Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 28th, and with French President Emmanuel Macron the next day to discuss Kazakhstan’s trade with each country. The meetings show that both Russia and other countries in the E.U. are trying to increase their influence in Kazakhstan, as well as in other countries in Central Asia. In the past, Kazakhstan had good relations with Russia, but more recent the nation has not been supportive of Russia’s war in Ukraine. However, Kazakhstan has opposed most sanctions on Russia due to Russia being the country’s largest trading partner. If the E.U. works to increase trade with Kazakhstan, it could become a more important trading partner than Russia. If this occurs, it is possible Kazakhstan could do more to oppose the war in Ukraine, including supporting sanctions against Russia.
Kazakhstan has opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi has said the country will not recognize the Luhansk and Donetsk regions controlled by Russian-backed separatists as independent. Also, the nation has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and many Russians leaving the country to avoid fighting in the war have moved to Kazakhstan. Russia has claimed Kazakhstan sent weapons to Ukraine, but these claims have been fervently rejected. In August 2022, Kazakhstan banned the export of weapons to all countries for a year, possibly to prove it is not sending weapons to Ukraine.
After Tokayev met with Macron, The Diplomat reported a French Presidential official saying that “We continue to show our Central Asian partners the importance we attach to their region, wedged between China and Russia, and which needs to open up new horizons.” During the meeting, Macron and Tokayev discussed uranium trade between the two countries, and plans for France to help build nuclear power plants in Kazakhstan. When meeting with Putin, Tokayev said Russia is a strategic partner of Kazakhstan, but did not mention or support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to the Associated Press, Putin said Russia and Kazakhstan have a “joint desire to develop our relations precisely in the capacity in which they have developed and will, of course, develop in the future,” but it is likely Putin is concerned that relations between the two countries have worsened due to the war in Ukraine.
Russia is Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, and the Observatory of Economic Complexity reported 33.9% of Kazakhstan’s imports come from northern neighbours, and 9.6% of Kazakhstan’s exports go to Russia. During Tokayev and Putin’s meeting, the two leaders discussed the possibility of creating a gas union with Uzbekistan that would coordinate the transportation of gas imports through the three countries. Most of Kazakhstan’s oil imports come from Russia, and by not having sanctions against Russia, oil imports in Kazakhstan have not decreased as much compared to countries supporting sanctions. However, in July 2022, Russia suspended the operation of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, which exports most of Kazakhstan’s oil. Russia claimed the suspension was to prevent oil spills, but Caspian News reported the suspension might have been caused by Kazakhstan choosing not to recognize the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk. This is evidence that even if Kazakhstan does not have sanctions against Russia, trade could still decrease since the country opposes the war in Ukraine.
Historically, relations between Kazakhstan and Russia have been good after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The two countries are both members of a number of organizations whose members are post-soviet states, including the Eurasian Economic Union (E.E.A.) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (C.S.T.O.). The E.E.A. supports the integration of the economies of post-soviet states, and allows for the free movement of goods and services between member countries. It was created in 2015, but former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev had supported the creation of the Union since 1994. The C.S.T.O. is a defence pact, in which members conduct joint military exercises. Although the C.S.T.O. was created in 1992, the pact had not sent troops to any member country until January 2022 when President Tokayev asked for troops to be sent to Kazakhstan as a method of stopping protests caused by high fuel prices. According to Foreign Policy, Kazakhstan’s membership in both organizations has made it difficult to decrease Russia’s influence in the country.
Before meeting with Macron, Tokayev and leaders from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan met with European Council President Charles Michel at the first E.U. Central Asian Summit in October. In addition to Kazakhstan, the other countries in Central Asia have also opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the summit, the E.U. supported increasing cooperation with Central Asia on trade, energy, transport and environmental protection. Cooperation with Central Asia on energy and transport was also discussed at the Samarkand Connectivity Conference, which began in Uzbekistan on November 18. The summits are considered important for increasing the influence of the E.U. in the region, and more summits should be planned so that Europe can have more influence in Central Asia than Russia.
Kazakhstan has considered ways for trade with the E.U. to increase. One way is through the creation of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (T.I.T.R.), a network of roads, railways, pipelines, and ship routes. In the past, most trade routes from Kazakhstan to the E.U. went through Russia, but sanctions have forced Kazakhstan to create trade routes independent of Russia. The T.I.T.R. would go through the Caspian Sea, the Caucuses (including Azerbaijan and Georgia), Turkey, and the Black Sea before reaching the E.U. in Bulgaria and Romania. Although there are a number of pipelines in Kazakhstan that export gas, there are fewer railways and ship routes used to transport other exports, and the construction of the T.I.T.R. would help diversify exports sent to other countries. For example, an increase in grain exports could occur, which would be important in Europe since Ukraine had been a large exporter of grain before exports decreased during the war. If the T.I.T.R. can increase Kazakhstan’s trade with the E.U., trade with Russia will become less important and should decrease.
The E.U. has also worked to increase trade and investment in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. This has occurred through the Central Asia Water & Energy Program (C.A.W.E.P.). The Program has worked to increase agriculture production, and improve access to water and energy sources. The World Bank reported the program has produced hydropower on rivers in the region, and created irrigation canals which have allowed for more land to be used for agriculture. If agriculture production and the use of hydropower continue to increase, it is possible Central Asia will have to import less food and gas from Russia, which could make it easier for the countries in the region to have sanctions against Russia.
Sanctions have a negative impact on Russia in a number of ways. Russia’s economy is in recession, and the recession will likely become worse in the future. Since the war in Ukraine began, oil imports from Russia in the E.U. have decreased. The E.U. plans to ban all oil imports by February 2023, and according to CNN, oil is 40% of their exports. A decrease in exports will give Russia less money to pay for the war in Ukraine, which could cause the war to end sooner. Foreign Policy reported sanctions are also effective in showing that other countries support Ukraine, and oppose the war. If countries in Central Asia were to support sanctions, it would show Russia has few allies and trading partners. The E.U. should work to become a more important trading partner for Central Asia than Russia, and if this occurs, countries could be able to support sanctions against Russia due to having other trading partners.
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