political interests of Trump Administration.
The White House has practically admitted that its interest towards Kazakhstan is of a second priority and lies primarily in the sphere of the energy. On the one hand, it is not so bad since the interest still exists. On the other hand, however, it means that the president and his successors will not be able to play the “American card” in their efforts to resists the political pressure from Russia and the economic one from China.
So Akorda, it seems, can only count on the European Union that remains the major trading partner for Kazakhstan. Given the systemic worsening of the relationships with Russia that is not going to end in the incoming years (if not decades), the disaccord among the state-members, the serious economic problems both in the EU and in the world, the block, nonetheless, remains interested in improving the ties with the Eurasian countries. This will enable the EU to lobby its economic interests and its external policies in the EAEU.
In reality, it means that the multi-vector policy Nazarbayev has been trying to implement over the years, will have to transform into a two-vector one when, politically, Kazakhstan will be oriented towards Russia one way or another and, economically, it will look at China. The implementation of this policy will face great difficulties in the nearest future since Kazakhstan will, in fact, become a “Trojan horse” used by China to charge through the EAEU economic space.
The Kremlin will, undoubtedly, be dissatisfied with such a policy and try to change it. The change will include putting the informal pressure on Nazarbayev’s successors.
Something similar is happening in the Russia/Belarus dynamics. To Belarus, the necessity of the economic and political survival dictates using the current problems both in Russia and in the EU to its advantage including the transit of the sanction goods and the other abuse of its geopolitical position.
It looks like Kazakhstan is doomed to follow the same path.
Of course, theoretically, it is possible that the US and the EU interests in Kazakhstan will grow significantly; the country will turn into one of the West’s major allies and a receiver of its financial, political, diplomatic, and moral support. It can happen (and will even be inevitable) in the case if Astana will come into the direct conflict with Moscow or with Beijing, or with both together. Then the White House, regardless of who is in charge – a Democrat or a Republican, will try to seize a chance to weaken one or both major geopolitical opponents.
Such a development, however, requires not only the extreme bravery (personal as well as political) on the part of Kazakhstan’s highest officials but also the support of their actions by the majority of the citizens. So, most likely, Nazarbayev’s successors will have to continue his multi-vector policy but, at that, their capabilities to do so will lessen dramatically. As a result, the country will be divided into Russia’s and China’s zones of interest on the basis of the geography and the economy. These zones already exist but, as of now, are defined by the fact whose goods monopolize the market.
At the same time, Kazakhstan has an opportunity to become the “unified market” for the EAEU and China which, of course, is not the worst turn of the events. This development, can, at least, have a future.