Kazakhstan is expanding its foreign policy outlook, as energy profits transform the Central Asian state into an increasingly important creditor nation. Astana's aims are twofold: to secure energy transit and economic interests, and to boost Kazakhstan's influence over regional geopolitical developments.
Since gaining independence, Kazakhstan has relied on a so-called multi-vector approach that seeks to develop strong ties with Russia, China, the United States and European Union. "The [official foreign policy] position of Kazakhstan is to be a bridge, but from a historical and geographical point of view we are a corridor," said Didar Kassymova, a foreign policy lecturer at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research.
Of late, Kazakhstani officials have been tweaking the multi-vector approach, according to Anuar Ayazbekov, a research fellow at the Institute for Economic Strategies-Central Asia. "If the original connotation for the multi-vector policy was the maintenance of links with all great powers interested in Kazakhstan, today a multi-vector foreign policy includes policies toward not only great or regional powers, but also towards smaller countries, such as Slovakia or Qatar," he said.
Kazakhstan is also exploring closer relations with its neighbors. In an April 9 television interview, President Nursultan Nazarbayev repeated his call for a Central Asian union. Analysts are doubtful, however, whether current conditions are conducive to the formation of a regional economic bloc. "The problem is that Central Asian states are not ready for integration and not ready for cooperation, for many reasons. One reason is the way the [Central Asian] presidents personally relate to this," said Dosym Satpayev, the director of the Assessment Risks Group, an Almaty-based think tank. At present, Satpayev pointed out, Uzbekistan is shunning close relations with its neighbors, and Turkmenistan retains an "isolationist position," even after the death of that country's former leader, Saparmurat Niyazov. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Nazarbayev indicated during his April 9 interview that Kazakhstan's policy choices are being based on cold calculations. "We are only pursuing the interests of Kazakhstan here.
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asian affairs.