ASTANA – President Nursultan Nazarbayev held his annual end-of-year news briefing covering a broad range of areas from the situation in Ukraine to Kazakhstan’s economic stimulus package, terrorism threats, prospects of integration in Eurasia and Almaty’s bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2022.
During an hour-and-a-half question-and-answer session shown on national television channels on Dec. 21, Nazarbayev said the reasons for the continuing confrontation in Ukraine which had crippled the fellow post-Soviet country for the past year laid in the failure by that country’s political elites to secure adequate economic progress over the past two decades. “As a result of weak social policies, poverty of many groups of the Ukrainian society led them to being manipulated by third parties of all kinds,” he said.
Nazarbayev emphasised Ukraine’s historical closeness to Kazakhstan, as well as the presence of a large Ukrainian minority in Kazakhstan.
“The fratricidal war has brought true devastation to eastern Ukraine, and it is a common task to stop the war there, strengthen Ukraine’s independence and secure territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the Kazakh leader said. “Both Ukraine and Russia are equally close to Kazakhstan that is why I am ready to continue talking to leaders in both Kiev and Moscow, as well as in European capitals, in a bid to promote progress in negotiations over lasting peace in eastern Ukraine.”
“We have no conflict of interests. I am like an objective manager who does not support any side, takes a neutral position and can contribute in a constructive way,” he continued. “There is a need to agree on those issues where aspirations of Ukraine, Russia and Europe coincide: ending the way, freeing prisoners, assisting in restoration in eastern Ukraine, determining the status of languages. These are the issues that need to be brought up to the level of the presidents and need to be agreed upon, together with the Europeans.”
[In the early morning of Dec. 22 Nazarbayevleft Astana for a visit to Kiev to hold talks with President Petro Poroshenko, which will be followed by a trip to Moscow on Dec. 23 for meetings with President Vladimir Putin of Russia and other leaders in the Eurasian Economic Union and Collective Security Treaty Organisation formats.]
Economy Resilient, While Government Has Resources to Withstand Pressure
Speaking of the impact of reciprocal sanctions between the West and Russia, Nazarbayev said they had no direct impact on Kazakhstan but there was nothing good for his country in this situation either. In his words, the sanctions stand-off is among the reasons of the current crisis in global economy that also brought the falling oil prices.
“The government will continue elaborating well thought through solutions that would secure stability of Kazakhstan’s economy,” he said urging calm among his people who have been worried by the growing economic woes in neighbouring Russia.
Nazarbayev stressed that the trouble with the Russian rouble has confirmed the timeliness of his snap state-of-the-nation address on Nov. 11. He also emphasised the importance of proposed major investments in infrastructure development within the Nurly Zhol new economic policy that is “going to serve a generation of your children.”
“Now is the time to invest the funds we had saved in the development of transport links connecting the regions of Kazakhstan,” he noted adding that he had been thinking about unveiling the Nurly Zhol strategy over a long time.
Nazarbayev assured the population that all welfare payments would be kept at their current level. He explained that the government had elaborated several scenarios for the development of the nation’s financial and economic system based on several price estimates for oil, including that envisaging $40 for a barrel of oil, and that necessary reserves were at government’s disposal.
Speaking about the industrialisation programme implemented in Kazakhstan since 2010, Nazarbayev stressed that it was aimed at increasing domestic production of goods and limiting the influence of currency fluctuations on the incomes of the population through cutting dependence on import of commodities.
Among the real successes of industrialisation programme, Nazarbayev named launching the assembly lines for locomotives and railway carriages, automobiles, production of solar panels and construction material.
“During the talks with the People’s Republic of China, we have agreed to build 15-20 new processing plants,” he added, explaining that these would be plants in industries such as petro chemistry, polymer production, metal processing and others.
“The growth of population in Kazakhstan over the past ten years has been a clear sign of economic stability in Kazakhstan. This year, around 265,000 new school children went to school for the first time, which is equal to the population of a city as big as Uralsk. If the population in Kazakhstan continues to grow at such a pace, this will be a source of great joy,” the head of state said.
Nazarbayev stressed the growing need for qualified blue collar personnel in line with the country’s industrialisation policies and raising the prestige of working professions.
Multi-Vector Foreign Policy to Remain in Place
Answering a question on the future of Kazakhstan’s long-standing multi-vector policy in light of the growing confrontations in the world these days, Nazarbayev said it was natural for a state in the modern world to maintain friendly relations with as many partners as possible.
“Our multi-vector policy has led to us having a very friendly environment. We have no insolvable conflicts with any state. All our borders have been delimited and demarcated, and [are now] enshrined in international law. … Kazakhstan is a member of the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organisation] and EEU [Eurasian Economic Union] but this does not prevent Kazakhstan from cooperating with third parties,” he stressed.
Speaking of the timeliness of the Eurasian Economic Union, which is set to enter into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, Nazarbayev said it was in no way a recreation of the Soviet Union.
“This year we have created the EEU, completed negotiations on enhanced cooperation agreement with the EU and on our accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). People who say that the EEU is an attempt to recreate the Soviet Union are mistaken. It is utter nonsense,” Nazarbayev said, stressing the purely economical nature of integration processes within the EEU.
When asked about international terrorists using Islam as a cover, Nazarbayev said groups such as ISIS posed common threat to the entire world community and Kazakhstan should support international efforts in tackling that problem. To do so, the state in Kazakhstan should increase the population’s competence in Islam which would help deflect attempts to abuse people’s religious sentiments and warn them against threats posed by this evil.
Almaty’s Winter Olympics Bid, if Successful, May Be Shared with Astana
The probability of Almaty winning the bid to host 2022 Winter Olympic Games has aroused many questions among Kazakhstan’s public, including one on the relevance of such a costly event. During the briefing, Nazarbayev said he had been thinking long and hard about that bid.
“Almaty has lots of necessary sports facilities already in place, like a skating rink, alpine skiing facilities, a world-class ski jumping hill and a hockey stadium. If selected [to host the Games], Kazakhstan would only need to build an Olympic village and upgrade the current road infrastructure. But all of that will serve residents of Almaty afterwards as dormitories and scientific laboratories. The only major construction expense would involve construction of a bobsleigh track. If the International Olympic Committee allows, Astana would also be ready to host part of the events. We are not going to spend 50 or 40 or 30 billion dollars. There will be expenses but we can manage them,” Nazarbayev explained.
Pondering on the outcomes of the year, the President noted is was full of serious events and major meetings. Notably, in 2014 he has met more than 40 foreign leaders, while seven full days were spent in the air.
Concluding his annual meeting with TV reporters, Nazarbayev answered a couple of personal questions. He said he took to drawing this year, comparing his new hobby with meditation and noting it helps to put his thoughts in order.