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Russia and Kazakhstan 2005-2015: From Cooperation to Coercion

Info: 9485 words (38 pages) Dissertation
Published: 13th Dec 2019

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Tagged: International RelationsPolitics

           Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia and Kazakhstan have been seen to maintain a special relationship. How did this reputation emerge and how has their relationship changed over time? This paper seeks to address such questions and proceed as follows: First, it is necessary to establish a broad foreign policy concept of each state. The bilateral relationship between the two nations must be viewed within the context of their overarching goals and worldviews. Second, a brief look at relationship development under Yeltsin and Putin’s first term will be used to illustrate the early presence of common interests and Russia’s initial turn towards Eurasia. In particular focus will be an emphasis on the political and security relationship, which will carry through the remainder of the paper. Next, the period from 2005-2012 will serve as the starting point for real cooperation following key diplomatic and political changes, which will be mirrored the improved bilateral and multilateral security agreements. This time will highlight a convergence of foreign policy goals and shared ambitions between the two states, supporting the notion of a special relationship. However, turning to the period of 2012-2015 will reveal a shifting dynamic in the relationship between Kazakhstan and Russia due to the impact of the Ukraine crisis. Lastly, brief consideration will be made for contemporary and future issues surrounding the uncertainty resulting from this time.

Foreign Policy Concept- Russia and Kazakhstan

            The making of foreign policy is anything but constant, as it must remain flexible to reflect a state’s inner identity and react to wider changes in the global or regional system. Although the focus of this paper is on the development and shifting bilateral dynamics between Russia and Kazakhstan specifically, it is necessary to first establish a brief understanding of the general shape and broad interests and goals of both states to illustrate the environment in which they develop. Looking first to Russia, their initial post-Soviet foreign policy began even before the fall of the USSR with Gorbachev’s ‘New Thinking,’ that would eventually peak under Yeltsin.[1] Russia’s challenge during this period was deciding between their Soviet past and an assumed Western future.[2] This would be the issue that preoccupied most debate, surrounding both domestic and foreign policies, and divided elites into three distinct viewpoints: Statists, Westernists, and Civilizationists.[3] As expected, Westernists highlighted commonality with Europe and saw greater liberalization as the best path forward. Statists were concerned with maintaining and promoting Russia’s distinct identity, stressing the state’s social order and preoccupation on traditional concepts of power and security. Lastly, Civilizationists noted the Eurasianist elements in Russian identity, urging greater relations and priority in the post-Soviet space. Other authors developed somewhat similar categorizations, but recognized a Pragmatist faction that wished to remain more open to the East or West so long as it was beneficial.[4] Although simplified here, each branch saw fluctuations in preference during the 1990s among elites. However, the new century and the rise of Putin saw the implementation of a more overarching and ambitious goal: Russia’s return to great power status.[5] The Cold War era had seen Russia as a full member of the international community, they were strong and respected. Resurgence in desire for an empowered Russia that could secure itself as a ‘competitive pole’ in the world has been reflected in official Foreign Policy Concepts.[6] Prioritization of relations first and foremost with other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) members was seen as the most efficient means of achieving the goal of great-power balancing, as their primary geo-economic as well as security interests were concentrated here. Where once Russia saw its backyard, it now saw its future through ambitious region building.

            Worth considering briefly is looking at the specific influence of Putin himself on Russia’s foreign policy. Although the ‘Great Man’ theory of politics and history has fallen out of favor, and it is dangerous to view the man outside of the conditions they develop, Putin’s influence and personal ambitions are unarguably correlated with Russia’s foreign policy practices.[7] The Russian state, by nature, places a vast amount of power in decision making in the Presidential position, with Putin using the role to cause a drastic resurgence in Russian nationalism. He based his initial vision on 19th century Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Gorchakov, who incorporated a policy of domestic strength to lessen the gap between state ambition and state capability in order to foster a vison of a powerful Russia.[8] Putin saw a need for geo-economic resurgence to manifest alongside geo-political, in order to balance Russia’s foreign policy capacity alongside its desires. During his transition to Prime Minister and the ascension of Medvedev to the Presidency from 2008-2012, he yielded power but maintained his monopoly on authority. Medvedev differed greatly from Putin in his conception of foreign policy, falling more in line with the ‘Westernist’ school of thought by injecting liberalism and facilitating positive movements towards the West.[9] Although difficult to place, Putin was a Pragmatist who favored the post-Soviet space yet tolerated cooperation with the West where necessary.[10] Regardless, these differences were in the means, but both individuals shared a common, traditional desire to obtain great power status championed first and most successfully by Putin. These critical understandings of Russian foreign policy- both the desire to become a great power and the reliance on projected strength and domestic stability- inform all foreign policy decisions.

            As we will focus on bilateral relations, it is also important to give recognition to the foreign policy goals of Kazakhstan. Borrowing from the same schools of thought that were applied to Russian politics, Kazakhstan remains consistently ‘Pragmatist’ from the outset. Just a year after Soviet collapse in 1992, an official strategy was published emphasizing the need for a multi-vector foreign policy.[11] They would develop soft-balance relationships with the East and West, ones that would be mutually advantageous to both the state and the region. Not only would it ensure global acknowledgement of Kazakh sovereignty and regional influence, but also provide strategic and economic security through multilateralism.[12] Adoption of such a strategy was hoped to limit their reliance on any one state, primarily Russia.[13] Additionally, the consideration for ‘Great Man’ concepts could carry over in the form of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the man in charge of Kazakhstan since 1989. The Kazakh Constitution grants authority over domestic and foreign policy directions to the President, and Nazarbayev’s continued hold on the position since 1990 has allowed him to follow paths of personal interest.[14] It was Nazarbayev who initially urged the pragmatic path through multi-vector policy, and this desire has continued and manifested in his passion for participation in regional multilateral organizations.[15] Kazakh foreign policy has maintained the goals of autonomy and regional authority through multi-vectorism, in no small part supported by the authoritarian hand of Nazarbayev.

Early Years and Initial Relationship

            Having established the broad ambitions and goals that built the political context and framework, we will now turn to how specifically the bilateral relations began within this context. From the outset of the Soviet collapse, Russia and Kazakhstan developed an early ‘uneasy alliance.’[16] Need for internal restructuring and infighting amongst elites left Russia disinterested with Central Asian states outside of security issues.[17] In fact, with both nations focused on state-building and identity formation, their official bilateral relationship was relatively stable under Yeltsin. In 1995 Yeltsin issued a decree insisting on revitalization of the post-Soviet space around Russian interests, primarily motivated by security concerns.[18] 1992 had already seen an early manifestation of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in response to desires to maintain the mutual security of member states. Further on 6 July 1998, the two states forged a Declaration on Eternal Friendship and Alliance.[19] These diplomatic moves illustrate the expanding interest in the near abroad, and Kazakhstan in particular, although these moves were primarily rhetoric devices and had little correlation with increasing influence. Kazakhstan was far more eager to engage in cooperative activity, with Nazarbayev personally keen on advancing integration efforts beyond security. In 1994 at Chatham House in London, Nazarbayev initially floated an idea for a Eurasian Union, an alternative to the CIS that would incorporate economic considerations.[20] The CIS was more of a symbolic institution in which to exchange dialogue rather than one of policy action. Russian Foreign Minister Primakov was eager to see the return Russia’s great power status and regional reassertion. However, the economy and political will under Yeltsin were far too weak to support such aggressive advances.[21] Thus, the initial post-break up situation can be likened to a civil divorce. The two remain officially friendly for the benefit of the region, with Kazakhstan more eager to remain friends and Russia focusing on finding itself.

            Bilateral relations between Kazakhstan and Russia became increasingly proactive under Putin’s first term as he began pursuing his Eurasian vision. Three key documents were published at various points during the year 2000: a new National Security Concept, Military Doctrine, and an updated Foreign Policy Concept.[22] Each document highlighted the need for greater multilateral cooperation, as well as stressed bilateral relations between CIS members amidst a declining security environment. Terrorist threats emitting from nearby post 9/11 Afghanistan and political upheavals in the Caucuses and Central Asian states greatly upset the region. Initially, Russia tolerated and Kazakhstan welcomed US military presence in the region, with agreements allowing for presence of troops, air bases, and long term cooperation.[23] However, it was understood that US aid would not go beyond addressing terrorism, and Russia adopted a position as the best guarantor of national and regional security.[24] This understanding was reflected in pointed bilateral action between Kazakhstan and Russia, such as the February 2000 bilateral agreements between the Russian State Defense Company Rosvooruzheniye and Kazakhstan’s Kazspetsexport that included exportation of crucial weapons and equipment. The same agreement created a joint task committee on Military and Technology Cooperation, which included provisions to train Kazakh officers in Russia.[25] During this initial period of instability, Russia and Kazakhstan found reassurance through mutual cooperation.

Further, broad security movements that were initialized under Yeltsin became formalized under Putin. Development of the organizations provided a framework that encouraged bilateral action between Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as promoted more wide ranging integration opportunities. Initiated in part in 1992, the CSTO officially formed in 2002 with the renewed goal of promoting regional security and maintaining territorial sovereignty of its member states.[26] Additionally, the Shanghai Cooperative Organization (SCO) was announced in 2001 by participant states of the 1996 Shanghai Five- plus Uzbekistan- which saw a widening of interests from border disputes and antiterrorism to further cooperation in trade and energy.[27] Russia saw both organizations as potential macro-regional platforms to assert itself as lead security provider in counter-NATO style organizations, and Kazakhstan welcomed closer relations with China and Russia as a reflection of their multi-vector policy. Improvement the military and security relationships spawned further integration even in the economic sphere. A free trade agreement had existed between the “Troika” members- Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia- since 1994, but further encouragement led to the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Community in 2000.[28] It was very much seen as the economic compliment to the CSTO and actively promoted true creation of a common market. Although its actual effects were minimal, it was a politically key reflection of growing Eurasianist sentiment and desire for closer cooperation.[29] Ultimately, the changing security situation during Putin’s first term allowed for closer cooperation between Kazakhstan and Russia, and multilateral integration provided frameworks for future bilateral cooperation. 

2005-2012: Intensified Cooperation

            This period was selected as the initial point of focus because 2005 saw a few key political moves that opened up the relationship and allowed it to blossom; if the early years tracked Russia’s shift towards Kazakhstan, this period saw illustrates the open armed enthusiasm. Primary amongst these moves was the signing of a border agreement on 18 January 2005 that officially demarcated the territory. Although Kazakhstan had ratified agreements with China on her Eastern borders in 1994, no official agreements or border limitations had occurred since the 1991 Soviet collapse.[30] It was a lingering point of contention, as Cossack groups in Russia claimed connection to Northern territories in Kazakhstan and there were worries that Russia would claim ownership or challenge the border.[31] Furthering of bilateral relations were unlikely with the issue lingering. Thus, with the border secured Kazakhstan, could lessen the militarization of the area and good faith was augmented between the two nations. Second to the border agreement, although still important, was a 2005 renewal of the initial 1998 Declaration on Eternal Friendship and Alliance.[32] This act cemented the dedication and official commitment towards friendship and future cooperation in the name of stability and regional security for the mutual prosperity of both states. The combination of these two agreements led to renewed diplomatic interaction, illustrated by the number of annual meetings between Nazarbayev and the Russian President increasing from an average of five per year to at least ten.[33] Progress in bilateral diplomacy saw great strides forward early in the period, which would spillover and encourage additional fields.

            The solidification of diplomatic relations carried over prominently to the military/security relationship between the two as well as direct bilateral cooperation. Russia clearly remained Kazakhstan’s primary military ally during this period, with dedications to increased cooperation in the technology and military sectors.[34] Mutual membership in the CSTO solidified their official goals of regional security, and justified their focus on bilateral cooperation. In fact, participation in the CSTO sees overlap with and encourages bilateral agreements, with over 60 signed between the two regarding defense cooperation 2005 alone.[35] Prominent among these were continued deals of weapons and complex system exchange needed for post-Soviet modernization of military equipment. Outside of Chelyabinsk in September 2008, Russia and Kazakhstan participated in the largest joint military exercise between the two since the collapse of the Soviet Union.[36] It involved over 2000 military personnel and over 100 pieces of equipment, such as tanks and planes. This incident is representative of the commitment to their bilateral relationship and shared security interests, especially in the face of growing regional unease surrounding China’s growing influence and expanding interests.[37] Lastly, security cooperation was evident in space-related advances. A project group formed in March 2006 that brought together Kazakh and Russian scientists and engineers with the goal of cooperation and sharing technologies. This task forced predicated the June 2006 launch of Kazakhstan’s first  communications satellite, which relied heavily on Russian specialists and engineers.[38] With mutual interests solidified by membership in security organizations like the CSTO, Russia and Kazakhstan developed greater cooperation in military and technology fields.

Further, political advances furthered regional integration efforts during this time. Exempt from this was true meaningful furthering of the CIS, which remained weak and unreliable as between 1991-2008 the organization had drafted only 37 key agreements and ratified only 3 of them.[39] Thus, alternative areas of cooperation were sought out for greater integration. The CSTO had expanded its scope beyond pure military security aims by addressing regional issues of narcotics trafficking in the past, and 2008-2011 saw firm rededication to the issue.[40] The SCO remained of minor integration importance, as it lacked a consistent identity as either a security or political or economic focused body, though it did encourage bilateral coordination between states. It also did have some side ranging improvements, such as the 2007 conducting of collective military exercises and also increased interaction in energy and oil trade.[41] Perhaps the most notable and politically strategic progress was in economic integration, ironic as though it may sound. In 2006, Nazarbayev and Putin agreed to the creation of a Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) that would support the development of market economies and encourage trade.[42] In 2007, the members of the EEC agreed on the desire to form a true customs union. This would be realized on 1 January 2010 with the Eurasian Customs Union and further solidified in the intended creation of a Single Economic Space (SES) in 2012.[43] It saw the removal of internal border controls and the stabilization of both external and internal tariffs.[44] Although the integration process was slow, its continued development was a reflection of Russian and Kazakh, as well as Belarussian, desires for cooperation. Russia saw itself establishing a more firm foothold on the region through economics, and Kazakhstan sought its continued Eurasianist goal. Participation in the customs union actually proved unfavorable to Kazakhstan, who saw an increase in its Russian trade deficit and rise in food price and incursion by Russian companies.[45] However, the political will and emphasis on bilateral/multi-lateral cooperation proved more important in the foreign policy vision.

            Though the highlight of this period is the advancing of cooperation and focus on mutual interest and benefit of dependence, there were still lingering tensions between the two states. Perhaps most notable was Russia’s continued weariness of US and European incursions in the CIS region. Whereas originally Putin advocated improved relations with the West and cooperation with NATO in the Central Asian War on terror, this pragmatic approach lessened early in his second term. Presence of NATO bases were unsettling to both Russia and China.[46] Through the SCO, in 2005 a mutual declaration was put forth that called for a US exit timetable on its troop and base withdrawal from Central Asia. However, the US refused to give in to the demands, which highlighted the growing contentions surrounding Western presence in the region by Russia. Kazakhstan maintained high levels of cooperation with NATO and the US even after the incident, such as signing a NATO Individual Partnership Action Plan in 2006 through which Kazakhstan received antiterrorism and immigration support.[47] Kazakh multi-vectorism supported close interaction with the West in pursuit of national security, despite growing Russian disapproval. Of additional concern was Russian use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a large space launch facility. An agreement was ratified in June 2005 extending Russia’s lease on the space to 2050 with a fixed rent price of $15 million a year.[48] Initially a success, the agreement strained as Russia grew tired of needing Kazakh permission to launch rockets. Russia began development of their own Vocstochny Cosmodrome facility to avoid rent payments and the delaying of launches, with a Russian military officer even saying “today’s allies could be tomorrow’s enemies.”[49] Both the possibility of Russia breaking the lease agreement and the questionable statement would result in heightened tensions and dampen the initial success of the agreement. Amidst times of otherwise unparalleled cooperation, disagreements over the level of involvement by the West and lingering bilateral disputes highlight potential tensions between Russia and Kazakhstan.  

Thus, during this period the respective foreign policy programs of Russia and Kazakhstan supported their advancing relationship. Shared regional security interests and Eurasianist visions for the future prompted unmatched integration and bilateral cooperation. Further, although a point of contention over time, the multi-vector nature of Kazakhstan’s policy was generally tolerated by Russia so long as they retained prime interest. Although not in perfect alignment, the Kazakh and Russian relationship advanced from one of an uneasy alliance to enthusiastic, if still unequal, cooperative partnership.

2013-2015: Impact of Ukraine and Beyond

            Russia’s foreign policy goals of returning to great power status and region building did not magically change on 1 January 2013. However, it was the year that saw upheavals in the post-Soviet political system. NATO incursions into Eastern Europe and the growing appeal of EU membership to Ukraine were interpreted as poignant threats to Russia’s sphere of influence in the near abroad.[50] Following the return of Putin to the Presidency in 2012 and the Euro-Maidan protests in 2013,  Russian foreign policy has become increasingly unpredictable and outright aggressive. They have asserted a renewed obligation towards regional intervention and use of increased resources to dissuade opposition.[51] In fact, in 2013 Russia utilized three main areas of pressure to control or directly intervene in Ukraine: use of military and localized presence through the Black Sea Fleet, use of rhetoric to incite ethnic and political minority strife, and attempted economic controls.[52] These reactions affected not just Ukraine, but extended throughout the post-Soviet space as exemplified by the mirroring of these actions in the relationship with Kazakhstan. Where once Kazakhstan benefitted from Russian attention and cooperation, now they experienced Russian efforts to undermine Kazakh interests to ensure loyalty.  

            Continuing on from the previous period of intensified relations was official diplomatic efforts to maintain this trend, despite simultaneous unofficial rhetoric that prompted renewed fears. In 2013, Nazarbayev and Putin met in Yekaterinburg to sign a Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Alliance in the 21st Century which consisted of multi-sector bilateral agreements and an emphasis on cooperation.[53] Throughout the Ukrainian civil protests and subsequent referendum in 2014, formal relations between Kazakhstan and Russia remained positive and supportive. In 2014, just a week before the referendum, Nazarbayev refused to condemn Russian actions despite his personal stance against them.[54] Despite shock at the boldness of Russia in Ukraine, maintaining official relations was the best strategy to appease loyalists at home and avoid similar attention from Russia. Regardless of Nazarbayev’s efforts to uphold the status quo, the situation was jolted by Putin’s comments at the 2014 Seliger National Youth Forum, in which he spoke on Kazakhstan’s lack of statehood prior to the fall of the Soviet Union.[55] Such rhetoric seemingly undermined the nation, portraying it as more of a politically demarcated state rather than one with historic and ethnic legitimacy. Combining such an implication with existing ethnic tensions in the North furthered fears that Kazakhstan could be the next Ukraine.[56] Whereas the official relationship maintained a cooperative element, namely due to Kazakhstan’s willingness, unofficial actions revealed deeper instability.

Rising tensions were present even in the military and security sphere, where the bilateral relationship between the two had historically found its strongest foundation. Officially the relationship remained strong, and the two still participated in cooperative military actions. In 2013 Russia and Kazakhstan signed a new Military cooperation agreement, which ratified processes of organizing joint military supplies and maintained preferential cooperation in acquiring new equipment.[57] Additionally, the International Security Assistance Force spearheaded by NATO withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014, prompting the CSTO to take over responsibility for the region and conduct joint military exercises to test their capacity to respond to local threats in the area.[58] However, by 2015 the political tensions had seeped into military affairs. In October, Russia announced the need for a CIS border force that would be deployed in Central Asia in response to potential spillover from Afghanistan.[59] While officially in the interests of regional security, the force also allowed Russia to increase its number of troops and equipment in the region. Following their increased militarization complicated the relationship by acting as a veiled threat of their capacity to quickly intervene in any one of the surrounding areas should the ‘need’ arise.[60] Although this move does fall in with the desire for regional security, it simultaneously tightens the Russian geopolitical grip on the region by discouraging dissent. Genuine and bilateral cooperative action between Russia and Kazakhstan in the past was based in mutual interests, however increased militarization following the events in Ukraine reflect Russian political interests more than shared security fears.

            Continued economic integration further represents an application of increased pressure by Russia on the region. To some degree, all post-Soviet economic integration efforts were extensions of Russian geopolitical ambition.[61] No exception to this was the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which came into force on 1 January 2015 as an evolved state of the ECU. Its official goal was the intensification of trade and deeper integration between member states.[62] One key element of the EEU was the redistribution of revenues from export duties on oil and gas, meaning that member states had economic incentive to join the union and receive gains from trade from Russia. This scheme was unprofitable for Russia, but highlighted the superseding desire for integration and political influence.[63] Further, initial Russian conception of the EEU saw a convergence of political, security, and economic cooperation; a true union, similar to Nazarbayev’s previous vision.[64] However, such thorough integration no longer served Kazakh interests, as well as others. Nazarbayev’s initial conceptions for a union were based in desires for equal partnership and security.[65] Post-Ukraine Russia with its vigorous imperial tendencies was a threat to the Kazakhstan’s regional presence; too close interaction would harm their regional presence as opposed to help them. Russian desire and regional strength would see that further integration did occurs, but Kazakhstan was able to leverage itself in the Astana Treaty and limit the EEU to have only an economic role.[66] Thus, while Russia was able to garner an increased geopolitical presence through the EEU, it was in part limited by Kazakh interests. The EEU remains even more controversial as it becomes increasingly economically disadvantageous for member states resulting from Russian sanctions/counter-sanctions spillover and declining oil prices.[67] Such economic integration ignores the common sense protest of members such as Kazakhstan, as the region endures harmful economic conditions for the sake of Russia’s political ambition.

Throughout the implementation of aggressive tactics and increased pressure, Kazakhstan and Russian still have maintained the image of having a special relationship. However, there has been a reflexive Kazakh response to Russian actions,  manifesting through increased openness and shows of resistance. Starting in 2014, Kazakhstan began to pursue more independent foreign policy even in the face of Russian disapproval. Most notably, during times of high tension between Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey, Kazakhstan actively pursued diplomatic relations and economic deals with them.[68] Further, Putin’s comments in 2014 about the longevity of the Kazakh state prompted swift backlash from Nazarbayev. He announced a new national holiday celebrating 550 years of Kazakh statehood, stemming back from the first Khanate in 1465, and called on Kazakh patriotism to defend their sovereignty should the need ever arise.[69] Similar sentiments were expressed in relation to the controversial EEU, with Nazarbayev committing to leave the EEU should it impede on Kazakh sovereignty or independence.[70] On the surface these appear to be meaningful deviations from the traditional alliance. However, they are closer to symbolic demonstrations focused on building domestic nationalist support rather than aimed attempts to challenge Russia. While rhetorically powerful, the practical extent to which Kazakhstan can deviate from Russian authority are minimal. Not only are they held in place by the post-Ukranian coercion measures- militarization, ethnic tension, economic cooperation- but also by two other key factors: lack of alternative regional authority and the continued rule of Nazarbayev. Changes in either of these two conditions could further upset the Kazakh-Russian relationship, and both remain highly contentious.

            Growing influence of China in Central Asia is one such situation that could see a new authority emerge. Historically, common fears of growing Chinese influence in the Central Asian region have inspired bilateral action between Russia and Kazakhstan. However, the increased neo-imperial actions of Russia since Ukraine have seen a reversal of fears and a more openness towards cooperation with China.[71] Even when fears were high, some degree of cooperation did exist. The SCO was preempted and timed with allowing US military into the region in 2001, signifying shared fears and common emphasis on territorial sovereignty.[72] Additionally through the SCO in 2012, China made available nearly $10 billion towards developing infrastructure and energy projects to limit effects of the financial crisis on Central Asia.[73] Kazakhstan was a primary target due to its economic and political significance. This initial desire to promote regional economies and develop transportation infrastructure has been furthered with China’s decision to embark on the new Belt and Road Initiative, which will see even greater surges of investment and political cooperation with Kazakhstan.[74] However, speculation remains about whether or not China has the political will to challenge Russia’s hold on the region. While they have maintained economic and border security interests, a further willingness to establish a firm geopolitical presence remains in doubt.[75] Regardless, Kazakhstan’s multi-vectored foreign policy appears to have only two favored options- the economically declining but authoritative Russia, or the potential rising star China.

            Discussion around Kazakhstan’s future must involve the key consideration of regime change and its resulting impacts. Nazarbayev is in his seventies, and has had rumors circulating about his declining state of health.[76] Kazakhstan has not experienced presidential leadership beyond his authoritarian approach, and even he acknowledges that the transition will be challenging both domestically and internationally.[77] These fears correlate directly to Kazakhstan’s relationship with Russia, as Nazarbayev personally has been reliably pro-Russian. Amidst fears of a Kazakh color revolution during the 2004-2005 presidential election, Putin extended political support and helped Nazarbayev to stabilize the situation.[78] Further, the two have a personal friendship. Thus, Nazarbayev’s resignation, or more likely death, will raise significant concern regarding the allegiances of his successor and the orientation of their foreign policy objectives.  This is even more prudent when acknowledging the growing advancement of Kazakh nationalism, which could promote a President who is anti-Russian and encourage Separatist action.[79] Such dramatic shifts in personal politics

As the situation stands, the influence of China and unpredictable future of Kazakh politics must be taken into account as the greatest two future influneces on the post-Ukraninan relationship.


Relationships between sovereign states are rarely stable as they experience shifts relating to changing foreign policy goals. After an initial turbulent post-Soviet period, Russian foreign policy goals have strayed very little from their renewed interest in region building in Central Asia to achieve great-power status. Similarly, Kazakhstan’s foreign policy has remained consistently open to multi-vector relationships to promote Kazakh sovereignty. Mutual interests between the two encouraged Russia’s shift towards Central Asia. The following period saw increased political and security related bilateral actions, which further developed and maintained a cooperative relationship built on coinciding objectives. However, Russian fears of Western incursion and tightening grip on its post-Soviet sphere of influence highlighted digressions between Kazakh and Russian interests. Russian actions towards Kazakhstan mirrored their actions towards Ukraine and forced Kazakhstan to act out in show of their commitment to maintaining independence while still relying on Russian support. Unpredictability of Chinese engagement or post-Nazarbayev policy shifts illustrate the potential for even further divergence of interests. Further research focusing on domestic situations, competing identities between the two nations, or more economic based approaches could further benefit an all-encompassing view of the shifting relationship dynamics. Although the official relationship between Kazakhstan and Russian remains stable and friendly, with an emphasis on mutual interests, unofficial tension and future unpredictability reflect the image of a dog on a leash- progressing forward with little alternative choice. 

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[1] Michael Mandelbaum, The New Russian Foreign Policy (New York: Council on Foreign Relation Books, 1998), 4-6.

[2] Ted Hopf, Social Construction of International Politics: Identities and Foreign Policies, Moscow, 1955 and 1999 (New York: Cornell University Press, 2002), 155.

[3] Andrei Tsygankov, Russia’s Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013), 4-8.

[4] Margot Light, “Foreign Policy Thinking” in Internal Factors in Russian Foreign Policy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996); Peter Duncan, “Westernism, Eurasianism and Pragmatism: The Foreign Policy of the post-Soviet States 1991-2001” in The Legacy of the Soviet Union (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 231.

[5] Eugene Rumer, “Russian Foreign Policy Beyond Putin.” In Adelphi Paper Series (2007), 7.

[6] Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation” (28 June 2000); Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation” (12 February 2013).

[7] Samuel Charap and Jeremy Shapiro, “A New European Security Order: The Ukraine Crisis and the Missing Post-Cold War Bargain” Foundation for Strategy Research n15 (2014), 2.

[8] Lena Jonson, Vladimir Putin and Central Asia: The Shaping of Russian Foreign Policy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 7.

[9] Valerie Pacer, Russian Foreign Policy Under Dmitry Medvedev, 2008-2012 (New York: Routledge, 2016), 7.

[10] Ibid., 6

[11] Michael Clarke, “Kazakhstan’s Multi-vector Foreign Policy: Diminishing Returns in an Era of Great Power ‘Pivots’?” The ASAN Forum (2015).

[12] Stephen Walt, Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2005), 126.

[13] Clarke, “Kazakhstan’s Multi-vector Policy,” 2015.

[14] Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan, “The Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan” (30 August 1995).

[15] Sally Cummings, “Eurasian Bridge or Murky Waters between East and West? Ideas, Identity and Output in Kazakhstan’s Foreign Policy” Journal of Communist and Transition Politics (2003), 139.

[16] Mikhail Alexandrov, Uneasy Alliance: Relations Between Russia and Kazakhstan in the post-Soviet Era, 1992-1997, (London: Greenwood Press, 1999).

[17] Yelena Zabortseva, “Transformation of Russia-Kazakhstan post-Soviet Political Relations: From Chaos to Integration?” Two Decades Without the Soviet Union: Transformations in Eurasian Space (Canberra: Australian National University, 2011), 7.

[18] 1995 Decree President Russian Fed

[19] Embassy of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Kazakhstan, “Russia-Kazakhstan” 2016.

[20] Yelena Zabortseva, Russia’s Relations with Kazakhstan: Rethinking ex-Soviet Transitions in the Emerging World System, (New York: Routledge, 2016), 75.

[21] Jonson, Vladimir Putin and Central Asia), 6.

[22] Zabortseva, Russia’s Relations with Kazakhstan, 105.

[23] Tsygankov, Russia’s Foreign Policy, 137.

[24] Cummings, “Eurasian Bridge or Murky Waters,” 152. 

[25] Rosoboronexport, “Cooperation with Kazakhstan,” http://roe.ru/eng/export/kazakhstan/.

[26] Roy Allison, “Regionalism, Reginal Structures, and Security Management in Central Asia.” International Affairs (2004), 471.

[27] Tsygankov, Russia’s Foreign Policy, 158-159.

[28] Evgeny Vinokurov, “Eurasian Economic Union: Current State and Preliminary Results,” Russian Journal of Economics (2017), 56.

[29] Clarke, “Kazakhstan’s Multi-Vector Foreign Policy.”

[30] Ayagan Burkitbai, “Defining the New State Borders in 1990-2005 as Key Foundation of Statehood,” Astana Times (12 May 2014).

[31] Alec Rasizade, “A Propos of the Georgian War: Reflections on Russia’s Revanchism in its Near Abroad.” Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies (2009), 22.

[32]Zabortseva, Russia’s Relations with Kazakhstan, 125.

[33] Ibid., 127.

[34] Murat Laumulin and Mukhtar Shaken, “Kazakhstan and Russia: Relations as Part of Russia’s Foreign Policy Strategy,” Central Asia and the Caucuses (2008), 120.

[35] Richard Rousseau, “Kazakhstan’s Strategic and Military Relations with Russia,” Diplomatic Courier (20 July 2011).

[36] Sebastien Peyrouse, “Security Sector Reform in Kazakhstan.” In Security Sector Reform in Central Asia: Exploring Needs and Possibilities, (Groningen: Centre of European Security Studies, 2010), 20.

[37] Clarke, “Kazakhstan’s Multi-Vector Foreign Policy.”

[38] Laumulin and Shaken, “Kazakhstan and Russia,” 120.

[39] Viachaslau Yarashevich, “Post-Communist Economic Integration: Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia.” Journal of Economic Integration (2014), 598.

[40] Rousseau, “Kazakhstan’s Strategic and Military Relations.”

[41] Laumulin and Shaken, “Kazakhstan and Russia,” 121.

[42] Vinokurov, “Eurasian Economic Union,” 57.

[43] Rilka Dragneva and Kataryna Wolczuk, “The Eurasian Economic Union: Deals, Rules, and the Exercise of Power.” Chatham House Research Paper (London: Chatham House, 2017), 4.

[44] Yarashevich, “Post-Communist Economic Integration,” 585.

[45] Zabortseva, Russia’s Relations with Kazakhstan, 139.

[46] Mohammed Ahrari, The Great Powers Versus the Hegemon, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 137.

[47] Rousseau, “Kazakhstan’s Strategic and Military Relations.”

[48] Robert Donaldson, Joseph Nogee, and Vidya Nadkarni, The Foreign Policy of Russia: Changing Systems, Enduring Interests (2014), 212.

[49] Ibid., 213.

[50] Charap and Shapiro, “A New European Security Order.”

[51] Licinia Simao, “The Ukrainian Conflict in Russian Foreign Policy: Rethinking the Interconnections Between Domestic and Foreign Policy Strategies,” Small Wars and Insurgencies (2016), 493.

[52] Ibid., 500-502.

[53] Rufiya Ospanova, “Nazarbayev, Putin sign Treaty of Good Neighborliness and Alliance in 21st Century,” The Astana Times (12 November 2013).

[54] Zabortseva, Russia’s Relations with Kazakhstan, 159.

[55] Casey Michel, “Putin’s Chilling Comments,” The Diplomat (3 September 2014).

[56] Ibid.

[57] Zabortseva, Russia’s Relations with Kazakhstan, 163.

[58] Patrick Nopens, “The Impact of the Withdrawl from Afghanistan on Russia’s Security,” Egmont Security Policy Brief (2014).

[59] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Putin Says CIS States Could Create Border Force for Crises,” (16 October 2015).

[60] Richard Weitz, “Russia, China, and Central Asia: Time for a Decision,” The ASAN Forum (23 December 2015).

[61] Yarashevich, “Post-Communist Economic Integration,” 586.

[62] Vladimer Papava, “A Eurasian or a European Future for Post-Soviet Georgia’s Economic Development: Which is Better?” Archives of Business Research (2017), 162.

[63] Ibid., 162.

[64] Dragneva and Wolczuk, “The Eurasian Economic Union,” 4.

[65] Lyaiya Nurgaliyeva, “Kazakhstan’s Economic Soft Balancing Policy vis-à-vis Russia: From the Eurasian Union to the Economic Cooperation with Turkey,” Journal of Eurasian Studies (2016), 95.

[66] Dragneva and Wolczuk, “The Eurasian Economic Union,” 7.

[67] Papava, “Eurasian or European Future,” 163.

[68] Nurgaliyeva, “Kazakhstan’s Economic Soft Balancing,” 101.

[69] Joanna Lillis, “Kazakhstan Celebrates Statehood in Riposte to Russia,” Eurasianet (2 January 2015).

[70] Zabortseva, Russia’s Relations with Kazakhstan, 163.

[71] Cummings, “Eurasian Bridge or Murky Waters,” 146.

[72] Ahrari, The Great Powers, 137.

[73] Olga Dzyubenko, “China to Expand C. Asian Presence with $10 Billion in Loans,” Reuters (5 December 2012).

[74] Weitz, “Russia, China, and Central Asia.”

[75] Clarke, “Kazakhstan’s Multi-Vector Foreign Policy.”

[76] Thomas Ambrosio, “Leadership Succession in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan: Regime Survival after Nazarbayev and Karimov,” Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies (2015), 55.

[77] Sergei Shenin, “The Transfer of Power in Central Asia and Threats to Regional Stability,” Partnership for Peace Consortium on Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes (2014), 143.

[78] Donaldson, Nogee, and Nadkarni, Foreign Policy of Russia, 212.

[79] Shenin, “Transfer of Power,” 146.

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