Kazakhstan is pursuing efforts to deepen its existing partnership with the NATO Alliance, as it explores various foreign policy options aimed at securing greater help in reforming its armed forces. Moscow is watching this process warily and making overtures towards solidifying bilateral relations and offering Kazakhstan tangible security benefits, making Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s present NATO cooperation policy more complex and not without risk.
Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev met NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Schaeffer in Brussels on October 4, where the two discussed methods that may be used to advance cooperation. Tokayev participated in the NATO Council in the 26+1 format. Schaeffer praised Kazakhstan’s contribution to regional and global peace, while the talks concentrated on the future of joint efforts in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, as well as countering terrorism, extremism, and the drug trade. Tokayev highlighted the importance of having Kazakhstan and NATO cooperate on the practical aspects of implementing the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) agreed in January 2006. He mentioned NATO’s assistance with the full-scale reform of the armed forces, strengthening Kazakhstan’s peace-support potential, and broadening interaction between NATO and the Central Asian countries within the Partnership for Peace Program (Interfax-Kazakhstan, October 5).
Tokayev also met Javier Solana, EU high commissioner for common foreign and security policy, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU commissioner for external relations, discussing ways of strengthening cooperation between Kazakhstan and the European Union. Tokayev proposed that Kazakhstan join the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) and conduct regular consultations in the Troika, EC-Kazakhstan format. Ferrero-Waldner suggested formulating a special relationship with Kazakhstan through the ENP, reflecting Kazakhstan’s advanced level of economic development, which may have already exceeded the ENP level.
On October 3 Russian President Vladimir Putin, completing a state visit to Kazakhstan, defined the priority areas for developing bilateral relations, namely the fuel and energy sector, agricultural industry, and space exploration. Putin wants to see these joint ventures not only bringing financial benefits to each side but also increasing the competitiveness of Russian and Kazakh companies in foreign markets. This is central to Putin’s plans to promote integration, including reforming the Commonwealth of Independent States and the development of cooperation within the Eurasian Economic Community and the Single Economic Space. “Russia and Kazakhstan are ‘locomotives’ for many integration processes in the post-Soviet space,” Putin said (Interfax-Kazakhstan, October 3).
While the Kremlin may be applying political and economic pressure on Georgia in order to dissuade Tbilisi from risking NATO membership, Moscow sees the bilateral relationship with Kazakhstan as so strong that the risks of Astana going “too far” are minimal. Practical security-enhancing packages are now more forthcoming from Russia, and Nazarbayev will take into account how much he could lose by provoking Moscow.
Army General Vladimir Pronichev, the first deputy director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and head of the FSB’s Border Guard Service, announced on October 4 that 4.4 billion rubles (approximately $160 million) would be allocated toward developing the infrastructure of the Russian-Kazakh border in 2007. “Plans to develop inter-district departments and district departments are currently being implemented on the Kazakh stretch of the border. Twenty facilities are being built. Our basic approach to the construction of border infrastructure is to build service housing at the same time as administrative buildings, so that border guards can perform their duties without any worries,” Pronichev said. NATO and leading members of the Alliance are already engaged in providing border security assistance to Kazakhstan, yet such arrangements with Moscow, while welcome for the point of view that it improves the security of the border areas, could complicate efforts aimed at professionalizing and rooting out internal corruption within Kazakhstan’s border service; there is a sense that Moscow seeks to ensure the continued dependence of Kazakh security structures on Russia by providing such assistance (Interfax, October 4).
Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov met with Tatarstan’s Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov on October 5, agreeing that Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation republic would develop a medium-term military cooperation program. Kazakhstan’s Defense Ministry wants helicopters and other new military technologies from Tatarstan. Significantly, given the involvement of Kazakhstan in the U.S. Caspian Guard Program, which is aimed at promoting security in the Caspian region, these opportunities are being used to tie Kazakhstan to Russian defense industries. “We will consider the possibility of building latest-generation ships for Kazakhstan that are needed to protect oil resources in the Kazakh sector of the Caspian Sea,” Minnikhanov said (Interfax, October 5).
As Astana attempts to step up its relationship with NATO and the EU, Russia is easily able to counteract the potential Westward drift of its large southern neighbor. During his recent visit to the United States, Nazarbayev concentrated on the role his country has played in supporting the war on terror and the continued deployment of Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping battalion (KAZBAT) in Iraq. Moscow, however, knows the weaknesses of Kazakhstan’s armed forces and security structures all too well. Investing in border infrastructure will go a long way to convince the old guard within the Kazakh Ministry of Defense that Russia remains Astana’s most reliable ally.
Moscow may well allow, without open interference, Kazakhstan to enact closer relations with NATO, working out the practicalities of the IPAP, since any improvement to these security structures will bring dividends to Russia. Putin’s belief that Russia and Kazakhstan are “locomotives” for integration processes within the former Soviet space will set strict limits on how far Astana can cooperate with NATO.