Creation of EEU, Efforts to Pacify Ukraine among 2014 Foreign Policy Priorities, Will Remain in Focus in 2015

ASTANA – Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov stressed the strategic importance of Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy as he summarised the outcomes of the nation’s foreign policy work for 2014 at a Dec. 26 press conference at the Central Communications Services.

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Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov

Numerous events and activities in the international arena, including meetings and visits at the highest levels, reaffirmed the significance of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy pursued from the first days of independence, he said. Idrissov noted that a key role in advancing the nation’s foreign policy goals was played by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who made eight visits abroad and received 16 heads of state. In total, 59 events at the highest level and 70 bilateral visits involving the state’s most senior officials were held within the country and abroad. The minister himself paid 18 visits to other countries.

Idrissov began by stating that the complexity and multidimensionality of the processes in a modern world and emergence of a qualitatively new geopolitical and geo-economic reality reflected in the adoption of the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy led to the elaboration of a new Concept of Foreign Policy until 2020, which was approved by Nazarbayev’s Jan. 29 decree. According to Idrissov, one of the priorities of foreign policy regarding the concept was the creation this year of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

“The EEU means a common market. It will be a fundamentally new association of the 21st century that works on the principle of equality, mutual benefit and consideration of the interests of all the participants. As the President stated, the political sovereignty of our country is strong and unbreakable. The economic integration is developing in order to strengthen the national statehood and make it more sustainable through the strengthening of the economy,” he underlined.

At the same time, Idrissov added, “no modern state can develop the economy within closed borders.” International experience in advancing regional integration projects shows that joint efforts bring long-term economic benefits, provide greater security and improve the welfare of the involved nations.

EEU is based on economic pragmatism, respect of sovereignty, voluntary integration of equality in all decisions and evolutionary development, he explained.

The union’s attractiveness was confirmed during Nazarbayev’s visit to Moscow on Dec. 23, as the heads of the EEU member states signed an agreement on the accession of the Kyrgyz Republic to the union. The original EEU treaty was signed by Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus on May 29, with Armenia joining in October.

Among other important achievements of the last year, Idrissov named successful completion of negotiations with the European Union (EU) on a new Expanded Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and bilateral negotiations between Kazakhstan and the EU in the framework of the country’s accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Idrissov noted with regret that the past year was characterised by confrontation between the West and Russia over the situation within and around Ukraine, which led in general to the growth of misunderstandings and negative perceptions between the East and the West.

Talking about Kazakhstan’s position on the crisis in Ukraine, the minister reminded that Astana supports peaceful initiatives aimed at the de-escalation of the armed conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Kazakhstan has been and is working towards normalisation of the relations among Russia, Ukraine and the West and translating them into civilised, internationally recognised frameworks.

“We are interested in seeing Ukraine remain a stable and independent state. For its part, Kazakhstan has been actively involved in consultations to find ways to resolve the crisis with its partners both in the EEU and the West. Largely due to the active position and diplomatic efforts of our leader, Minsk hosted the meeting of the presidents of Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus with the President of Ukraine (Petro) Poroshenko and the EU high representative,” Idrissov reminded.

The recent events of December, especially the President’s working visits to Kiev and Moscow, demonstrated Nazarbayev is an honest and impartial broker in an attempt to find common ground and reach sustainable agreements to resolve the contradictions, Idrissov said.

[On Dec. 29, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko announced he would be meeting with President of Russia Vladimir Putin along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in the Normandy Four format. The meeting is yet to be confirmed by the other three parties although the office of the Kazakh President confirmed “readiness to host the meetings on Jan. 15-16 or any other convenient dates”.]

In the framework of ensuring regional and global security tasks before Kazakhstan, an important activity of the Foreign Ministry is promoting the nation’s candidacy as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2017-2018, explained Idrissov. The election of Kazakhstan to the Security Council would provide an opportunity to draw international attention to the problems of the region, and help draw the focus to such issues as energy, food, water security, as well as non-proliferation issues. The four issues are at the core of Kazakhstan’s bid for the UN body.

In the context of regional security, the minister also highlighted the importance of the fourth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), which was held on May 21 in Shanghai and which signified the transfer of chairmanship in the conference from Turkey to China. At that event, Nazarbayev put forward an initiative to transform CICA into an Organisation for Security and Development in Asia, Idrissov noted

Another major event that shed light on Astana’s initiatives was the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague in March. Nazarbayev made a call to focus efforts on the most important areas, such as general and complete nuclear disarmament, which is the only guarantee of nuclear safety and eradication of nuclear terrorism and its foundations. In addition, during the year, The ATOM Project carried out important work on fostering of broad international public support for early ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Idrissov also highlighted the relevance of Nazarbayev’s participation Oct. 16-17 in the 10th ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) summit in Milan. There, Kazakhstan officially joined ASEM, a key forum for dialogue and cooperation between the two parts for Eurasia.

Turning to bilateral relations, the minister stressed that Kazakhstan will continue to strengthen the strategic partnership with Russia in all spheres of political, economic, trade and cultural cooperation based on the Treaty of Good-Neighbourly and Allied Relations in the 21st Century. Nazarbayev and Putin held 10 meetings in 2014 and landmark events in bilateral relations were the Kazakhstan-Russia cross-border forum in Atyrau as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Ust-Kamenogorsk.

An increased number of bilateral contacts with China demonstrated the interest of the parties in the development of a comprehensive strategic partnership. Nazarbayev’s state visit to China in May was a breakthrough for bilateral relations, with 16 agreements signed in various fields.

Idrissov also said that strengthening strategic partnership with the United States is an important priority of Kazakh foreign policy. Mutual cooperation includes the spheres of trade-economic, investment, energy, technical and humanitarian cooperation. Nazarbayev’s talks with President Barack Obama during the Nuclear Security Summit also gave impetus to further development of bilateral relations.

A few days before his Dec. 28-29 visit to Ankara, Idrissov used the press conference as a reminder that Kazakhstan attaches great importance to strengthening comprehensive cooperation with Turkey, which is based on the common historical roots and cultural values of the two nations.

Kazakhstan continues to pursue a balanced policy towards Afghanistan too, with a focus on humanitarian and economic assistance and cooperation in the trade and economic sphere. Idrissov was glad to note that in 2014 the first graduates of the Kazakh government’s special scholarship programme for Afghan youth began working in various institutions in their home country.

According to Idrissov, special attention was paid this year to attracting further foreign direct investment, promoting Kazakhstan’s export to foreign markets, developing transit-transport cooperation and elaborating on projects in the energy sector, as well as implementing preparations for EXPO 2017.

“As you know, in 2014 we launched a pilot project on a visa-free regime with 10 countries that are key investors in Kazakhstan. It was done in order to create a comfortable environment and attract more investment. The project was perceived very positively by investors and our foreign partners,” Idrissov said.

The minister mentioned the recent adoption of the law on official development assistance, a step towards the creation of what is now conventionally labelled KazAID, in which the mechanism of assistance will be established similar to USAID. The law is designed to systematise assistance to foreign partners. Thus, Kazakhstan is transforming from a recipient country to a donor country, Idrissov explained.

He also stressed the generally positive reaction internationally to the Nov. 11 state-of-the-nation address of President Nazarbayev in which he outlined the Nurly Zhol new economic policy.

At the end of his speech, Idrissov noted that maximum openness and accessibility to local and foreign mass media and the public are the most important principles of the foreign ministry. For this reason the ministry maintains an active presence on social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and others. In this respect the President of Kazakhstan’s Internet Association Shavkat Sabirov commended the fact that Idrissov himself writes a blog, a tradition that he started when he was the nation’s ambassador in Washington DC. “The ministry actively works in social networks and practically all embassies and consulates maintain Twitter accounts,” Sabirov noted stressing the importance of what became known as digital diplomacy.

At the end of the briefing Idrissov answered a number of questions from the media, including those on the Caspian Sea delimitation issues, visa matters and others.

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