In recognition of its geographic location, Kazakhstan has pursued an active foreign policy that is open to all sides from the start, and the freedom from nuclear weapons was one of its most important requirements. Under the catchphrase multi-vector policy, the leadership initially established close political and economic contacts with its large neighbors Russia and the People’s Republic of China, but also with the USA, the states of the European Union and the Arab world, Turkey, South Korea, Iran and others. With the foreign policy concept, from 2014, the importance of the immediate neighbors and the Asian countries (Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan) was also emphasized. Kazakhstan now maintains diplomatic relations with many countries in Africa and South America. Both Nursultan Nazarbayev in his capacity as First President and his successor Kasym-Dschomart Tokayev, who was elected in June 2019, currently represent Kazakhstan on the international stage.
According to ehealthfacts, Russia plays a very special role in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy; Although there have always been minor problems in bilateral relations, the Kazakh elite is basically friendly to Russia. However, the events in Ukraine since spring 2014 pose completely new challenges. Kazakhstan does not see itself more with considerations of individual Russian nationalists on an ethnic or historical affiliation of its north with the Russian Federation faced, but the example of the annexation of the Crimea and statements made by the Russian President to Kazakhstan also as a threat to its territorial integrity and statehood perceived – and as a problem for the tried and tested multi-vector policy. The military test sites in the Kazakh steppe, which originated from the Soviet era and have since been leased to the RF, are gradually being closed. Some observers see the Caspian Sea as a zone of new military competition between the two states, or fear a militarization of the waters, others fear, on the contrary, a lack of protection against terrorist attacks on the oil production facilities. The result of the negotiations on the status of the water body was assessed in advance as contradicting itself, the result is as disappointing rated. In general, the Russian influence in Kazakhstan is rated quite differently: tends to be high, especially, but not only, on the Russians of the country or (regrettably) dwindling. Kazakhstan’s membership in the initiated by the Russian President Putin Eurasian Economic Union as the successor of the Customs Union was previously in the Kazakh public critically evaluated (the general population but will despite many problems behind this move are). Observers see a growing independence of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy towards Russian positions and beyond. Russia has recently been focusing on intensifying contacts with Central Asia in the 5 + 1 format.
The relations to China have more and more after initial hesitation intensified, especially in the economic sphere (currently especially the Belt and Road Initiative). On the one hand, there are many common interests in terms of security policy; on the other hand, the Ujghurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim ethnic group living in Xinjiang, China, but also in Kazakhstan, represent a potential burden for interstate relations from the perspective of Beijing. In recent years, the increasing oppression of Ujghurs in China, also associated with persecution which is also in Xinjiang living Kazakhs to not only the intergovernmental relationship stressful topic, but also ensures that in Kazakhstan for additional voltages. The competition for water, which will become scarcer in the long term, is also assessed by experts as a possible conflict factor. Large sections of the population of Kazakhstan are also the powerful neighbor against critical set. A blog post already provides this atmosphere of a Chinese nationalist for diplomatic resentment. The new president of Kazakhstan, on the other hand, specializes in education and professional career in China and is obviously looking for good contacts with its huge neighbor.
Common security threats, e.g. from Islamist forces or the withdrawal of ISAF troops from Afghanistan, had already led to rapprochement between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the last years of the reign of Uzbek President Islam Karimov (until 2016). Under his successor, Shawkat Mirsiyoyev, there was a trend towards ever more normality, even the unresolved borderline issues that had been a burden on relationships for decades are now being resolved. Even if there is still some potential for conflict and many skeptics regarding regional cooperation in the region, it was the summit from Astana in mid-March 2018 was an important step in this direction. It remains to be seen whether this first meeting of Central Asian presidents alone in 13 years means a more self-confident and independent position for the region towards Russia, China and the USA. Common fears about the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan could encourage cooperation again today.
EU and Germany
Both the relationship with Russia and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan influence Kazakhstan’s policy towards the European Union and NATO. The talks on a new partnership agreement with the EU have indeed attracted more than expected, but it was in Astana on December 21, 2015 signed are. Astana is currently placing high hopes on economic cooperation with the EU. On the EU side, cooperation was given a fresh impetus in May 2019 with the new Central Asia Strategy. Find since 2006 joint maneuvers with NATO as part of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program.
The relations to Germany attaches great importance. Federal President Steinmeier traveled to Astana in 2017. Berlin was as head of state in December 2019, the first capital of a western state, the President Tokayev visited. The Germans in Kazakhstan are still a point of contact, but they are now only a small group looking for their identity.
The development of the US – American Central Asian policy under President Donald Trump followed long time no clear line and was not unfounded suspicions about illegal loaded connections of the business empire Trumps with the former mayor of Almaty in the past. The announcement of a new national security strategy in December 2017 reminded some observers regarding Central Asia of the competition between the great powers during the “Cold War”. In mid-January 2018, President Nazarbayev was invited by Donald Trump in Washington to talks about the bilateral relationship, but also Kazakhstan’s mediator role in various international conflicts,received. The extension of Western sanctions against Russia is also having a negative impact on Kazakhstan. A new US Central Asia strategy was announced in February 2020, but it contains little new.
Kazakhstan is keen to have a presence on the international stage and a positive perception in the global public. It is involved, among other things, as a mediator, for example in the Istanbul Process (peace and security in Afghanistan) and in the negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Astana has become the rapprochement effort between Russia and Turkey in 2016 and also tries to actively participate in the settlement of the Ukraine conflict involved. 2019 also found as in previous years in plain Sultan Syria – peace talks at various levels instead. Kazakhstan is too involved in UN peacekeeping missions.
Kazakhstan is also an active member of a large number of international organizations such as the UN and its sub-organizations (since January 1, 2017 with a temporary seat on the UN Security Council), the ECO, the OSCE (2010 chairmanship) and the OIC (2011 chairmanship). After many years of negotiations, Kazakhstan became a member of the WTO on November 30, 2015. In the Eurasian area it belongs to the following alliances: GUS, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Eurasian Economic Union.