Maintaining Peace and Prosperity: Kazakhstan’s Multi-Vectorial Foreign Policy in Action

Roman Vassilenko, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Photo Ruslanas Iržikevičius

The Astana International Forum (AIF) recently hosted an insightful interview with Roman Vassilenko, the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. In the interview, Mr Vassilenko shed light on Kazakhstan’s approach to the shifting geopolitical dynamics and its multi-vectorial foreign policy. Kazakhstan has strategically positioned itself to maintain normal, mutually beneficial relations with Eastern and Western powers as a nation between Russia and China. This approach has preserved peace and stability and attracted significant investments, making Kazakhstan a resilient economy and a respected player on the global stage.

Kazakhstan’s Transformative Year and Geopolitical Prominence:

Mr. Vassilenko highlighted the transformative year Kazakhstan has experienced, implementing socio-economic reforms and establishing itself as a key player in the global geopolitical landscape. Serving as a bridge between the East and the West, Kazakhstan’s role as a crucial transit hub has garnered geopolitical prominence. The country’s commitment to international peace, security, and stability has been underpinned by its successful multi-vectorial foreign policy, maintaining positive relations with all nations and seeking cooperation in a West-polarized international order.

Promoting Diplomacy and International Dialogue:

Kazakhstan’s dedication to diplomacy and international dialogue is evident through the establishment of various platforms and initiatives. As the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) chair in 2010, Kazakhstan’s regional and continental importance was recognized. The country has played a significant role in facilitating negotiations for the Syrian conflict through the Astana process and engaging in talks regarding the Iranian nuclear program. Furthermore, Kazakhstan’s position as a transcontinental transport hub has provided opportunities for economic cooperation and the revitalization of ancient silk routes through initiatives like the visionary trans-Caspian transport route.

Economic Resilience and Future Challenges:

Kazakhstan’s economy has exhibited resilience amid geopolitical upheavals, as emphasized by Mr. Vassilenko. However, the nation is not immune to current global economic challenges, including inflation and a decrease in investor confidence. Recognizing these challenges, Kazakhstan aims to strengthen the Eurasian economy by discussing strategies within the Astana International Forum, drawing on its experience in navigating geopolitical shifts and fostering economic growth.

The Importance of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS):

The OTS holds significant importance for Kazakhstan, given its Turkic-speaking nature. As one of the initiators of the Turkish Council, Kazakhstan supports the transformation of this organization into a fully-fledged entity of Turkic states. With the addition of Uzbekistan and observer states like Hungary, Kazakhstan prioritizes cooperation in cultural and economic domains within the OTS. The forthcoming OTS summit in Turkistan will focus on cultural cooperation, education, and greater economic and logistics collaboration, reflecting Kazakhstan’s commitment to enhancing ties within the Turkic world.

Kazakhstan’s Interest in BRICS and Global Challenges:

Kazakhstan has shown interest in cooperating with BRICS and attending events organized by its member states. The country values forums like BRICS for their potential to foster economic cooperation and address global challenges through collaboration. As a founding Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) member and active participant in organizations prioritizing economic cooperation, Kazakhstan is open to joining BRICS if invited. The organization’s composition, which includes countries from the global south and the membership of China and Russia, offers the potential for expanded cooperation and mutual development.

Kazakhstan’s political and economic performance over the past year reflects its commitment to diplomacy, international cooperation, and economic resilience. Through its multi-vectorial foreign policy, the nation has successfully navigated geopolitical shifts, established itself as a bridge between East and West, and attracted significant investments. Kazakhstan’s involvement in regional and international initiatives, including the OTS and potential engagement with BRICS, underscores its dedication to fostering cooperation among nations and addressing global challenges. As Kazakhstan looks ahead, it remains steadfast in its pursuit of peace, stability, and economic growth, recognizing the importance of dialogue, collaboration, and adaptive strategies to navigate the ever-evolving geopolitical landscape. By maintaining its multi-vectorial foreign policy and leveraging its unique position as a bridge between regions, Kazakhstan is poised to continue significantly promoting international dialogue, fostering economic partnerships, and contributing to a more interconnected and harmonious global community.

Maintaining a Multi-Vectorial Approach:

Kazakhstan’s multi-vectorial foreign policy has played a pivotal role in its success over the past 30 years of independence. However, the major conflict in Ukraine and the subsequent geopolitical tensions between the West and Russia brought about notable changes in Kazakhstan’s approach. As Mr Vassilenko highlighted, “We will adopt a normal mutual beneficial and mutually respectful relationship with Russia, China, other Central Asian nations, but also with the West.”

The Benefits of a Multilateral Approach:

Kazakhstan’s commitment to a multi-vectorial approach has yielded positive outcomes in terms of amicable relations with other nations and economic terms. Foreign direct investments (FDIs) worth $410 billion have flowed into Kazakhstan, with the largest share coming from the European Union ($117 billion). Other significant investors include the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey. This openness and credibility have fostered economic growth and established Kazakhstan as a resilient economy, surpassing its counterparts in Central Asia.

Championing Global Dialogue:

Mr Vassilenko emphasized the importance of restoring global dialogue and cooperation amidst heightening tensions and shocks to the global system. Kazakhstan believes in returning to the fundamental principles on which international organizations like the United Nations Security Council and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) were founded. This inclusive approach addresses conflicts, wars, and pressing global challenges such as climate change, poverty, and sustainable economic growth.

Impact of the Ukrainian Conflict:

Ukraine’s conflict has deeply impacted Kazakhstan, affecting economic, geopolitical, and domestic political aspects. The disruption of established supply chains and transportation rules between Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and European trading partners has been a significant challenge. The Northern Corridor, a vital transportation route from China to Europe, experienced a 35% decrease in its functions due to concerns about its sustainability. Kazakhstan is actively pursuing alternative routes, including the Middle Corridor, to mitigate such disruptions.

Kazakhstan’s Rich Ethnic Diversity:

Kazakhstan’s tragic history and the diverse ethnic composition further amplify the impact of the Ukrainian conflict. With over 130 ethnic groups, including significant populations of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, the conflict hits close to home. Kazakhstan’s commitment to maintaining peace and harmony is rooted in its history of tolerance, exemplified by the “extraordinary people of Kazakhstan” institution that brings together leaders from various ethnic groups to preserve harmony and unity.

China-Central Asia Summit and Economic Relations:

As its second-largest trading partner, China is vital to Kazakhstan’s economic landscape. Kazakhstan shares a border of 1800 km with China, and the two countries have forged a deep and enduring partnership. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has further strengthened economic cooperation, with President Tokayev’s recent visit resulting in the signing of numerous agreements worth billions of dollars. Kazakhstan views cooperation with China as crucial and does not subscribe to the notion of a zero-sum game or geopolitical rivalries.

Multi-vectorial foreign policy

As Deputy Minister Roman Vassilenko outlined, Kazakhstan’s multi-vectorial foreign policy has proven to be a successful strategy in navigating the complex geopolitical landscape. By maintaining normal, mutually beneficial relationships with various global powers, including Russia, China, and the West, Kazakhstan has preserved peace and stability and attracted substantial investments that have propelled its economic growth.

The impact of the conflict in Ukraine has been deeply felt in Kazakhstan. Disruptions in supply chains and transportation routes have posed challenges to trade between Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and European partners. Efforts are being made to develop alternative routes, such as the Middle Corridor, to ensure the smooth flow of goods. Additionally, the conflict’s resonance within Kazakhstan, given its diverse ethnic composition, underscores the nation’s commitment to maintaining peace and harmony among its various ethnic groups.

As Kazakhstan’s second-largest trading partner, China holds immense importance for the Kazakh economy. With a strategic location and close proximity to China, Kazakhstan has embraced cooperation with its eastern neighbour. The country recognizes the value of positive relations with China, which has the second-largest economy globally and offers a market of 1.5 billion people. Kazakhstan aims to benefit from the opportunities presented by economic cooperation with Central Asia, emphasizing the potential for successful engagement with multiple partners rather than subscribing to a zero-sum game mentality.

Kazakhstan’s multi-vectorial foreign policy remains the cornerstone of its approach to global affairs. Through adaptability and resilience, the country has successfully navigated geopolitical shifts and leveraged its strategic position to foster economic growth, attract investments, and maintain harmonious relations with diverse partners. As tensions persist in the international arena, Kazakhstan’s commitment to restoring global dialogue and addressing common challenges reflects its dedication to building a peaceful and prosperous future for its citizens and the international community as a whole.

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