In a speech at the 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokaev spoke out against the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine and Kremlin support for separatist movements pro-Moscow in several former Soviet republics.
Kazakhstan, which pursued a multi-vector foreign policy under Tokayev which tried to maintain a delicate balance between the West and Russia, said its government would not recognize Donetsk and Luhansk, the two eastern regions of the Ukraine which are mostly under the control of Russian occupying forces, as independent republics.
“Modern international law is the Charter of the United Nations. But two UN principles came into conflict – the territorial integrity of the state and the right of a nation to self-determination. Since these principles contradict each other, there are different interpretations of them. If the right of nations to self-determination were effectively implemented worldwide, then instead of the 193 states that make up the UN today, there would be over 500 or 600 states on Earth. Naturally, it would be chaos. … In all likelihood, this principle will be applied to the quasi-states, which, in our view, include Lugansk and Donetsk. said Tokayev.
He then explained that Kazakhstan could not put itself in a situation where it would officially recognize similar breakaway regions, including Taiwan and Kosovo, as well as the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both occupied by the Russia since the early 1990s.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly asked Kazakhstan to join the Russian occupation forces in Ukraine, but Kazakhstan flatly refused. Prior to the start of the invasion, the Kazakh government refused to recognize Donetsk and Luhansk, collectively known as Donbass, as independent states and ruled out the possibility of deploying peacekeeping forces, despite the Russia’s stern demand that Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic, follow Moscow’s orders.
Six days after the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine on February 24, Tokayev offered to mediate the peace talks. Since the start of the war, Tokayev has had conversations with Putin and urged him to find a peaceful compromise with Ukraine.
While sharing the St. Petersburg stage with Putin during the June 17 plenary session, Tokayev criticized a number of Russian lawmakers, noting that they had made “absolutely incorrect statements about Kazakhstan, inaccurate statements of, so to speak, journalists and even artists”. “I am grateful to Vladimir Putin, who today comprehensively set out the position of the top leadership (of the) Kremlin in relation to Kazakhstan and other countries, but especially my country.”
Tokayev’s comments targeted several prominent members of the Russian Duma and some of the Kremlin’s most popular journalists. Echoing Putin’s irredentist statements about Ukraine’s internationally recognized independence, Russian experts have regularly and openly questioned the validity of Kazakhstan’s own nationality, including making baseless neo-imperialist territorial claims against the country and spreading false rumors that the government of Kazakhstan discriminates against Russian speakers; the same cliché accusation that Russian state propaganda raises against any former ex-Soviet state that formulates a policy different from that of Moscow.
Kazakhstan is about the same size as Europe and home to nearly 19 million people of dozens of different nationalities, nearly 30% of whom are non-ethnic Kazakhs. Every group and faith enjoys equal rights and Russian is constitutionally a co-official language alongside Kazakh, the former serving as the lingua franca for much of the country’s population.
In a recent tirade by Kremlin-backed journalist Tigran Keosayan, Kazakhstan was accused of being ungrateful to Russia after it canceled a May 9 Victory Day parade. Keosayan hinted that the government should “watch carefully what is happening in Ukraine”, which was interpreted as a thinly veiled threat against the Kazakh state. Keosayan, who is the husband of Margarita Simonyan, the pro-Kremlin pro-Kremlin and editor-in-chief of RT (formerly Russia Today), suggested Kazakhstan was ungrateful to Russia after Moscow sent troops to the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan as part of a Collective. Contingent of the Treaty Security Organization (CTSO) as part of efforts to quell the violent riots in January.
“In Russia, some people (have) twisted this whole situation, saying that Russia would have ‘saved’ Kazakhstan, and now we should eternally ‘serve and bow at the feet’ of Russia,” Tokayev told Russian media. Rossiya 24. “I believe these are totally unwarranted arguments that are far from the truth… Indeed, we don’t have issues that can be stirred up in some way and are divisive between our peoples and cause damage to our people and to the Russian Federation. I don’t really understand these statements. I don’t really understand why these individuals, who in a strange way, comment on the decisions made by the Kazakh leaders or the events unfolding in our country,” Tokayev stressed.
He acknowledged that the forum is taking place in a situation of heightened political and economic turbulence. “The global shocks associated with the pandemic and growing geopolitical tensions have led to a new reality. Globalization has been replaced by an era of regionalization, with all its inherent virtues and flaws. The process of reformatting traditional business models and trade routes is accelerating. The world is changing rapidly. Unfortunately, in most cases, not for the best.
Immediately after leaving the former Russian imperial capital, Tokayev traveled to Tehran where he held talks with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The two countries agreed to increase and strengthen mutual exchanges, strengthen economic cooperation in transportation, logistics, manufacturing and agriculture, and expand cultural and humanitarian ties.
Earlier, at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Tokayev also referred to a statewide referendum in which most citizens of Kazakhstan approved the adoption of amendments to the country’s constitution, a decision that most observers believe will determine the future of the Central Asian country. .
The large-scale political and economic reforms underway in Kazakhstan aim to reorganize the country’s public administration with the aim of stimulating economic growth and improving the general well-being of its citizens. Since becoming president in 2019, Tokayev has pushed for sustainable development, as well as deepening Kazakhstan’s trade and economic relations through the opening of new production facilities and promoting the creation of conditions conducive to the growth of human capital and innovations.
Regional cooperation and trade
Tokaev called strengthening the potential of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) an urgent task. “In my opinion, it would be appropriate and useful to develop a new trade strategy within the UEE taking into account the new reality. Instead of counter-sanctions, which are unlikely to be productive, we should pursue a more active and flexible trade policy with broad coverage of Asian and Middle Eastern markets,” he said while adding that Kazakhstan has no intention of breaking the Western sanctions that were imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
“We cannot violate them, especially because we receive warnings about possible so-called secondary sanctions against our economy from the West if we violate the sanctions,” Tokayev added. “But I want to emphasize that we continue to work with the Russian government, I would say in an intensified way, and that we will reach the necessary agreements without violating the sanctions,” he said.
Tokayev also stressed that Kazakhstan will always uphold its duties as an ally of Russia, including joining the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Moscow’s response to the European Union and NATO.
Another priority, Tokayev said, was the further expansion of trade and economic cooperation with third countries… Therefore, Tokayev did not rule out the prospect that in the coming decade countries traditionally friends such as China, India, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, can become major investors in the economies of the region.
“China has already become Kazakhstan’s main economic and trade partner. This country has already invested over $22 billion in our economy over the past 15 years. Deepening multilateral cooperation with China is an extremely important task for our country.
Regarding climate change, Tokayev said there are opportunities to increase the growth of green investments and address environmental issues, according to the Qazaq Green Association.
“We plan to constantly expand opportunities for green investment growth and relevant project implementation,” he said.
Tokayev noted that environmental problems have a global character and have affected almost every country in the world, including Kazakhstan. Kazakh farmers suffered from drought last year due to low rainfall and shallow rivers. Tokayev recalled the critical state of the ecosystem of the Ural River Basin (Zhaiyk), which crosses Kazakhstan and Russia.
Kazakhstan joined the 2015 Paris Agreement on August 2, 2016 and has committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.
“I believe that these long-term challenges for the sustainable development of our States must be met together. I think we should seriously consider the prospects of introducing the principles of a circular economy. We are working to reduce the energy intensity of GDP, develop the renewable energy sector and reduce transit losses in this sector,” Tokayev added.