The long epopee of building a positive external image of Kazakhstan is continuing. It started at the time of the previous Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Tokaev, and, judging by the popularity of Borat, he didn’t succeed much; it got the second wind during the times of Marat Tazhin, who is expected to be creative. We didn’t have to wait for long. The MFA announced the creation of the Committee of International Information, which will work on issues of forming a positive image of the country.
It seems that, mainly for this reason, Marat Tazhin (who was previously successful in forming domestic ideological structures) came to the MFA. Actually, it is unlikely that the new Minister of Foreign Affairs would change the traditional orientation of Kazakhstan for multiple directions, which has already become a recognized feature of our country.With Marat Tazhin’s arrival to the MFA, we see some activities, not only in the external re-branding of Kazakhstan, but also in the raising the role of the MFA. This is supported by the statement made by Marat Tazhin in February this year; he said that decisions to enter foreign markets and make large investments abroad should be made with the direct involvement of the MFA. According to the MFA, despite the investment ambitions of Kazakhstan, there are some problems that the government should be concerned about. For example, the fast growth of lending and inter-regional expansion increases risks in Kazakhstan, especially in the banking sector. It is connected to the fact that the activities of Kazakhstan’s banks are expanding internationally and inter-regionally into the countries with higher levels of political and investment risk. This situation agrees with the concepts of the new minister’s external policy, which promises to be aggressive. It is interesting how the banks and other business entities, which are actively penetrating the markets of the post-Soviet countries, will react to the policy. Moreover, lately the President of Kazakhstan more often lobbies the business interests, hence, encouraging the expansion of Kazakhstan’s investors into countries with high political and investment risks. That’s why relations with the “revolutionist” Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan are well supported, even though these countries are not held as an example for political development by the government of Kazakhstan. The external policy of Kazakhstan became more pragmatic, because there is a need to have good relations with everybody. Now Kazakhstan’s traditional flexibility in its external policy is combined with a desire to extract some benefits. It is worth noticing that, unlike in the 1990s, now we see an interesting situation where other Central Asia countries also leave behind the unidirectional orientation in the external policy. Most of them chose the Kazakh tactic of maneuvering in their external policy. For example, Kyrgyzstan provided its territory to both the American base with its allies in the anti-terror coalition and Russian base with its allies in the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization). Even Uzbekistan, after leaving the CSTO, became a member of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and EEC (Eurasian Economic Community), obviously demonstrating its desire to cooperate with China and Russia. The countries of Central Asia pragmatically develop their relations with the influential powers of Russia and the USA, and demand benefits. The favorable situation, when Russia decided to return to the region and China became more active, encouraged the behavior. It made the great game for the region more tense, especially once the domination of the USA after the conflict with Uzbekistan decreased. However, Russia and China should not delude themselves regarding the possibility of their dominance in the region, which doesn’t want and sometimes is afraid to connect its future with only one player. The policy of “distant partnership” is now popular in Central Asia. At that, Russia and China should understand that they need to have a separate policy towards every Central Asian country, rather than using one policy for the whole of the region. There is the expression of Bismarck’s that can be related to the Central Asian countries; he said that in every union there is a rider and a horse. The Central Asian countries are not developed enough to be the riders, but they already don’t want to be the horses. That’s why one of their main geopolitical objectives is to continue the game of balancing the powers of the three main influential centers; Russia, the USA and China. Kazakhstan has been doing so for more than ten years. The presence of this balance has positive as well as negative sides for Central Asia. The positive side is that it allows the political elite of the region to use the existing geopolitical contradictions to stay in power. The negative side is that in order to harmonize the geopolitical and geo-economic interests of the main players with their national interests they have to put much effort into their external policy maneuvering.