Asian monitor Publications Publications of experts

Kazakhstan - Russia: Not Together…

The Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies presents an article by a political analyst, candidate of historical sciences, associate professor Bysenbayev Asylbek Knarovich on disagreements in Kazakh-Russian relations, the causes of "slipping" of Eurasian integration, Kazakhstan's foreign policy priorities.

After the collapse of the USSR, Kazakhstan and Russia have always been good neighbors and partners in public opinion. But the paradox is that, despite all the assurances and initiatives, Kazakhstan does not go for radical integration with Russia. At least like Belarus, which was a part of the Union State.

Let me remind you that the first significant and provocative discussion of the integration initiative of Kazakhstan was put forward by President N.A. Nazarbayev during a lecture at Moscow State University on March 29, 1994. He proposed to create, along with the CIS, a new unification of post-Soviet states on modern grounds - market economy, equality, mutual benefit, security, recognition of borders and territorial integrity.

For several months, the initiative acquired the outline of the project "On the Formation of the Eurasian Union" and on the eve of President Nazarbayev's birthday was published in the press and sent to the CIS heads of state. The project proposed to implement a coordinated energy export policy and price policy, to approximate the legislation of the states, as well as to create interstate structures for solving problems not only in the economy, but also in the sphere of culture, education, and ecology.

I must say that this project has met a cool attitude in most CIS countries. President Islam Karimov spoke negatively about the project, and some Uzbek newspapers even published newsletters about Kazakhstan's integration activity. President BN Yeltsin was busy with the idea of ​​promoting Russia as a member of European states. Prime Minister Yegor Gaydar has openly said that it is necessary to get rid of the "Central Asian underbelly", which pulls Russia back. At the end of 1993, a decision was made to eliminate the ruble zone in Russia, which was the last joint project with Kazakhstan's participation.

Kazakhstan is in a very difficult position. It would seem that the country should move in any direction except the Russian one. But NA Nazarbayev puts forward the initiative of the Eurasian Union. If you carefully analyze the project itself, the main thing in it will be far from integration. After the collapse of the USSR, some Russian politicians and public figures began to raise the issue of "the return to the Russian territory of a number of regions of Kazakhstan with a predominantly Slavic population." In Kazakhstan, there was not only a cosmodrome, but a number of Russian military facilities with the appropriate infrastructure. In response, mass media about the legitimacy of state borders and the territorial integrity of the republic were published in the mass media of Kazakhstan. At the same time, conflicts broke out between the Slavic and Kazakh organizations.

It was also important that the economy of Kazakhstan was even more connected with the Union enterprises, much of which were located on the territory of Russia, than in other republics. Kazakhstan's transport and energy systems depended heavily on Russia's.

Between the states was one of the longest state borders - 7598,8 kilometers, which were essentially open. There were no natural barriers between countries. Despite the development of industry in Soviet times, Kazakhstan remained a commodity republic. The main export item - oil, could be delivered to world markets only through the territory of Russia. Moreover, in the early 90s, the republic was in a ring of instability. In the south, there was a civil war in Tajikistan, which, along with Afghanistan, had the most serious impact on the entire Central Asian region. Clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan began, Chechnya broke out. China has only embarked on a modernization path and could not offer Kazakhstan serious economic projects. Unless part of the population engaged in "shuttle trade" with China.

In these circumstances, the Eurasian project was intended to solve at least part of the problems. First of all, border security and export of resources. But the idea was supported by the public, who at the time was very passionate about Eurasianism and Lev Gumilev's work on the symbiosis of Russia and the Horde as an alternative to the European vector. Moreover, Europe did not want to accept Russia "as is" - with corruption, authoritarianism, growing chauvinism, being shot down by parliament…

Over time, the attitude in the Eurasian idea changed. The West did not accept Russia, which had to turn to the former Soviet republics again. In these circumstances, the idea of ​​Eurasianism became attractive to Russian politics in the post-Soviet space, which again became a "zone of Russia's natural interests."

It was not possible to unite all the post-Soviet space, it also failed with the economic breakthrough. Then the idea of ​​the Customs Union arises, and then the EurAsEC transformed into the EAEU. These associations were to show that integration is filled with real content and even goes beyond the former USSR. In any case, as noted by Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov, more than 50 countries have shown interest in the union. On the other hand, the failures were explained by the “unpreparedness” of several states for integration projects. But this scheme did not fit Kyrgyzstan, which actively joined the unions, but the economic potential of the country was extremely low. Uzbekistan interleaved support for the idea with cooling. Ukraine has supported projects from time to time, but has not taken serious steps. Moreover, it had a more attractive option - cooperation with the EU. And this was a serious problem, because everyone knew that without Ukraine, the Eurasian Union and other integration associations were harmful. Therefore, as Eurasians emphasized, integration is multi-vector and multilevel.

An example of close relations was the Union State. But here too, the Russian side insists on greater political integration in exchange for oil, while Belarus itself does not intend to concede sovereignty. From time to time, Belarus turns to the West and performs some "democratic" maneuvers in domestic politics.

In recent years, Russia's economic potential has sharply decreased. This is caused by the consequences of the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent sanctions. President of Belarus A. Lukashenka sharply spoke negatively about these events. President of Kazakhstan N. Nazarbayev did not support Russia in this matter.

Meeting of the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky with the first President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev

The EAEU became a union of states that had opposite approaches to integration. For Russia, integration is first and foremost political and image-based. International isolation and sanctions are forcing the Kremlin to create a picture of international activity and allies. For A. Lukashenko, it is a question of access to markets and cheap energy resources. Deliveries of Russian oil bring Belarus $ 5-7 billion a year. And this is a significant part of the country's budget. The Kazakh leadership seeks to secure the borders of Kazakhstan from Russia, to get the opportunity to export raw materials and goods to Russia and through its transport routes. For N.A. Nazarbayev is of great importance in strengthening the image of the Eurasian integrationist, who liked him already in 1994.

The heads of Kazakhstan and Belarus do not need an open conflict with the Russian Federation as they understand the danger of its consequences. If Belarus can count on the West's reaction in the event of a direct confrontation with Russia, Kazakhstan has no such opportunity. In both republics, along with supporters of the pro-Russian orientation, there are dissatisfied with this union. There are organized forces in Belarus that are pushing for a Western alternative. In Kazakhstan, a significant part of society has sharply negatively regarded the new President K. Tokaev's assessment of Crimea's annexation - "What happened is what happened." Part of the Kazakh political and financial elite, seeming to support integration associations, prefers cooperation with China, and sees Europe as a refuge in the event of shocks.

The Russian leadership, in turn, understands that pressure on allies can lead to unpredictable consequences, including regime change. Since 2015, Lukashenko has begun to normalize relations with Europe. President of Kazakhstan K. Tokaev also repeatedly spoke about the need for democratization, control of society over bureaucracy, expansion of citizens' rights and freedoms. But everyone understands that these are just statements. In both Kazakhstan and Belarus, as soon as the real dismantling of the dictatorship is touched upon, democracy will be forgotten. Even the liberalization of the economy is fraught with unpredictable consequences, since it will inevitably lead to increased demands for economic and then political freedom. If in Kazakhstan the real opposition is only emerging, the more organized opposition in Belarus in case of destabilization can rely on the support of the West. The exit of Belarus from the EEU and the Union State is inevitable in this case. The Western alternative will stand at the very gates of Russia, and this is very frightening.

The key economic partner for Kazakhstan today is China. It is this country that is a consumer of Kazakhstani raw materials, an investor and a supplier of many necessary types of products. It is necessary to note the change of positions of Russia and China in foreign trade of Kazakhstan. Trade with Russia in January-August 2019 amounted to $ 12,25 billion, an increase of 2018 percent over 0,8. At the same time, trade with China grew by 26,2 percent to reach $ 9,21 billion. The trend is quite obvious. Moreover, there are no EEU countries in the top ten trading partners of Kazakhstan except Russia.

China views Central Asia as a link in the "One Belt - One Way" chain. But this does not mean that China will stand for the sovereignty of Kazakhstan, as well as other Central Asian states. Kazakhstan has no serious defense mechanisms in the event of a hybrid war on the part of Russia. But for the Kremlin to destabilize Kazakhstan means to lose the last ally in Central Asia. Uzbekistan has always taken a cautious stance on Russia, Kyrgyzstan lacks the necessary weight and authority, Turkmenistan adheres to the policy of neutrality, and Tajikistan prefers economic relations with China, Iran, participation in projects in Afghanistan. Naturally, these countries have a large number of guest workers in Russia. But their numbers are declining as Uzbekistan begins to carry out economic reforms and some workers return to their homeland. At the same time, Central Asian labor is needed to implement Afghanistan's development projects. And Russia itself can no longer do without the workforce of these countries, because it is experiencing serious demographic problems.

In these circumstances, Eurasian integration, as well as the composition of its participants, seems to be a low-competitive union. In the commodity structure of mutual trade (January-September 2018) the first positions are occupied by oil, including gas condensate (5 billion 210,4 million USD), petroleum products (2 billion 750,9 million USD), natural and liquefied gas (2 billion $ 710,1 million). The following are rolling stock, ores and concentrates of non-ferrous metals, trucks and cars. The top ten are cheese and cottage cheese ($ 621,4 million), milk, cream and dairy products ($ 588,6 million).

Russia has a significant share in mutual trade (64,8 percent in January-September 2018). The share of Belarus is 23,3 percent, Kazakhstan - 9,8 percent, Armenia - 1,1 percent, Kyrgyzstan - 1 percent. Even these volumes of mutual trade are highly dependent on the international situation. In 2018, relative to 2017, the share of mutual trade in the total volume of foreign trade of the EAEU decreased (from 14,6% to 13,7%). The share of mutual trade in the Republic of Armenia decreased from 29,8% to 28,8%, in the Republic of Belarus - from 52,6% to 50,7%, in the Republic of Kazakhstan - from 22,8% to 21,3%, in Russia Federations - from 9% to 8,4%. A slight increase was observed in the Kyrgyz Republic from 38,4% to 39,3%.

Accordingly, a system of centralized distribution of customs duties paid when crossing the borders of the Common Economic Space of the CU looks like. Russia accounts for 85,33 percent, Kazakhstan receives 7,11 percent, Belarus 4,55 percent, Kyrgyzstan 1,9 percent, Armenia 1,11 percent.

It can be stated that the integration project did not lead to the announced economic growth of the participating countries. The history of the various unions in the post-Soviet space, which were more than a dozen, shows that the idea of ​​unification does not guarantee economic success at all. It is not only the raw material nature of the economies of the participating countries, but also many factors.

The situation in the world has changed quite seriously over the last decades. The leading EAEU country, Russia, which was intended to become a locomotive of integration, still forms the bulk of the budget through trade in energy and mineral resources. Moreover, it is under pressure from international sanctions and cannot act as a serious and dynamic leader.

At the same time, Kazakhstan, which claimed to be the regional leader of Central Asia, sharply slowed its economic growth. Changes in the global environment have had the most negative impact on the economy of the country, suffering from oil dependence. In January-September 2019, the budget revenue of the country amounted to over KZT7,7 trillion against the consumption of KZT 8,5 trillion. Thus, Kazakhstan's budget deficit reached KZT813,1 billion, or $ 2,1 billion. According to statistics, this amount is the largest among the EAEU countries.

It can be said that the pursuit of the title of integrator played a wicked joke with Kazakhstan, which persistently promoted the idea of ​​the EAEU. Meanwhile, the world has changed so much that the idea of ​​Eurasian integration as an impetus for development has turned into its opposite. The Union eventually became a union of technologically and economically backward undemocratic states, whose main means of existence were the realization of energy resources and mineral resources. In other words, dictatorships cannot integrate, but only join temporary alliances to achieve specific goals.