Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Holds First Twitter Chat

ASTANA – Kazakhstan Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov helped mark the country’s Day of Diplomatic Service on July 2 by conducting his first live Twitter chat.

The session lasted for an hour and a half and covered a wide range of topics. These included global issues, such as relations with Russia, the creation of a Eurasian Economic Union, holding EXPO 2017 in Astana and policies to attract foreign investment. The Internet users involved in the chat also asked about British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent visit to Kazakhstan (June 30 – July 1). Aspects of the MFA’s human resources policies and personnel statistics were also discussed.

The most popular topic was the facilitation of the visa regime, both for Kazakhstan citizens seeking to go abroad and for foreigners interested in visiting Kazakhstan. Commenting on this, Idrissov said that the foreign ministry is working together with other government agencies to temporarily establish a visa-free regime for citizens of 48 politically stable and economically developed states, including the countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It is hoped that enabling citizens of these countries to freely and easily visit Kazakhstan will contribute to the development of international cooperation and attract investment.

As for Kazakhstan citizens wishing to go to the European Union, the minister said that the EU has established a single list of documents for a Schengen visa in accordance with the EU Visa Code. Now, the period of consideration of an application does not exceed three to five working days.

“We are constantly working on easing the visa regime for our citizens. It is not an easy process, but we are moving forward,” the minister wrote. He also shared that the ministry is working with other government bodies on creating a visa portal where users would be able to issue an invitation for foreigners and submit documents for a Kazakhstan visa online.

One of the concerns raised during the chat was related to the creation of a Eurasian Economic Union with Russia and Belarus. Internet users asked whether it would mean a departure from Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy and a loss of independence. In response to that, Idrissov pledged that the economic union is being created on principles of equality. Thus, it will not infringe on Kazakhstan’s political sovereignty and its commitment to multi-vector policies.

With regard to the recent visit of the British Prime Minister to Kazakhstan, the foreign minister wrote that it raised Kazakhstan-British relations to a qualitatively new level of strategic partnership.

A set of questions was also dedicated to the plan to create an International Low-Enriched Uranium Bank (LEU) in Kazakhstan under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Commenting on this, the minister said that the creation of the LEU bank will not pose threats to the ecology. Neither will it lead to the growth of the terrorist threat, “as low-enriched uranium is not an attractive material.” Currently, Kazakhstan and IAEA experts are working on the legal framework for the establishment of such a bank with the completion of this work expected before the end of 2013.

Answering questions about the importance to Kazakhstan of holding EXPO 2017 in Astana, the foreign minister wrote that the exhibition will promote the development of a green economy, tourism, hotel business, small and medium-sized businesses and the city’s infrastructure, as well as create new jobs. During the preparation process, foreign investment will be attracted by Kazakhstan’s embassies abroad and the EXPO 2017 Astana National Company.

He also said that the implementation of the State Programme for Accelerated Industrial and Innovative Development for 2010-2014 has helped to attract foreign investment. The programme is implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Industry and New Technologies, national companies, as well as business associations both inside the country and abroad. As a result, in 2009-2012 the country attracted US$81.6 billion in foreign investment.

The Twitter session also covered the MFA’s human resources policies. The users wanted information about the kinds of education MFA personnel hold, the ministry’s training policies, its gender balance and other topics.

About 40 percent of the ministry’s employees received their university degrees abroad and 50 percent attended professional development training overseas. Going more into detail, the minister shared that four workers of the ministry hold doctors of science degrees, 12 are candidates of science, 73 hold master’s degrees and 11 people have three higher education diplomas.

The personnel are composed of graduates of Kazakhstan’s top universities, such as the Kazakhstan National University and the Eurasian National University, as well as the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and other foreign universities. The ministry’s workers have the opportunity to attend advanced training courses at the Academy of Public Administration under the President of Kazakhstan in Astana, in education institutions under other countries’ foreign ministries or choose a full study programme under Kazakhstan’s Bolashak scholarship programme.

Applicants are hired by the MFA on a competitive basis in accordance with Kazakhstan’s law on civil service. The main criterion for selections is a good education. Good work experience is also an asset. With regard to gender balance, the minister said that 40.1 percent of the employees of the central office are women. Among ambassadors, there are only two females. “But this is not the limit,” Idrissov wrote.

The minister also shared facts about Kazakhstan’s representation in the United Nations and other international organisations. Currently, 20 Kazakhstan citizens work in the UN and the same amount of people work in other international organisations. “We continue to promote Kazakhstan candidates. The main criteria are knowledge of foreign languages and professionalism,” Idrissov added.

Kazakhstan has embassies, general consulates and consulates in 72 countries. Last year, new embassies were opened in Brazil, Finland and Indonesia. This year, Kazakhstan opened embassies in Sweden and Norway.

The users also wanted to know about the fate of a Palestinian citizen who has been living in the transit area of the Almaty airport for four months now. According to Idrissov, the Palestinian has requested refugee status, which is now being considered by the migration authorities. As it turns out, the young man came to Kazakhstan to see a girl he met with on the Internet. He traveled back and forth several times until his visa expired and he was left without any valid visa of any country. This led him to apply for refugee.

One of the users also asked whether the ministry plans to introduce a uniform for ambassadors as it was common during Soviet times. “Being a diplomat is a peaceful occupation and we do not plan to introduce a dress uniform,” the minister replied. “The norm for diplomats is to adhere to a strict business style,” he added.