President Nursultan Nazarbayev has moved to deepen the level of Kazakhstan’s cooperation with Germany. On January 30, during a visit to Germany, Nazarbayev explored ways to increase existing bilateral political, trade, economic, cultural, and humanitarian cooperation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Reportedly, both leaders share common positions on international and regional security and European energy stability — a topic on Merkel’s mind since the recent problems with Belarus exposed the limitations of European reliance on Russian energy — as well as the need for reform of the United Nations, which envisages Germany gaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
Nazarbayev’s interest in Germany relates to its current presidency of the EU and current chairing of the G-8. He hopes to present Kazakhstan as a reliable long-term economic partner, while gaining crucial German support for Kazakhstan’s effort to become chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009. Astana also harbors ambitions to join the World Trade Organization. “The Kazakh-German partnership is based on solid foundations of economic cooperation, active political dialogue, and close positions on the main issues of global and regional politics. Kazakhstan supports Germany’s efforts to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council,” Nazarbayev confirmed. In fact, Germany is now a high priority in Kazakhstan’s formulation of foreign policy, seeing Berlin as intimately connected with its ambitious strategy to secure enhanced access to Western trade organizations and international markets (Interfax-Kazakhstan, January 30).
“For the purpose of modernizing its economy, Kazakhstan is very interested in cooperation with companies from Germany, which is a world leader in the field of new technologies and engineering. In particular, we hope for successful implementation of joint projects with a German company, ThyssenKrupp, on the construction of a metallurgical plant producing silicon metal,” Nazarbayev stressed. The first signs of joint economic ventures to encourage Nazarbayev, but he clearly wants to build on this in order to attain yet more economic rewards in the future (Interfax-Kazakhstan, January 31).
Merkel is a willing participant in this relationship, as she believes that Germany needs to foster its ties with Kazakhstan, with a keen interest in its energy infrastructure. “Of course, Kazakhstan is not a poor country in terms of mineral resources. It is rich in resources. This is a good basis for us to help Kazakhstan to develop its technologies, and this may concern not only the oil sector and oil exports, but we also mean the oil processing sector,” Merkel noted.
Arguably, ties between Astana and Berlin will also have security implications, as the bilateral relationship strengthens Kazakhstan’s reliability as a security partner to NATO. Nazarbayev promised that German companies would be made welcome in Kazakhstan, receiving priority and, as Germany’s economic interests grow, Astana, in turn, may be more willing to open up to the influence of its Western security relationships.
On February 1 Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier signed an important agreement in Berlin on the transfer of military equipment and personnel through Kazakhstan’s territory. According to a Foreign Ministry press release, “At the end of the talks, an agreement was signed between the governments of Kazakhstan and Germany on the transit of military equipment and personnel through the country’s territory in connection with the participation of German armed forces in Afghanistan stabilization and reconstruction effort” (Interfax-Kazakhstan, February 1).
This is a significant development in regional security dynamics, since the “friendship bridge” at Termez in Uzbekistan has been a key mechanism for the German military, facilitating the transit of humanitarian aid into Afghanistan. Termez was unique and well publicized in Tashkent, giving Karimov’s regime continued favorable publicity in the aftermath of Western criticism of the 2005 Andijan massacre. Tashkent has also staked a great deal of political trust in Berlin’s support for achieving rapprochement between the West and Uzbekistan. The German-Kazakh transit agreement raises the profile of a powerful Astana-Berlin axis, which could potentially lessen Berlin’s effectiveness as a campaigner for Uzbekistan’s rehabilitation.
Germany is now ready to cooperate in various areas in order to develop stronger ties between the EU and Central Asia. Berlin and Astana intend to discuss in detail the new German strategy and the new format of dialogue in March. The first in a series of high-level meetings will be held in Astana on March 28, involving the foreign ministers of Central Asian states and three EU countries (Kazakh TV First Channel, January 31).
Kazakhstan’s relations with Germany are intensifying markedly and are likely to continue exploiting the weakness of energy markets in Europe and Berlin’s declared political interest in seeking alternative energy sources. This provides another platform enabling Kazakhstan to cooperate closely with Western militaries. Its deepening relationship with Germany is likely to see benefits in the security sector that go beyond the military transit agreement, allowing more access by Kazakh military personnel to German military educational establishments. Nazarbayev is once again revealing his ambition to make Kazakhstan the politically and economically dominant state in Central Asia.