Kazakhstan at the 76th UN General Assembly: a Global Volunteer

The 76th General Assembly of the United Nations, held in New York City in September of 2021, was an event of historical importance. And here is the reason: it was the first global discussion forum of universal importance that took place in what we can (still tentatively) call a post-COVID world, or rather the world slowly recovering from the first few “shock waves” of the pandemic.

Dmitry Babich

Many countries are still sitting enclosed in their own borders, and in this situation the international “community spirit”, the willingness to show the volunteering spirit towards neighbors and humanity at large – all of these things are becoming very important. And Kazakh citizens can proudly say after this General Assembly that their country was up to the task. Kazakhstan became a global volunteer, and its achievements were rightly lauded at the UN. Let us name the problem areas and see what was done in them.

In his speech in the framework of the United Nations’ General Debate,  Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev singled out these specific problem areas with utmost precision: COVID-19 and the subsequent slowdown of the global economy; the problems connected to climate change; the crisis in Afghanistan and the terrible humanitarian disaster around it.

Kazakhstan has made its contribution to solving each one of these problems.

In New York, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his special gratitude to the President of Kazakhstan for allowing the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) and other UN agencies accredited in Afghanistan to relocate to Kazakhstan.

“We view this decision of Kazakhstan as something more than just providing help in need. You have demonstrated the real spirit of diplomatic fraternity. And this will certainly contribute to good relations between the United Nations and Kazakhstan,” he said.

The relocation was a recent and unexpected event: few people expected the Afghan government of president Ashraf Ghani to collapse so fast. So, Kazakhstan had to provide emergency help, receive hundreds of UNAMA personnel and create conditions for the continuation of their work.

The UN Secretary-General Guterres passed this message of gratitude on at his meeting with Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of Foreign Affairs Mukhtar Tileuberdi, whose role in the relocation efforts was specially praised.    

On COVID-19, Kazakhstan also took the pro-active position of a fully-fledged, responsible member of the United Nations. In his video message to the global COVID-19 virtual summit, held in the framework of the General Assembly, President Tokayev spoke about “the vaccine gap” between the vaccinated rich and non-vaccinated poor nations. And the President spoke about this as the number of confirmed cases jumped from 32 million to 225 million cases worldwide.

Kazakhstan did a lot to protect its own population, introducing the lockdown in 2020 and compensating the businesses and the individual workers for the inevitable losses. Kazakh scientists created the country’s own national vaccine (QazVac), which probably saved millions of people and will save more in future. But Tokayev insisted on the need for a global solution: no country can be safe now without such a solution, and Kazakhstan announced plans to renew visa-free regimes with more than 30 countries of the world recently. Hence Kazakhstan’s calls for more international cooperation on the COVID crisis.

“We are ready to share QazVac and two other vaccines we are working on now on a bilateral level or in the framework of the global anti-COVID initiative COVAX,” President Tokayev said. These words were met with applause in New York.

On the third issue, the dangers of climate change, President Tokayev informed his audience at the UN that Kazakhstan plans to reach carbon neutrality by the year 2060 – despite the fact that 70 percent of the country’s electric energy production is based on coal right now. The president called on the other countries of the world to share “green” technologies. This would make Kazakhstan’s energy transition easier, too.

Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of Foreign Affairs Mukhtar Tileuberdi made full use of Kazakhstan’s uniquely good relations with both East and West, Russia and the US, meeting in New York with people such as Samantha Power (former representative of the US at the UN, now heading the USAID) and the Russian head of the UN’s counter-terrorist Directorate Vladimir Voronkov.

The other important contribution was Kazakhstan’s initiative on its “brand theme” – total prohibition of nuclear tests and elimination of nuclear  weapons. 

On Sept.28, in his video address at the High-level Plenary Meeting to Commemorate and Promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, President Tokayev said the following:

“Skeptiks might argue that our aspiration for a nuclear weapons-free world by 2045 is wishful thinking. Our historical experience suggests otherwise.”

The President reminded his audience that 30 years ago Kazakhstan renounced any further development for the nuclear weapons on its territory, despite having at the moment the world’s 4th largest nuclear stockpile. Having reminded the world of this important historical date, Tokayev continued:

“I wish to reaffirm Kazakhstan’s resolve to achieve the earliest possible entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty. On the positive side, Kazakhstan continues to convert the benefits of renouncing nuclear weapons into human progress,” the President said.

In his speech to the Assembly, President Tokayev said that in Central Asia it was time for world powers to move from the imperialist nineteenth century “Big Game” strategy to the mutually beneficial strategy of “Big Gain” for everyone. One can only hope that this call will not go unheeded.  

The author is Dmitry Babich, a Moscow-based journalist with 30 years of experience of covering global politics, a frequent guest on BBC, Al Jazeera and RT. 

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